Cover image for John Stuart Mill on liberty and control
John Stuart Mill on liberty and control
Hamburger, Joseph, 1922-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 239 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1720 Lexile.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
JC223.M66 H363 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



John Stuart Mill is one of the hallowed figures of the liberal tradition, revered for his defense of liberal principles and expansive personal liberty. By examining Mill's arguments in On Liberty in light of his other writings, however, Joseph Hamburger reveals a Mill very different from the "saint of rationalism" so central to liberal thought. He shows that Mill, far from being an advocate of a maximum degree of liberty, was an advocate of liberty and control--indeed a degree of control ultimately incompatible with liberal ideals.

Hamburger offers this powerful challenge to conventional scholarship by presenting Mill's views on liberty in the context of his ideas about, in particular, religion and historical development. The book draws on the whole range of Mill's philosophical writings and on his correspondence with, among others, Harriet Taylor Mill, Auguste Comte, and Alexander Bain to show that Mill's underlying goal was to replace the traditional religious basis of society with a form of secular religion that would rest on moral authority, individual restraint, and social control. Hamburger argues that Mill was not self-contradictory in thus championing both control and liberty. Rather, liberty and control worked together in Mill's thought as part of a balanced, coherent program of social and moral reform that was neither liberal nor authoritarian.

Based on a lifetime's study of nineteenth-century political thought, this clearly written and forcefully argued book is a major reinterpretation of Mill's ideas and intellectual legacy.

Author Notes

Joseph Hamburger taught at Yale University from 1957 until his death in 1997. At the time of his death, he was Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science. The author of books on James and John Stuart Mill, John Austin, and Thomas Macaulay, Professor Hamburger spent a lifetime studying political theory and, especially, nineteenth-century intellectual history.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In this clear, well-documented, and persuasive book, Hamburger asks to what extent Mill claimed that society ought to involve itself in the personal or private affairs of individuals. Mill's ideas of cultural reform and human improvement are usually interpreted as soundly critiquing a society that maximizes individual liberty; his 1859 essay On Liberty seems to offer arguments toward this end and has become the centerpiece of 19th-century democratic liberalism. Hamburger poses a serious challenge to standard interpretations of Mill as an apostle of classical liberal theory; his distinguished career at Yale until his 1997 death mandates the most serious consideration of his thesis. The book explains prominent interpretations and arguments of Mill's philosophy and demonstrates their respective--and collective--shortcomings. At stake is nothing less than a recasting of the role of Mill's philosophy in relationship to liberalism. For instance, his concept of a presumed limitless sphere of personal (or self-regarding) expression is shown to be much more restrictive than has been supposed (and that liberal theories may allow). Hamburger's reinterpretation will also have implication for (Mill-based) contemporary issues concerning privacy. The extended discussion of Harriet Taylor's influence on Mill's conception of freedom and gender equality is of special interest. Highly recommended for a broad professional readership and educated public. A. S. Rosenbaum; Cleveland State University

Table of Contents

Editor's Notep. ix
Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xix
Chapter 1 Liberty and Controlp. 3
Chapter 2 Cultural Reformp. 18
Chapter 3 Mill and Christianityp. 42
Chapter 4 Candor or Concealmentp. 55
Chapter 5 Arguments about Christianity in On Libertyp. 86
Chapter 6 The Religion of Humanityp. 108
Chapter 7 Individuality and Moral Reformp. 149
Chapter 8 How Much Liberty?p. 166
Chapter 9 Mill's Rhetoricp. 203
Epiloguep. 225
Indexp. 235