572: A Bizarre Story.

John Stuart Mill had the worst personal life of any libertarian philosopher, a competitive category for bad personal lives. Marriage in particular has a record of making libertarian philosophers behave discreditably — that is, in a way that brings discredit not just on their character but on their ideas.

Bertrand Russell famously divorced the first of his four wives after a bicycle trip: “suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, realized that I no longer loved Alys.” Thus reasoned the most rational man in England. Ayn Rand forced her husband to endure loud and lofty protestations that forgoing an affair with Nathaniel Branden would be a sin against objectivism. William Godwin, England’s first anarcho-libertarian, wrecked two marriages on his individualism: first to Mary Wollstonecraft, whom he set up in a separate apartment and communicated with by letter, and then to a harridan of no redeeming qualities apart from her ability to keep house whom he, in his solipsism, permitted to torment Mary’s children.

Even in this company, John Stuart Mill is on another plane. Under the influence of his wife, Harriet Taylor, he drove his youngest brother George to suicide. His doting sisters were banished from his life over the flimsiest imagined slights to his wife’s honor. He gave up his former friends and became a recluse, retiring to a cottage in Blackheath Park where he entertained virtually no one while Mrs. Mill lived. After her death, he made himself a national laughingstock by declaring in his Autobiography that his wife had been more poetic than Shelley and a greater thinker than himself, and that he had “acquired more from her teaching than from all other sources taken together” — phrases written not when Mill was a grieving widower but during Harriet’s lifetime, in drafts which she read and approved for publication evidently without embarrassment.

And that’s only what she did to him after they wed. Their marriage was preceded by twenty years of brazen and self-righteous infidelity. When Mill met Harriet she was married to a good-natured pharmacist of enlightened political opinions, if no great intelligence, named John Taylor. After three years of growing mutual obsession, they bullied him into giving Harriet her own household, where she lived with their three children and entertained Mill on weekends. No one, not even his family, was permitted to mention Harriet’s name in Mill’s presence, much less to allude to the scandal their conduct had raised. His oldest friend, John Arthur Roebuck, was the only one who ever dared; Mill never spoke to him again. The couple withdrew into their private ménage, reassuring each other that it was only society’s “baby morality” (her phrase) that cast shame on their exalted passion. A bizarre story — and until the 1950s, an unknown one.

(Helen Andrews, “Romance and Socialism in J.S. Mill,” American Affairs, Vol. I, No. 2, Summer 2017).

572: A Bizarre Story.

542: An Alter Ego.

I once knew, without knowing, an old man whom I saw on the bus every day at the same time when I was studying at the University of San Francisco after the War. This fellow always crouched in the back of the bus and muttered to himself: ‘Don’t give your money to her; put your money in the bank; don’t give it to her; put it in the bank.’ This was not, as some shallow people insist, a mark of insanity. Talking in this way to yourself is a last grip on sanity. Old people do this very often because there is nobody who cares to talk to them. Communication is identically intellection in man. The poor devil who is forced to live alone necessarily invents an alter ego and he carries on a lively dialogue with this self-created puppet who is the last moving shadow on the backdrop of his consciousness, separating him from the loneliness of insanity.

(Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, “Sign, Faith and Society,Faith & Reason, Vol. XX, No. 2, Summer 1994).

542: An Alter Ego.

524: The Painful Slavery of Gratitude.

Very often resentment goes hand in hand with timidity. The strong man reacts directly and energetically to attack, and so automatically expels affront from his mind, as though it were some foreign body. This saving elasticity does not exist in the resentful man. Many a man who turns die other cheek after a buffet does so, not from virtue, but to cover up his cowardice; and his enforced humility afterwards turns into resentment.

But, if he should later happen to become strong, with that adventitious strength which is conferred by political power, his resentment, hitherto disguised as resignation, bursts forth in revenge. It is for this reason that weak men and resentful men when chance places them in a position of power, as often happens in time of revolution, are so much to be feared. Here, too, we find the reason why so many resentful men respond to revolutionary confusion and play so large a part in its development. The most cruel of leaders often have antecedents which betray their former timidity and show unequivocal symptoms of their present resentment.

Similarly, what is very typical of such men is not merely their incapacity for gratitude, but also the facility with which they transform the favours conferred upon them by others into fuel for their resentment. There is a sentence of Robespierre’s, that tragic example of a resentful man, which one cannot read without a shudder, so stark is the light which it sheds on the psychology of the French Revolution: “I experienced, from a very early age, the painful slavery of gratitude.”

Once he has done a favour to the resentful man, the benefactor remains inscribed on the black list of his dislike. As though moved by some obscure impulse, the resentful man hovers around the powerful man, who attracts and irritates him at one and the same time. This twofold feeling creates a bitter bond which makes him one of the leader’s retinue. It is for this reason that we so often find the resentful man at the courts of the mighty. Woe betide the mighty if they do not realize that within their shadow, infinitely more dangerous than envy, inevitably grows the resentment of the very men who live by their favour!

(Gregorio Marañón, Tiberius: A Study in Resentment. London: Hollis & Carter, 1956, pp. 12–13).

524: The Painful Slavery of Gratitude.

490: The Typical German.

Everything in a German is consciously acquired. […]

They say to themselves, “We are not cultured; let us obtain culture; let us create artists, writers, poets, a unified State, etc.” And, with infinite, reflecting and systematic efforts, they labour to that end, sometimes with success, but not with sufficient fruit when it is a question of art and artists. Oranges do not grow in soil intended for pine-trees… Look at the English and their efforts to make painters (Ruskin, Exhibitions, Art Societies, etc.); they are stroking Art the wrong way! […]

Germans say, “We want a dramatic school, we will have one.” Our own nineteenth century Renaissance has also made the mistake of trying to create things which should be born spontaneously.

The typical German has a reasoning, reflecting brain, with a taste for abstractions, systems, science and books, and a way of directing his life according to the elaboration of his convictions. One cannot make artists of such material.

(Hippolyte Taine, Life and Letters of H. Taine, Vol. 2.  Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1902, p. 312).

490: The Typical German.

488: Symbolical Radicalism.

Symbolical radicalism results from unrest and disequilibrium when the attention is transferred from impeded interests to radical movements or “causes.” It is not essential that the movements to which the energy is transferred should be such as would, if carried through to success, remove the specific obstructions to the balked desire. The repressed energy may be placed to the service of the first radical movement which claims attention. All radical social movements aim at thorough-going change of social organization or relations in some one or more particular, and the motive to the desired change is the removal of obstruction of some kind. Hence any radical movement may take on, for the individual in question, a symbolical character. Since one cannot satisfy the original desire, although it is felt to be entirely normal and legitimate, since one realizes also that the seat of the obstruction is somewhere in the existing social status quo, and also perhaps believes that the specific obstacle cannot be removed, attention and energy are turned to some other type of obstruction or to generalized revolt against all and any of the elements of control in the present social system. […]

Symbolical radicalism, due to more or less unconscious transference of the energy of balked or repressed interests, may be found in the intellectual type of mind, but is more prevalent in emotional types. Such radicalism is likely to be superficial, emotional, lacking in settled principle, and unstable in its aim or object of attack. There may be a sort of serial transference. When one line of attack or radical project encounters difficulties and does not move rapidly toward consummation, it is given up (a wish easily balked) and the attention turned to some other project which for a time elicits equally emotional enthusiasm and serves as another temporary outlet for the energy of the balked or repressed desire. There may thus develop radical fashions and fads and a kind of lo here! lo there! radicalism, which never “stays put” long enough on one thing to accomplish any thorough-going objective change in social organization.

(A.B. Wolfe, “The Motivation of Radicalism,” The Psycological Review, Vol. XXVIII, 1921, pp. 293–294).

488: Symbolical Radicalism.

478: A Great Smell of Thieves.

Since I came home I have been disturbed with a strange, foolish woman, that lives at the great corner house yonder; she is an attorney’s wife, and much given to her bottle. By the time she has finished that and daylight, she grows afraid of thieves, and makes the servants fire minute guns out of the garret windows. I remember persuading Mrs. Kerwood that there was a great smell of thieves, and this drunken dame seems literally to smell it. […] There are now three more guns gone off successively — she must be very drunk.

(Horace Walpole, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903, p. 337–338).

478: A Great Smell of Thieves.