Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What ?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done ?”
God says. “Out on Highway 61″.
Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Ol’ Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61. ( Bob Dylan. Highway 61 Revisited )
John Stuart Mill transcended his father’s commitment to independence by perceiving that independence had to be indissolubly linked to personal development. In the immortal ”On Liberty” John Stuart was able to transmute his own quest for autonomy into an ideology that defended the freedom of all individuals in society to grow in their own way, as long as they do not harm their neighbors.
Surely personal experience, a sense of frustration and a keen objective eye are behind his assertion that ”In maintaining this principle, the greatest difficulty to be encountered does not lie in the appreciation of means towards an acknowledged end, but in the indifference of persons in general to the end itself. If it were felt that the free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being; that it is not only a coordinate element with all that is designated by the terms civilization, instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part and condition of all those things; there would be no danger that liberty should be undervalued, and the adjustment of the boundaries between it and social control would present no extraordinary difficulty. But the evil is, that individual spontaneity is hardly recognized by the common modes of thinking as having any intrinsic worth, or deserving any regard on its own account. The majority, being satisfied with the ways of mankind as they now are (for it is they who make them what they are), cannot comprehend why those ways should not be good enough for everybody; and what is more, spontaneity forms no part of the ideal of the majority of moral and social reformers, but is rather looked on with jealousy, as a troublesome and perhaps rebellious obstruction to the general acceptance of what these reformers, in their own judgment, think would be best for mankind.”
It is John Stuart’s own educational experience, where spontaneity and free development were not allowed by his reforming, and thus ”forming,” father, that gives power and passion to his rational ideas on liberty, though the limits of rationality are readily apparent since it is often confused with ”liberation” and Mill pays scant attention to the role of emotional, and the intangible and poetic which form the basis of liberty’s appeal in capturing the imagination. Much like looking at the word ”love” as a physical, scientific phenomena.
The extraordinary thing is that with all the modifications he applied to his father’s utilitarian doctrines, and even way of life, John Stuart did not need to reject his father totally. Their father-son conflict did not have to be murderous and fatal, except in fantasy; and perhaps because successfully handled in fantasy, not necessary otherwise. The conflict may have been based on them both saying the same thing, just fighting over the devilish details. In a strange and tortuous way John Stuart was able to come to terms with both his love and his hate for his father, and thus to retain and extend the intellectual and social legacy handed on to him. Generational conflict, in this case, had become a vehicle for peaceful social change. Though in actual fact, the industrial revolution would make such a transition anything but peaceful, though perhaps less violent than if some theoretical basis had not been established.
In many ways the absence of revolution in nineteenth century England, and the presence of
orm, find their familiar countepart in the father-son relationship of James and John Stuart Mill. By now we know well that the way in which generational change takes place in the family affects the way in which it takes place in the larger society. And of course, vice-versa. We are dealing with an oscillating cause an effect relation which is highly volatile.
We may not be clear as to the exact mechanism, but we can recognize the ticking when we hear it. Generational conflict can blow up a society, or it can provide a means by which society may renew itself and proceed peacefully, though differently into the future. In the case of James and John Stuart Mill we have a prototype of how a member of one generation, in an age of transition, was able to come successfully to terms with himself by coming to terms with the generation before him, in the person of his father.
”At the same time, for boys and men, the cultural pressure to love their fathers, no matter how dreadful their behavior, is so strong that it can leave the son with particularly conflicted, violently contradictory, feelings. The tension between fathers and sons requires some form of release, physical and emotional, and whereas the physical release can take the form of violent individual and team sports, the emotional release, like most culturally significant tension, finds outlets in literature, myths and folktales.
Classical mythology, traditional folktales, and the Bible are full of tales having to do with the conflict between fathers and sons: Laius and Oedipus, Godfather Death and his godson, Abraham and Isaac. Because themes are amplified when they serve the rhetoric of culturally resonant stories, sons kill fathers and fathers kill sons often through symbolic substitutes. The blame for the violence is often placed on the father, but in reality the culpability goes both ways, often implicating the father more strongly.
After all, as one of the most famous father-son myths reminds us, Oedipus didn’t simply kill his father, his father had set the chain of events in motion by pinning his son’s ankles so he could not walk and then leaving him on an exposed mountaintop to die. The irony, of course, is that Oedipus kills Laius during an argument about right of way while he is walking to Thebes. Later, Oedipus becomes a great hero by solving the riddle of the sphinx, which involves locomotion — the very thing his father tried to prevent in him: “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” Oedipus’s answer, “Man: he crawls on all fours as an infant, walks upright as a youth, and hobbles with a cane in the twilight of his years.” It’s a terrible irony that he embodies the answer, standing there with his staff in hand. And yet, despite his great insight, Oedipus is blind to the fact that he is no more than a pawn in a greater narrative controlled by the Fates.”
But the liberalism of John Stuart Mill, main have been a ”band-aid” solution to the changing times. Evolutionary reforms that did not seek to redefine the structures of civilization, but simply make it more palatable; instead it became orthodox canon for the welfare state and a present form of modern liberalism that seems to exploit the West’s past hypocrisies as leverage against the principles of freedom. The desire to achieve the ”good” in its many beguiling varieties has created stigmas which are the mechanism by which moral accountability is transferred from one generation to the next. Mill, among others, put in motion the permanent features of moral accountability, which on the positive side, can be a civilizing force for a group as a whole. Mills abolitionist views and crusade for women’s rights and suffrage opened the way for a long series of hypocrisies to be acknowledged, which were only admitted to under duress and not by a guilty conscience since man has always been ingenious in developing the necessary rationalizations to live comfortably with his evil, most noticeably that of white supremacy.
”Societies acknowledge their misdeeds only when their illusion of superiority is finally shattered so their oppression of others is seen not as a noble obligation but as a banal and self-serving hypocrisy. …Societies can live easily with their evils but not with their open hypocrisies. Segregation was an evil for 100 years. But the great achievement of the civil rights movement was to finally establish it as an open hypocrisy. If a society rejects responsibility for a hypocrisy it has already acknowledged, then it undermines and destroys its legitimacy as a society. This is why established hypocrisies are so transformative.” ( Shelby Steele )
The problem with the liberalism of Mill, is that inevitably liberalism must shift its focus from its historical mission of freedom to redemption. To show English society innocent of its past evils and hypocrisies. This type of liberalism has little patience for freedom, and to simply work toward fairness is too passive a mission. Worse, with the ideal of freedom, there is no guarantee of results, or the ability to control the outcomes, and this form of liberalism, what we have today; wants results so that it can demonstrate that Western society and its institutions can become innocent of their past.
The classically liberal focus of John Stuart Mill, freedom and fairness, was viewed as inadequate and has been morphed into the monster we have today that seeks to seek political power in the name of redeeming past sins. The liberalism of Mill thrives by using pat hypocrisies as leverage against the timeless principles of freedom today. Liberalism is no longer a discipline of principle since it seems to antagonize freedom with the idea of an impossible innocence that was an illusion to begin with.