A lot of scholars and philosophers alike have discussed the various notions of freedom for centuries. One such important notion is provided by John Stuart Mill. Mill’s contribution to the conception of freedom is extremely valuable. As one of the pioneers of conceptualizing freedom, his philosophy has shaped the trajectories of liberal democratic political models all over the world, from the 19th and 20th centuries to the present day and age.
His conception of freedom is contingent upon his philosophical method of inductive reasoning and his emphasis on empiricism from which he derives most of his theoretical formulations. Derived from the principle of utility, Mill believes that happiness can only be achieved in an environment of social freedom as stated by Leo Strauss and Joeseph Crospey. This means that in advocating the attainment for higher pleasures, his defence of liberty is consistent with his utilitarian beliefs.
Mill’s basis for defence of liberty rests on the foremost freedom i.e. speech and expression. Jill Gordon states, all ideas as per Mill, must be expressed freely to serve the ultimate end of human progress. Mill opposes all forms of censorship in this respect and advocates ideas to be freely expressed whether the opinion is true or false, he especially upholds the right of minorities to express their opinion.
Irrespective of its share of limitations, Mill’s contribution to political philosophy and other fields of study cannot be negated. In claiming the same, it is important to recognise that Mill’s idea of freedom especially freedom of expression has become the basis for the operation or even the definition of liberal democracies. Hence, the current trajectory of politics needs to be taken into consideration with respect to Mill’s ideas. With China’s growing surveillance with its repressive internet laws and censorship regime, especially with the current trend extending to transnational censorship, there is a need to consider Mill’s conception of freedom not just as a human right but also in context of the individual intellectual development.
The censorship regime in China curbs the intellectual development of citizens into becoming model citizens; according to a unified idea of the state, making subordination, easier. However, the lack of freedom of expression in an authoritarian model like China, does not negate the problems of seeing the former as a panacea in liberal democracies. Here, Mill’s ideas lack his vision in practice, irrespective of their theoretical merit. We see the negatives of unconditional liberty provided to media houses which are becoming all too powerful. Such power has resulted in the generation of fake news; through social media platforms and misinformation dominating public debate.
Though Mill would support the circulation of fake news; as part of intellectual development, the spread of misinformation is detrimental in many ways. When viewed as a panacea, freedom of expression also leads to mob tendencies and formulation of opinion based on bandwagoning. This largely leads to unfavourable democratic decisions. Therefore, while liberty cannot be compromised upon, Mill’s idea of freedom in today’s times needs to be constantly considered, as well as challenged.