John Stuart Mill

History and philosophy

The Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party before it, are rooted in the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, who famously wrote, “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Mill was an absolutist on freedom of speech, contending that even the falsest opinions deserve to be broadcast in an open exchange of ideas.

Mill’s On Liberty also presents a compelling argument in defence of the individual’s right to freedom of conscience. He gives open-mindedness validity not as simply an act of charity, but as a tool in obtaining the completeness of truth. Truth requires a variety of perspectives, and these perspectives can be found by listening to others even though one may believe them to be wrong. The individual’s freedom of conscience is given priority over social restrictions and moral imposition by society.

These principles, eloquently expressed by Mill, were incorporated into the Preamble of the Liberal Party Constitution, now transposed into the Liberal Democrat Preamble, as the following extracts illustrate:

“We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full.”

“We will at all times defend the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely, and we will protect the right of citizens to enjoy privacy in their own lives and homes.”

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