Quotes On Liberty


Continuing with my reading of great thinkers through the ages, on the topics of liberty, freedom, and the innate rights of Man, I have been very much enjoying John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. 

Although some of his arguments and persuasions are more targeted to freedom of speech and thought in religious settings, they apply to the modern divide in creedo as readily as they did in the time he was writing. Those who oppose the very idea of questioning what is ‘settled and known’ are with us still, and likely always will be. 


The greatest impoverishment of the human debate can be, in Stuart Mill’s mind, to disallow argument. He compares it, somewhat later, to a crusted-over shell that is applied and does not allow any attempt to break through it, because it no longer knows how to defend itself, be that to hold the truth dear, or to have long-set beliefs challenged. 

We are, I fear, trembling on the brink of a legislated attempt to control what we can say, what questions we can pose, and even what we are supposed to think. This is the most dreadful misrule I can imagine. 


I’ve written about this myself, a hundred and fifty-odd years after he penned these words. What is old, is new again. In all eras, there are narratives which must not be challenged, it matters not if they contain truth. We are simply bidden to take them ‘on faith’ or suffer the pain of social ostracism if not worse. 

Like Stuart Mill, I too have hope. The truth cannot be suppressed forever. It may be driven deep underground, but given enough time and the inimitable nature of man’s inquisitiveness, it will be discovered again. And again, as many times as it is necessary. 

Freedom of speech and thought – but only if you agree with me! – is not liberty at all. 


Question authority! Question everyone. Who are you not allowed to question? That’s the persons who most need to be asked, and not let up until they can answer. You’re not likely to enjoy what they say, when they confess their truths. If they give an answer at all, which they won’t, because how dare you question them? 



2 responses to “Quotes On Liberty”

  1. Turning the whole “question authority” around is going to be interesting. I think it will be fun (for various definitions of fun) and difficult. But those who would suppress the ability to question authority usually have no sense of humor, so we can start there.

  2. AC Young Avatar
    AC Young

    Even when we agree on an authority (and such things (whether texts, doctrines, laws etc.) must always be voluntarily agreed upon by those who submit themselves to it, not have such things forced upon them) there is still the question of its interpretation. Let us not forget that the Bereans were deemed to be more noble than the Thessalonians because they tested everything that Paul had taught them against Scripture – i.e. they tested the interpretation of the agreed authority against the authority itself before they accepted its validity. Just because an ‘expert’ proclaims an interpretation of an agreed authority does not mean that the ‘expert’ is right – and when they are wrong there is nothing that they like better than an audience too ignoble to challenge them.