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Viewpoints on Democracy and Freedom

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1699 words Published: 22nd Apr 2021

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Mill and Rousseau are two different thinkers with different stances on government. During their era of existence, both political philosophers focused on the integration of political Liberty. They aimed to evaluate matters based on the relationship between the state, society, and individual through authority or power. Mill believes that people have the right to govern themselves in On Liberty, while Rousseau defends a direct democracy in The Social Contract. According to Rousseau, the only way to fairly govern a state is if individuals voted to express the general will. Conversely, Mill argues that freedom starts from a personal level, and individuals should seek Liberty because representatives' choices can lead to inequity. After comparing both political thinkers, I will argue that states benefit more from a democratic government.

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According to Mill, Liberty should be about freedom[1]. It is through Liberty that society celebrates and appreciates individualism. Mill argues for a limited government. He believes that individuals in positions of power would abuse their power to further their selfish actions that would harm the rest of the community. Mill uses the Utilitarian approach to justify the value of Liberty. To support his argument, Mill uses Hobbes and Locke's definition of freedom, which identifies Liberty as acting to desire where no qualifications or morals are used to define it. He tries to elaborate on Liberty's positive impacts in both individually and in society. According to this political philosophy, Liberty facilitates progress, and in return, the community avoids social stagnation. Mill explains political Liberty starting with the leading social problem with societies, which he termed as the authority's tyranny[2]. Mill argues that power is only exercised over members against their will to prevent harm to others in a society with Liberty. Mill convinces his readers that modern society can do away with authoritarian or democratic power and rise to anarchy.

 Mill continues by explaining 'the tyranny of the majority' [3]. This weakens Rousseau's arguments by highlighting how the majority of an electorate can operate on their selfish agenda at the expense of the minority. The meaning of Liberty has changed over time. In the past, it was used to mean protection from tyranny. As the changes have occurred in the role of rulers, so does its meaning. The minority is forced to act according to the will of the majority. A country can decide to exercise tyrannical power on various affiliations. However, the act can lead to society becoming a tyrant through inflicting its values and will on communities that does not subscribe to it. According to Mill, Liberty has three sides: opinion and thought,[4] pursuits and tastes, and to join other like-minded individuals for a common purpose.

Rousseau believes that states repress the physical freedoms that we inherently have at birth. Rousseau suggests that legitimate authority can only be achieved if the social contract protects all citizens' mutual interests. And, he refers to the collective grouping of a community as "sovereign."[5] The sovereign is an authority that should deal with matters concerning the public and not the individual. Rousseau believes a sovereign society should act and work collectively. Citizens should contribute to law-making since sovereignty entails people collectively voicing their thoughts and concerns. 

I found Rousseau's ideas on democracy more persuasive. His views on constitutional limits over government power coupled with a direct system of checks and balances have proved to create more organized states that we can see to this day. Rousseau explains his notion about the ideal democracy by saying, "the stronger is never strong enough to be forever master, unless he transforms his force into right and obedience into duty."[6] The philosopher argues that at some point, rulers age and will need replacement. However, elected individuals cannot decide on matters of the general will of the people. A society that subscribes to direct democracy should allow every individual to contribute to the decision.

Most of Rousseau's arguments are based on nature. Rousseau believes that no man has a natural authority over others, so he questions the idea of slavery and Grotius.[7] While he agrees that people, specifically victims of war, will accept slavery; however, this does not hold true for the majority. "these words slavery and right are contradictory; they are mutually exclusive. Either between one man and another or between a man and a people.[8] A government cannot control the majority unless they consent to it. It is not often that people willingly give up their freedom, which is their "very nature" and the basis of all morality.

Rousseau defines free society and personal democracy before the three significant liberal factors often used in tyranny to oppose the majority's emotions while embracing free community. He uses Mill's explanation on the importance of the Liberty of feelings and thoughts. He emphasizes that human feelings are essential, for they are the source of truth needed to lead any government to democracy. According to Rousseau, every individual should make decisions freely, having the best interest of others at heart. According to Rousseau, "to renounce freedom is to renounce one's quality as a man."[9]

Rousseau and Mill have a slight similarity in discussing government and what it means to be truly liberated. However, their definitions of Liberty are polar opposites of one another. Mill, in his book On Liberty, bases his understanding of Liberty more on an individual. People's freedom to speak, associate, join religious and political affiliations, and freely go about is his idea of Liberty. On the other hand, Rousseau believes that "man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,"[10] This implies that humans are free-spirited and can be whoever they would want to be individual. However, humans are tied down to their societies and other groups, say political parties or religious affiliations that significantly impact how they do things. He believes that people need to make decisions and live their lives, bearing in mind the collective benefit of society.

On the other hand, Rousseau believes that as much as humans are physically free to move about, make decisions and go about their activities as they please, their freedom is capped at collective a collective grouping level [11]. A person's freedom is guaranteed by a social contract that means that one can only be allowed by the societal standards that promote social cohesiveness. He refers to the groupings as sovereigns. A person may have individual desires to achieve what is best for them, but that good would not be sound if it violates what is defined as the common good for the sovereign. He has a strong belief in group beliefs governing individual behavior to the extent that he says it's okay for a social contract violator to be sentenced to death. The individual comes second to the sovereign, and the sovereign interests or Liberty supersedes individual Liberty. 

Both thinkers believe in Liberty, and to some extent, both have regard for individual Liberty. Their overall school of thought has a significant variation, but a closer look identifies several similarities in their assumptions and ideologies. Ideologies from the two thinkers may be opposite of each other, but they both agree that the individual is the epicenter of any social liberation. Their views are based on having a society, a state, or in one of their words, a sovereign, and a majority, the people. Humans should be free to make choices and do as they please. Also, humans are expected to have ambitions of their own. In working to achieve personal goals, the resultant effect is achieving societal good. A person's Liberty is key to achieving any social goals and should be protected and encouraged at all times.

Mill and Rousseau are two political philosophers with different viewpoints on democracy. Mill believes that liberation should start on a personal level, while Rousseau argues that society or groups define humanity that one is associated with. Although both Rousseau and Mill make convincing arguments, I found Rousseau's ideas on democracy more persuasive. Rousseau's views on constitutional limits over government power coupled with a direct system of checks and balances have proved to create more organized states that we can see to this day. Moreover, his arguments are made more convincing because he bases them on nature. Conversely, even though Mill and Rousseau differ in Liberty's definition, they both agree that achieving social goals requires democracy. 


Mill, J. S. (1857). On Liberty.

Edited by David Bromwich and George Kateb with essays by Jean Bethke Elshtain Owen

Fiss Richard A. Posner Jeremy Waldron, 2003.

Rousseau, J. J. (1913). Social Contract or Principles of Political Right

Foederis Aequas, Dicamus Leges, and Aeneid Xi.

[1] Mill, J. S. (1857). On Liberty.

[2] Mill, J. S. (1857). On Liberty.

[3] Mill, J. S. (1857). On Liberty

[4] Mill, J. S. (1857). On Liberty, P. 86

[5] Rousseau, J. J. (1913). P. 51

[6] Rousseau, J. J. (1913). P. 43

[7] Rousseau, J. J. (1913). P. 45.

[8] Rousseau, J. J. (1913). P. 48

[9] Rousseau, J. J. (1913).

[10] Rousseau, J. J. (1913).

[11] Rousseau, J. J. (1913).


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