This is much more than a printing of "On Liberty", which comprises only one sixth of the volume. "Utilitarianism", "On Liberty" and "Representative Government" are often published together and it is very useful to read them in turn because the key principles introduced in "Utilitarianism" underpin the other two books. The addition of "The Subjection of Women" is a bonus.
Bentham had argued that "good" and "evil" were not useful concepts and what mattered was "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" determined by a "felicific calculus", wherein no one pleasure was to be thought superior to another except by duration, intensity, number of people affected etc. In "Utilitarianism" Mill disagrees with Bentham, arguing that quality is more important than quantity. "It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others." Who was to determine this? Those with "higher faculties" - which is the intellectual elitism Mill carries forward to the other books. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if some pleasures are superior to others, thought Mill, then it was proper to encourage all people to strive to achieve the ability to enjoy them. We thus have Mill's revised utilitarianism that is rooted in the progress of mankind.
Mill was a libertarian who chose not to base his defence of liberty on natural rights but on his revised utilitarianism that stresses human development:
"I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions...grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being."
Mill argues that freedom is required to allow men to explore all the avenues of human development. Total freedom is impossible so what determines the legitimate boundaries of freedom? Mill distinguishes between self-regarding and other-regarding actions. The former should never be interfered with and the latter subject to limitation only if they harm the legitimate rights of others. For Mill free thought is self-regarding and should not be curtailed, and free thought is worthless without free speech. Mill then adds a utilitarian argument in favour of free speech: if an opinion, whether true or false, is silenced then mankind is necessarily the loser. He advances a number of arguments to support this, concluding with the claim that a climate of freedom is essential for "great thinkers" (intellectual elitism) and "it is as much, and even more indispensable to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature they are capable of" (revised utilitarianism). Today there is much talk about whether people have the right not to be offended (e.g. the Danish cartoons). Mill thought otherwise and hence his opposition to the blasphemy law.
Mill concedes that actions cannot be as free as speech and proposes that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted...in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection." Because he rejects paternalism he rejects interference with self-regarding actions. Mill would not have prevented people from taking drugs and he would have led the opposition to seat belt legislation. A prostitute should be free to ply her trade and a man should be free to get drunk - unless he is a policeman or soldier on duty. Mill states that an individual's actions must not harm the legitimate "rights" of others, but he defines such "rights" very narrowly and makes it clear they are not synonymous with "interests". Hence unrestricted laissez-faire is permissible. Mill is very reluctant to concede limitations to freedom of action because he believes that any such limitation may be the thin end of the wedge to be used as an argument for some further restriction.
Though Mill is a very determined anti-paternalist he makes three exceptions: children, primitive societies and the disabled. Children must be guided until they reach maturity and they must be given compulsory education - something not given legislative force until 1871. As for primitive societies Mill was not a typical Victorian believing in the "inherent differences between races. He simply observed the reality of the world at the time but made it very clear any intervention in backward societies must be temporary with the aim to bring about self-government as soon as possible.
Though Mill was a libertarian there is just one example where, at first sight, Mill may seem reactionary to modern readers. He wished to restrict the right to have children to those who could prove that they could support them. However, those who today wish others to be allowed to procreate at will do so on the grounds of human rights. Mill based his theories on utilitarianism, and not on rights. There was no welfare state when Mill wrote "On Liberty" and he was concerned with the well-being of children born to people without the means to support them.
CONSIDERATIONS ON REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT
There are three related principal themes in "Representative Government":
1. The application of his revised utilitarianism to government.
2. How to reconcile the competing claims of efficient government and the popular voice.
3. How to combat the danger of the "tyranny of the majority".
Mill's version of utilitarianism led him to say that the first question to ask is whether a form of government develops the desirable moral and intellectual qualities of the citizens. Mill believed that "active" rather than "passive" people create human progress, and political institutions should foster active citizens, and this is best done by giving (almost) everyone, including women, the vote. He also favoured local government and citizen participation on juries.
Though Mill wanted citizens to have the vote he did not want them to play too important a role. He was opposed to direct democracy, and favoured representative government because it enabled him to reconcile bureaucratic expertise with the popular voice. As in "On Liberty" Mill insists on the importance of the intellectual elite. Elected representatives should act as a sort of check on government without trying to control it, and should not select members of the Cabinet. Civil servants must be recruited via competitive exams.
In discussing the electoral system Mill reveals his concern with the dangers of a "tyranny of the majority" and advocates the Hare system of STV, which most closely mirrors votes. Mill justified this on the grounds of representing minorities, but it is clear that the minority he was primarily concerned with was the educated elite, which Mill wished to further bolster via plural voting. Extra votes were to be allocated to people based on educational achievement, but Mill was writing before universal education in England so in the meantime bosses should have more votes than employees (because they had to think more in their duties) and foremen should have more votes than those under them. Today he would no doubt wish to give extra votes for passing exams at 16, 18, and at degree level. Were Mill to return now I suspect he would be relieved that his worst fears over a "tyranny of the majority" have not come to pass but would be concerned that politicians are too often more concerned with popular policies than good policies.
THE SUBJECTION OF WOMEN
This book too is imbued with Mill's version of utilitarianism. Mill denied that women were in any way inferior to men and declared that withholding the vote held back their development. Not only did women themselves lose out as individuals but so too did society.