Against Arnold’s authoritarianism, modern critics have long held up John Stuart Mill’s libertarianism, particularly as expressed in On Liberty.Where Arnold, like Plato, was all too willing to sacrifice individuals on behalf of a mystical state, Mill (this argument goes) clearly and consistently treated individuals as ends in themselves.In this way, Mill, unlike Arnold, properly sought (in the terminology of chapter two) the divorce of power and philosophy.What power the state had would be entirely free from philosophy, and thus every individual would enjoy complete liberty of “thought and discussion” and “of individuality,” to refer to the major chapter headings of On Liberty. So, Lionel Trilling argued for instance, where Arnold the authoritarian “believed that the task of the enlightened was to bring opinion to a conformity with right reason,” Mill the libertarian believed “any diversity of ideas was to be cherished” in and of itself. The state, from this perspective, should be little more than “a convenience,” to recall Leonard Woolf’s language, “part of the machinery of civilization like a water-closet or an electric power-station, which are under modern conditions necessary if the individual is to live a civilized life, but whose functions are best performed when they work so silently and so far in the background that they never appear to obtrude themselves on the individual’s life.”1
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