John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was a British philosopher, economist, and Member of Parliament. He was also a flaming fucking liberal, by today’s standards and those of his time. Considered one of the earliest feminists, Mill advocated greater rights for women, the systematic oppression of whom he believed had severely impeded the progress of humanity since ancient times. He was a fiercely eloquent abolitionist and free speech advocate, as well as an environmentalist, arguing that the logical conclusion of unlimited growth was destruction of the environment and a reduced quality of life.
Typical of political philosophers and economists, Mill’s writing can be quite dense. But a quote of his, one that I have long cherished, was brought to mind by the comments on yesterday’s post, the one about a bunch of weirdo elf men dissing gay marriage:
I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.
I decided to search for other uncharacteristically pithy passages, and as a result the Palace library is pleased to announce its acquisition of several excellent specimens for its ever-expanding collection of quotes.
How can great minds be produced in a country where the test of a great mind is agreeing in the opinions of small minds?
Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
Stupidity is much the same all the world over. A stupid person’s notions and feelings may confidently be inferred from those which prevail in the circle by which the person is surrounded.
The dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution, is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes. History teems with instances of truth put down by persecution. If not suppressed for ever, it may be thrown back for centuries.
A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
I had learnt from experience that many false opinions may be exchanged for true ones, without in the least altering the habits of mind of which false opinions are made.
I well knew that to propose something which would be called extreme, was the true way not to impede but to facilitate a more moderate experiment. [Prequel to the Overton Window? -Ed.]
We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. [To which I might add: ‘Mockery, however, can be a particularly powerful tool for revealing its falsity.’ -Ed.]
One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.