Econlib

The Library

Other Sites

Front Page arrow Quotations arrow Other Quotes arrow Week of 27 February, 2006

Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The young John Stuart Mill could sense that he was living in a revolutionary age when liberal reforms were in the air (he was writing one year before the First Reform Act of 1832 granted the middle class in England the right to vote). He quite rightly thought these changes would be revolutionary in nature, such as the Anti-Corn Law League’s success in 1846 in repealing the corn laws and ushering in a period of virtual free trade. Richard Cobden was the leader of the free trade movement in England, and his counter part in France was Frédéric Bastiat. Mill himself became of Member of Parliament, the leading philosopher of the classical liberal tradition in the 19th century, and a staunch defender of women’s rights.

Other quotes about Politics & Liberty:

27 February, 2006

static/JSMill250.jpg

J.S. Mill was convinced he was living in a time when he would experience an explosion of classical liberal reform because “the spirit of the age” had dramatically changed (1831)

Read the full quote in context here.

In an essay which Mill wrote in 1831 at the age of 26 he confidently announces that “the spirit of the age” in which he lived would bring about revolutionary changes because men had suddenly “insisted on being governed in a new way”:

A change has taken place in the human mind; a change which, being effected by insensible gradations, and without noise, had already proceeded far before it was generally perceived. When the fact disclosed itself, thousands awoke as from a dream. They knew not what processes had been going on in the minds of others, or even in their own, until the change began to invade outward objects; and it became clear that those were indeed new men, who insisted upon being governed in a new way.
But mankind are now conscious of their new position. The conviction is already not far from being universal, that the times are pregnant with change; and that the nineteenth century will be known to posterity as the era of one of the greatest revolutions of which history has preserved the remembrance, in the human mind, and in the whole constitution of human society.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

The present times possess this character. A change has taken place in the human mind; a change which, being effected by insensible gradations, and without noise, had already proceeded far before it was generally perceived. When the fact disclosed itself, thousands awoke as from a dream. They knew not what processes had been going on in the minds of others, or even in their own, until the change began to invade outward objects; and it became clear that those were indeed new men, who insisted upon being governed in a new way.

But mankind are now conscious of their new position. The conviction is already not far from being universal, that the times are pregnant with change; and that the nineteenth century will be known to posterity as the era of one of the greatest revolutions of which history has preserved the remembrance, in the human mind, and in the whole constitution of human society.
Even the religious world teems with new interpretations of the Prophecies, foreboding mighty changes near at hand. It is felt that men are henceforth to be held together by new ties, and separated by new barriers; for the ancient bonds will now no longer unite, nor the ancient boundaries confine. Those men who carry their eyes in the back of their heads and can see no other portion of the destined track of humanity than that which it has already travelled, imagine that because the old ties are severed mankind henceforth are not to be connected by any ties at all; and hence their affliction, and their awful warnings. For proof of this assertion, I may refer to the gloomiest book ever written by a cheerful man—Southey’s Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society; a very curious and not uninstructive exhibition of one of the points of view from which the spirit of the age may be contemplated. They who prefer the ravings of a party politician to the musings of a recluse, may consult a late article in Blackwood’s Magazine, under the same title which I have prefixed to this paper. For the reverse of the picture, we have only to look into any popular newspaper or review.

Amidst all this indiscriminate eulogy and abuse, these undistinguishing hopes and fears, it seems to be a very fit subject for philosophical inquiry, what the spirit of the age really is; and how or wherein it differs from the spirit of any other age. The subject is deeply important: for, whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it; we must suffer with its sufferings, and enjoy with its enjoyments; we must share in its lot, and, to be either useful or at ease, we must even partake its character. No man whose good qualities were mainly those of another age, ever had much influence on his own. And since every age contains in itself the germ of all future ages as surely as the acorn contains the future forest, a knowledge of our own age is the fountain of prophecy—the only key to the history of posterity. It is only in the present that we can know the future; it is only through the present that it is in our power to influence that which is to come.

[More works by John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)]