Two Mills and Liberty

Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 1975.


“On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill” tells the astonishing story of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” which is a story about the book (one of the most famous texts of liberalism), the Mill who wrote it, and Harriet Taylor Mill, the woman under whose influence it was written. It is not an altogether new story, because Gertrude Himmelfarb has traced its outlines before, but it is no less astonishing for that. Here she begins with a painstaking analysis, chapter by chapter, of the book’s arguments, comparing them with what Mill had to say on the same subjects in his other works; she continues with an account of what she refers to as the “extraordinary disparity between the Mill of On Liberty and the “other” Mill”; and she concludes with a consideration of the practical implications of the teaching of “On Liberty” for the modern liberal world.