Liberty, Equality, Fraternity by James Fitzjames Stephen

Stephen, James Fitzjames. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity [1874]. Ed. Stuart D. Warner. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993.

One of the most cogent and forceful critiques of J.S. Mill’s On Liberty. Written only 15 years after On Liberty‘s publication, Stephen dissects the elements of Mill’s theory that were the most novel for his time, especially, though not limited to, the notion that the yoke of social pressure poses as much of a threat to human liberty as the yoke of the law.

Since it is precisely these elements that have become so broadly accepted and so central to modern liberalism, it is often difficult to recognize them as unprecedented in political history and find incisive criticism of them. If you read only one commentary on Mill, or one critique of his theory of liberalism, it should be this one.

From the publisher:

Impugning John Stuart Mill’s famous treatise, On Liberty, Stephen criticized Mill for turning abstract doctrines of the French Revolution into “the creed of a religion.” Only the constraints of morality and law make liberty possible, warned Stephen, and attempts to impose unlimited freedom, material equality, and an indiscriminate love of humanity will lead inevitably to coercion and tyranny.

Online Library of Liberty