London-born philosopher and social reformer John Stuart Mill (1806-73) published his most famous work, ‘On Liberty’ in 1859, in which he defined individual liberty by using what was subsequently named the ‘harm principle’. Every citizen should be free to do, believe in, say and think whatever they wish, so long as it does not harm another person or persons. This is clear-cut where the harm is physical or financial but less so where it is in the mind.
For example, breaking off a romance is emotionally hurtful for the abandoned partner but should never be banned for that reason, since it would breach an individual’s right to choose their own companions. On the other hand, stalking a former partner to the point of harassment is illegal because it infringes psychologically on their liberty to go about their everyday lives.
Individual liberty was first set into law in Britain via Magna Carta Libertatum (1215) and then the Bill of Rights (1688/89). These documents sought to prevent tyranny and stop unfounded arrests, imprisonments and punishments. It is for each of us to cherish our ability to make our own choices in how we vote, behave, speak and lead our lives, not for government or despotic billionaires.
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