J.S. Mill

“By the time he was eight, he knew nearly everything the doctor of philosophy knows nowadays, to put the matter mildly; but what his intellectual training lacked was the higher imagination, and for that he groped inveighing all his life long. J.S. Mill became all head and no heart, in which character he represents Jeremy Bentham; but in truth it was Mill himself, rather than Bentham, who was turned into defecated intellect. Lacking the poetic fancy and the warmth of strong affections, this “saint of rationalism” (as Gladstone called him) could not be expected to live a very interesting life.” (Russell Kirk, “Introduction,” in John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Regnery), page iv)

“That book displays a strong power of logic, and some eloquence; but there runs through it Mills error that the tranquil English society of his own day was destined to become the universal pattern for all mankind, and Mills curious assumption that most men, if only they were properly schooled, with think and act precisely like John Stuart Mill.” (Pages vi-vii)

“If liberty is to be restored to the mass of humanity, the intellectuals, whom Coleridge called the clerisy, must do the work—though they will require imagination of a higher order than Mill himself possessed, if they are to succeed.” (Page xi)


“Yet the world of liberal optimism and progress which was Mill’s has been dissolving the whole of this century, and no philosophers seems more refuted by the great tendency of things than Mill. The French Revolution did not deal Kant’s theories so bitter a blow as the Russian Revolution, technological change, and the revival of theology have dealt to Mills theories. Mill’s Essay on Liberty is the key to his strength and his weakness. Some books form the character of their age; others reflect it; and Mill’s Libertyis of the latter order. This is not to say that it was uninfluential, nor that it is quite irrelevant to our time. On Liberty has been kept in print ever since it was published in 1859, and is the most widely read of all liberal tracts. But the little book is a product of the tranquility and optimism of Victorian England; quite literally, it is dated.” (Russell Kirk, “Mill’s On Liberty Reconsidered,” National Review (January 25, 1956), 23)

“In every principal premise of his argument, Stephen declared, Mills suffered from an in adequate understanding of human nature and history. All the great moments of humankind said Stephen, have been achieved by force, not by free discussion; and if we leave forced out of our calculations, very soon we will be subject to the intolerant wills of men who have no scruples about employing force against us. It is consummate folly to tolerate every variety of opinion, on every topic, out of devotion to an abstract “liberty”; for opinion soon finds its expression in action, and the fanatics whom we tolerated will not tolerate us when they have power.” (Pages 23–24)

“But the more thoughtful opponents of these Victorian liberal doctrines, during the past several years—Professor Francis Graham Wilson eminent among them—have suggested that the mind has its slums; and the society which does not object to the slums is liable to find itself overwhelmed by its own moral proletariat. Standards abandoned, it is by no means probable that any natural law, even operating over two or three-hundred years, will persuade the mass of men, unguided, to prefer the good in literature and politics to the evil.” (Page 24)

“Mill’s little book, though hedged by many limitations and refuted in part by the return of Chaos and Old Night, is an honest endeavor to examine the quality which, after divine grace and right reason, lifts man above the brutes.” (Page 24)

Books on or by Dr. Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays on or by Dr. Kirk may be found here.  

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