Before I get to the third chapter, I'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to participate in the conversation. I think I speak for PJ as well as myself when I say that I hope you stick around.
Now, to Mill. Having discussed, at some length, the importance of freedom of thought, Mill defends freedom of action, albeit with a very reasonable caveat:
The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost.
Again, Mill fails to define his limits to my satisfaction, but as I have been similarly unable to do so, I have trouble faulting him. He then proceeds to connect this principle to that of individuality, upon which he places a value as high as he believes it lacking among his contemporaries.
It is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself. Where, not the person's own character, but the traditions of customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress.
If he is not strictly an opponent of custom, he loathes a blind attachment to it, and longs for more than empty ritual from his fellow men.
But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences.
Mill is not terribly fond of the mass of men; he notes that democratic government will be mediocre at best. Individuals, he believes, are few and far between.
The greatness of England is now all collective: individually small, we only appear capable of anything great by our habit of combining; and with this our moral and religious philanthropists are perfectly contented.
Churchill, living some decades later, would have vehemently disagreed. In any case, Mill, quoting Wilhelm Von Humboldt, notes that two things are necessary for individuality: "freedom, and a variety of situations". This individuality is important, not only to the men who are fortunate enough to possess it, but to all of mankind, who may be roused from their stupor by the extraordinary men walking in their midst.
The biggest flaw in this chapter is Mill's tendency to see individuality only as it breaks from custom. True individuality is more than, say, producing offensive art for the sake of "originality". Nor is it true that those who favor custom are incapable of individuality; the conservative Dr. Johnson comes to mind as a counterpoint. Perhaps I am reading him incorrectly, but his plea for individuality struck me as little more than a silly attempt to be different from the mob for the sake of being different. Still, it must be granted that individuality is not an easy thing to coax people into becoming.
The largest achievement of the chapter is in his observation that the increase of trade--the gradual flattening of the world--and the disappearance of any real diversity--despite our attempts to manufacture it--would only exacerbate the problem. One doubts that Mill would be excited by the stock of individuality in the world today, to say nothing of his England.