"That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant."
John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)
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Reader comments about this quote:
Under certain limited occasions, prevention to immediate harm can be justified but never, can it be morally or lawfully legislated.
 -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Mike, I concur.
     -- Carol, Georgia     
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    Works for me. There will never be absolute freedom with no abuse of power and complete individual responsibility without need. Mill says nothing about legislation -- he speaks of acting collectively or individually and the just use of power over another for protection. Of course, it does not address the definition of what one might call 'self-protection' as a monopolist would consider protection of his monopoly as 'self-protection.' But not every facet can be covered in a single blurb.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    Tell that to the fascists running our country today, Nancy , Ralph, Obama and the gang.
     -- jim k, Austin     
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    Good Archer
     -- RBESRQ     
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     -- Ron, Salem      
     -- Anonymous      
    Mike said "prevention to immediate harm can be justified" what about harm over a longer period? For example; you have 100 acres of land and I just take 1 each month, or, I slowly poison you or yours.
     -- theif, Eugene     
    theif, good points but, off topic. Thanks for the opportunity to explain. Your examples are addressed at justice. While theft is defined at law, it is justice that rectifies the unlawful taking of property. The same is true of inalienable right infringement, as exampled by poisoning. The self protection here referenced by Mills would justify victimless crimes such as the enforcement of seat belt use. While the use of seat belts save more lives than it kills, It is my choice how I will live or die. Where is the justice or remedy for the individual who dies because he was forced to wear a seat belt to prevent harm? I, under no circumstance, can ever be warranted to interfere with another's liberty or lawful action. To protect my life, liberty, or property by positive law is an actionable claim on justice. To enforce the protection of anything against harm is an oxymoron and the foundation of despotism. Traffic signals are an excellent example of when 2 rights collide. The order, of law and order, ensures to all a safe expression of rights. I can rightfully exercise no power over any member of a civilized community in the name of harm prevention. When an infringement has occurred, such as the running of a red light infringing on another's right of way (or worse) justice is then called upon.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Maybe it's because Mill was an economist that made him leave out the individual the right of self defense under extreme conditions or not so exteme as 'thief' pointed out. It never matters what the circumstance for these bankers is as long as they have and keep control of the means of exchange. It is even better if they can control the creation of the means of exchange.
     -- Anon     
     -- Roland, Bonner's Ferry      
    Economic Liberty for my personal good, warrants defence.
     -- Ronw13, OR     
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