“Mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind” (John Stuart Mill, online, 1999). It is this quote of all the writings of John Stuart Mill that reflects his belief in extreme individualism and liberalism. It is this quote that best stands for the values that John Stuart Mill believed in, values that have survived today and that have sustained the spirit of individualism both in the west and in the Middle East. Mill is often thought portrayed as a caller for egoistic individualism, a trend that has dominated western civilization and destroyed many of its values, in addition to having a similar negative impact on the societies of the east. John Steward Mill did not call for the destruction of social values but rather for the democratization of society through asserting the liberty of the individual.
When Mill argued that society would be wrong and unjust if it tried to silence one man who stood at the odd end, just as he would be unjust if he tried to silence society, Mill was actually talking about the freedom of opinion. He did not actually mean that every man had the right to do whatever he believed appropriate for him, even if it involved harming others. What concerned Mill more than anything else was the freedom of opinion and expression, and it is against the tyranny of society in this respect that he argued and wrote (“John Stuart Mill, online, p.6).
Many argue that Mill stands behind much of the disintegration of social values in the west and east today. Freedom of expression, taken at face value does not only involve the right of the individual to speak out a different opinion, but also to express himself in a different manner. The Hippies, for example, were actually expressing themselves and their individuality freely. Their expression, not only verbally but also non-verbally resulted from the spirit of individualism and the freedom of speech and expression that Mill encouraged and fathered in his arguments.
It is argued that the spirit of individualism is what stood behind the sexual revolution, a movement that has resulted in the collapse of social and moral ethics in the west, and to a great extent in the east. It is also this spirit of individualism and sexual liberty that has eventually led to the spread of AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, both in the east and the west. The spirit of individualism has also destroyed family relations in the west. At the age of eighteen, children leave their homes looking for work, experience, adventure or even self-destruction in the name of individualism, all because they believe that their personal liberty and their freedom to express their thoughts, modes of life, bodies and sexuality have to be respected.
In the east, individualism is often seen as the anti-thesis of morality and social integrity. The collapse of the patriarchal system in the Arab society, for example, resulting from the growing liberty of women, the weakening of religious values, and the spread of social problems such as divorce, adultery, and various others are all the product of individualism. Thus, individualism for the eastern society, especially the Islamic and Arab societies is seen as an agent of destruction, and more often, as a western symbol that aims at the destruction of the entire social system.
The accusations driven against individualism are to a great extent true, both in the western and eastern societies. Nonetheless, justice is lacking when such destructive impacts of individualism are attributed to John Stuart Mill whose main philosophical concerns were to emphasize morality and to justify individual freedom on ethical basis.
John Stuart Mill was definitely a social reformer. He wanted to change the values of society, to establish a new order, and to achieve a better situation for society. Yet, as a reformer, he did not aim at destroying the ethical values of society. Rather, his battle was against repression, with specific reference to the repression of opinion and expression. His philosophical struggle was against “the tyranny of the majority” and it is in this manner that he contributed to individualism.
In the west, John Stuart Mill’s impact is not to be seen in the spread of drug abuse and then collapse of family values, but rather in the development of the concepts of freedom. To name a few, these include the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the right to express oneself and to participate in politics.