Liberty and Opportunity: J. S. Mill & J. J. Rousseau

Liberty is the essence of democratic existence whereas opportunity in its true existence is the essence of well-being under a civilized government formation. These two aspects are the fundamentals of modern existence and opportunity without liberty has no moral and realistic value and liberty without opportunity is bondage in civil form. These two aspects are the most desired parameters of a modern human being and to understand their value the ideals of the two most noted intellectuals of the modern world, John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would be taken into account.

John Stuart Mill explains liberty as the notion that “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people” (Mill, 32). This is the fundamental of liberty or freedom under a democratic format. He further clarifies that “the only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our good in our way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it” (Mill & Gray, 17). However, on the same note, he adds that forcing into gaining opportunity is not the right approach and it can defy the fundamentals of liberty. He states, “The spirit of improvement is not always a spirit of liberty, for it may aim at forcing improvements on an unwilling people; and the spirit of liberty” (Mill, 41). He makes the situation clear by the statement, “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit” (Mill, 10).

John Stuart Mill’s liberty represents all ethical theories where the goal is the maximization of some measure of goodness. These are outcome-oriented ethics where goodness is measured by its results. In other words, freedom is a doctrine that confirms whether or not actions have been beneficial to a large group, once applied. It is important to understand that the concept related to the aspects of zero tolerance developed from the viewpoint that has its base in the parameters that rose as a classical freedom reaction. From the parameters of freedom, it should be remembered that Mill placed his argument that there is much pain in the penal system and it tends to affect an individual by a large margin and the aspects of penal consequences should be taken into consequences while evaluating the entire process of proposed crime. It should be noted that during the time it was a normal practice to issue capital punishment. (Gerson, 305-321)

The basic concept behind this rose because it was frustrating in many cases in the context of the penal system and legislation and it was viewed that anything less than capital punishment would not be able to serve the purpose of the judicial system. This was because such situations required capital punishments as anything less than that was unable to check the flow of crime and the tendency to break the law. Circumstances at times became so severe that the jurisdiction implied capital punishments to minors. However, Mill also stated that a better-equipped police force and improved resourcefulness would reduce penalties in the long run. It should also be taken into consideration that Right Realism and the school of Neo-Classical perceptions propose a wide range of reductions in terms of punishment. In some cases one finds police being deployed in known hot spots such as areas with prostitution and drug dealing problems. These did not work in some cases. According to Mill, examples include neighborhood watch organized with police, arrests of juveniles of minor offenses, arrests of unemployed suspects for domestic assault. Some plans did not work and examples include proactive drunk-driving arrests with breath testing which may reduce accident deaths and community policing. (Kaplan, 124) Thus, it is clear that by Mill the essence of opportunity must be monitored and controlled. He specifically indicates, “The State, while it respects the liberty of each in what specially regards himself, is bound to maintain a vigilant control over his exercise of any power” (Mill, 62).

This is because the citizen must not enjoy the good of liberty and take undue advantage of liberty by seeking immoral or illegal opportunities. He belies that “without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into the river” (Mill, 57). There are reasons behind this desire for corrective measures by the state in terms of monitoring opportunity in the context of liberty. Mill specifically believes that “to the undeveloped — to point out to those who do not desire liberty, and would not avail themselves of it, that they may be in some intelligible manner” (Mill, 37). Thus, as a result, “The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar” (Mill, 1).

This becomes evident with time when the general population relies too much on the opportunity and constructs logic in favor of riches harvested out of undue opportunities and not legal frameworks. This is the time the general population gathers approaches “of opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it to be false unless the opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself” (Mill, 13). However, the aspects of opportunity become elusive in the hands of the authority when “answered if that which requires to be answered is not spoken? or how can the answer be known to be satisfactory, if the objectors have no opportunity” (Mill, 22). Thus, in a way, the aspects of opportunity become the subject of authority and the basic balance of the society is disturbed.

Thus, it becomes imperative for the authority to maintain the balance between liberty or freedom and opportunity from the very beginning. It can be stated that identification of a criminal before the crime is committed is a part of freedom in the sense that the assumption of a crime is presumably error-free. This method is utilized in subculture identification in the context of criminal justice. A violent subculture is a subculture in a location that teaches its members and others to adapt to the problems of life through violent methods. These subcultures stress violence as it settles disputes and raises a group member’s prestige in the subculture. Violence shows dominance and power. One of the reasons for violent subcultures is the illegitimate and legitimate opportunity structure.

Similarly, Jean-Jacques Rousseau equates the situation by stating, “All your activities and display in you, to the entire universe, the example of a proud and modest people, as jealous of its glory as of its liberty” (Rousseau, 30). He even presents the example of savage and remarks, “I ask if anyone has ever heard tell of a savage who was living in liberty ever dreaming of complaining about his life and of killing himself” (Rousseau, 52). However, in this case, the aspect of opportunity is much less than a citizen under a civilized form of society. Thus, to develop the situation in the context of a civilized society, Rousseau remarks, “Each family became a little society all the better united because mutual attachment and liberty were its only bonds” (Rousseau, 63). This is the transition of civilization and building a society where opportunity grows with every social norm and bondage. Thus, it becomes relevant that “the desire and the opportunity to leave that state, that would be a charge to bring against nature, not against him whom nature has thus constituted” (Rousseau, 52). This is because “Once the social compact is violated, each person then regains his first rights and resumes his natural liberty” (Rousseau, 148).

Jean Jacques-Rousseau believed that human beings are good-natured but are corrupted by money, property, and other wealth. Governments were created to correct these inequalities. Overall, Classical thinkers had a profound impact on the future, as they brought about new ideas and change. Much of the constitution of the United States is based on the ideas regarding society and government produced by these philosophers. In addition, their effect on criminology was important, as up to this point, crime had been explained by mysterious, evil spirits. Now, crime was considered to be an activity engaged in by a human who chose on his or her free will to partake in a deviant course of action. This was the opportunity of crime under liberty and it was essential to control it. Rousseau wrote, “Born citizen of a free state and member of the sovereign people, however feeble the influence of my voice in public affairs, the right to vote upon them imposes upon me the duty of instructing myself.” (Rousseau, 76) To him, this was the right use of opportunity under liberty and this should be followed by every proper citizen.

Thus, it is seen that the relation between liberty and opportunity is complex and vital for society. The legitimate opportunity structure provides individuals with the means of obtaining status and success in society through appropriate channels such as education and hard work. While this structure is ideal, it is not available for all individuals in society, especially those in violent subcultures, due to poor education, poverty, and other societal problems. Therefore, these individuals use the illegitimate opportunity structure, which can include drugs, robbery, and homicide, to obtain status and success. Some things can be done to prevent the growth of violent subcultures. By creating a legitimate opportunity structure for current or future members of these violent subcultures, the rate of individuals committing violent crimes and the rate of crime, in general, can decrease. This can be done by providing educational and employment opportunities within these subcultures. But as these measures are long termed freedom concept in criminal justice context by imprisoning suspected and potential trouble maker during such a social emergency is justified even if it defies the ideology of liberty for a short period. (Waterman, 723-734) However, it should be noted that the aspects of liberty are much more valuable in the long term in contrast to opportunity as put forward by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Free peoples, remember this axiom: Liberty can be acquired, but it can never be recovered” (Rousseau, 166).

Works Cited

Gerson, Gal. “From the State of Nature to Evolution in John Stuart Mill”. Australian Journal of Politics & History 48.3 (2002): 305-321.

Kaplan, John. Criminal justice: introductory cases and materials. LA: Foundation, 1998.

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Lausanne: Longmans, 1867.

Mill, John Stuart & John Gray. On liberty and other essays. London: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Basic political writings. Trans. Donald Cress. London: Hackett Publishing, 1987.

Rosseau, Jean-Jacques. ‘The Social Contract’. In J. Thomas Wren, Douglas A. Hicks & Terry L. Price (Ed.) The International Library of Leadership: Traditional classics on leadership. Volume 1. (pp. 75-82). NY: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2004.

Waterman, Allen. “Mill Versus Liberty”. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 64.2 (2008): 723-734.

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