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Dark Satanic Millian Liberalism from John Stuart Mill

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John Holbo used to talk about “Dark Satanic Millian Liberalism“. But what he never said was that it has its origins in John Stuart Mill himself.

Here are three passages from Principles of Political Economy I find interesting:

(1) Mechanical inventions... have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only when, in addition to just institutions, the increase of mankind shall be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, can the conquests made from the powers of nature by the intellect and energy of scientific discoverers become the common property of the species, and the means of improving and elevating the universal lot...

(2) Every one has a right to live.... But no one has a right to bring creatures into life, to be supported by other people. Whoever means to stand upon the first of these rights must renounce all pretension to the last. If a man cannot support even himself unless others help him, those others are entitled to say that they do not also undertake the support of any offspring which it is physically possible for him to summon into the world... the state... is bound in self-protection, and... for the sake of every purpose for which government exists, to provide that no person shall be born without its consent...

(3) If the ordinary and spontaneous motives to self-restraint are removed, others must be substituted.... The guarantee of support could be freed from its injurious effects upon the minds and habits of the people, [only] if the relief, though ample in respect to necessaries, was accompanied with conditions which they disliked... some restraints on their freedom... privation of some indulgences... [their] condition... needs not be one of physical suffering, or the dread of it, but only of restricted indulgence, and enforced rigidity of discipline...

(1) says that there can only be a good society if fertility is brought under conscious control. (2) says that that conscious control over your fertility needs to be exercised by the state. (3) says that drawing on social insurance benefits needs to be made so unpleasant—“enforced rigidity of discipline”—that nobody who could earn enough to buy their “necessaries” in the market would choose to draw on their social insurance account.

The John Stuart Mill of On Liberty is not the only John Stuart Mill.. [As Theodore Roosevelt said]9https://archive.org/stream/addressofpreside00roo/addressofpreside00roo_djvu.txt0 in trying to both draw on and distance himself from Puritans like William Bradford and John Winthrop and company, “we have traveled far since their day...”

So why is John Stuart Mill, in at least some of his modes, this thing very strange to us? Why is finding your self unlucky in the market cause for the state to force you to choose either deaths from starvation or the loss of, well, your liberty—“enforced rigidity of discipline...”? And why is everybody’s liberty so restricted that they have no right to have children but can only have children by the grace of the state—With the test being whether you can show that your potential children would not be a net drain on society?

In a word: Malthus. John Stuart Mill was a utilitarian first, a libertarian second, and a Malthusian always. Malthusians believed that maintaining a favorable balance between resources and mouths was the essential prerequisite to establishing an acceptable societal order. Therefore whatever was necessary to keep population in balance with resources had a lexicographic preference over all other good things. What Mill saw in his mind's eye was a world in which, as long as the state did not control and limit reproduction, for TIny Tim to be fed would mean that somebody else stronger, healthier, who could contribute more to augment the resources of society would not get fed. Thus the best thing would have been for Tiny Tim to die, and so diminish the surplus population.

"Lifeboat" ethics in action...


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