Did John Stuart Mill prefer slavery?

Summary of About freedom

The Victorian Spirit

As early as the 19th century, the British enjoyed political freedoms that were largely unknown on the European continent. They were able to look back on a centuries-long history of the successive circumcision of monarchical power, which began as early as 1215 with the famous Magna Charta. The British Queen Victoria was only a constitutional monarch; the British House of Commons, made up of elected representatives from certain cities and towns, had extensive legislative powers. As a result of the electoral reform of 1832, parts of the middle class were also eligible to vote, including many entrepreneurs who, in some cases, had achieved considerable prosperity as part of the industrial revolution.

The political freedoms of the British in the 19th century, which were unusual in international comparison, did not mean that people also enjoyed corresponding personal freedom of expression and action. Above all under the influence of the Puritans and later the Methodists, a spiritual climate was created that required the individual to behave virtuously and at least to create a civilized impression on the outside. Dance, music and alcohol consumption were frowned upon. Even piano legs were shamefully covered and it was even considered improper to speak of a chicken breast. Those who got divorced risked social ostracism. In addition, a strong effort was underway to enshrine narrow-minded religious beliefs and preferences in law. Around 1854, for example, all inns were closed by ordinance, which led to real uprisings, so that the law had to be revoked a year later.

The restrictive outlook also had an impact on science. It was not welcomed for scientists to claim that the earth was more than 6,000 years old. Many theologians saw this as a contradiction to the biblical account of creation. Charles Darwin hesitated for many years before publishing his theory of evolution in 1859.


The teachings of the philosopher Jeremy Benthamwho made the promotion of the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number of people the highest ethical principle, had a great influence not only on official politics, but also on the upbringing of John Stuart Mill. Bentham was a personal friend of Mill's father, who therefore tried to raise his children consistently according to his theses. From childhood John Stuart Mill was confronted with the question of what the important values ​​were for society as a whole.

Also through his close friendship with Harriet Taylor, whom he married after her husband died, Mill was heavily influenced intellectually. He even went so far as to call her a co-author of his writings. Consistent with this, Mill demanded that women enjoy the same freedom rights that he considered important for human and social development. His view that excessive oppression of the individual by laws and the pressure of public opinion can hinder social development was certainly also shaped by the experience that he had to take a lot of criticism for his close friendship with the married Harriet Taylor.

A formative influence on Mill's theses about freedom was Wilhelm von Humboldtthat he quotes at the beginning of the book and its work Ideas for an attempt to determine the limits of the effectiveness of the state he considered important.

John Stuart Mill started work on About freedom 1854 and published the book in 1859, a year after the death of his wife Harriet Taylor-Mill.

Impact history

The Victorian readership had to About freedom appear as a radical work, it emphasized the freedom of the individual against the constraints of state and society.

The work was to prove to be very influential for political philosophy: It earned John Stuart Mill the reputation of one of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century. Mill's theses received an extraordinary amount of attention and have had practical implications for politics up to our time. His ideas were also received positively abroad, for example in France and Germany. They influenced important 20th century liberal thinkers like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich August von Hayek, Karl Popper and Milton Friedman.