Class, Nation, and Character in Nineteenth-Century Liberal Thought

  • Katherine Smits


John Stuart Mill’s work is a key point of origin for modern liberal pluralism—but it is a much more complex origin than is generally acknowledged. Mill has been claimed as a “founding father” for both liberal moral pluralism and multiculturalism, but in fact the fundamental source of pluralism for him was what we now call membership in social groups, structured in relations of power. Mill’s liberalism is designed for a society in which individuals are deeply influenced by their group membership, the identity politics of his time; it is later theorists who shift liberalism away from acknowledging any social membership except for national culture. In this chapter I examine Mill’s identity pluralism and the trajectory liberal thought takes after Mill. As we shall see, identity is transformed into interest, and as a result the stage is set for moral pluralism, interest pluralism, and multiculturalism to dominate modern liberal theory.


Group Membership Common Good National Culture Moral Belief Voluntary Association 
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© Katherine Smits 2005

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  • Katherine Smits

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