On Liberty is an essay written by English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill and published in 1859. Mill described On Liberty as being about “the importance, to man and society, of a large variety in types of character, and of giving full freedom to human nature to expand itself in innumerable and conflicting directions.” This celebration of individuality and spurning for conformity runs throughout the essay. Mill rejects attempts to coerce people’s opinions and behavior—saying that society should treat diversity with respect while arguing that the only time coercion is acceptable is when an individual’s behavior harms other people.

The key concept of On Liberty is that liberty is essential to ensure progress, for both the individual person and society—particularly when society becomes more important than the state. This ideal is attained in a representative democracy when the opposition between the rulers and the ruled disappears, because rulers only represent the interests of the ruled. Mill suggests that a democracy makes the liberty of the individual possible, but it does not guarantee it.

Read the free fullt text, the overall summary and the overall analysis of On Liberty. Or, learn more by studying SparkNotes guides to other works by John Stuart Mill.

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