We hear the question all of the time, “is the overstepping its legislative power of morality? ” So, I will ask you, is our government overstepping, is it not stringent enough, or do you even care whether the government is legislating morality? Firstly, what do I mean by our government legislating morality? Think of it as an all-encompassing parent. If one of the children (in this case the children would be us, the citizens) misbehaves government they are punished, corrected, and then allowed to join the other children again.
The analogy of the misbehaved child is our criminal justice system. I do not mean by this analogy that the state should replace the family. I am merely turning the citizens and government into individuals to explain authoritative power. If a citizen commits a crime, they are judged, punished, corrected, and then sent back into society. This ingrains a sense of fear, a fear of punishment, whereas model citizens are praised and allowed to be left alone and do as they please within the boundaries of the law. There are extremes to legislating morality though.
Think of it as a balancing scale, too little legislation and we fall into anarchy, but too much and we are in a totalitarian society and ule. I will return to the analogy of the family. A government that was totalitarian would be considered an overbearing and possibly abusive of that power. Everything would be regulated without exception. The government would essentially become the parent since it would legislate how families must raise their children. Whereas with anarchy there is no control, no order. There is no government to legislate and it would arguably spiral into chaos.
Too much legislation and the citizens are oppressed. Too little and the citizens have only their family to fear for any form of discipline. I would liken this concept to Aristotle’s idea of virtues. If you have too little of the virtue then you are in the deficiency, but if you have too much then you fall into excess. The only way to have a truly balanced legislated society is to be balanced within the mean and the excess, but is it even possible to achieve? I believe it is not, we may come close, but the idea of a perfectly equal legislated society is a utopian dream.
One theorist named, J. S. Mill, argues that a utilitarian approach to legislating morality is the key to achieving the fore mentioned utopian idea. Utilitarianism is moral theory stating the right thing to do is what causes the greatest happiness for all. Essentially, whatever is the popular view would be the right option to choose. Mills states 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 a sufficient warrant.
He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else.
The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. I find this statement from Mills rather orrying. Mills is saying that although the actions of the individual may cause them happiness it is irrelevant if it harms others. This concept is rather flawed. Here is an example of Mills theory at work. A man owns an apartment building and rents out the living quarters to a family of four.
The family moves in, but is unable to continue paying rent. The man tries to take them to court, but the case is thrown out since if the family leaves it will cause the unhappiness to more individuals. This instance the one who owns the property would be the one seeking his own happiness as opposed to the happiness of others. This theory prevents other viewpoints from being heard or accepted and as a result there would be no equality in the utilitarian system. The majority are always right and the minority is merely ignored.
With this system of legislation, it would not be difficult for the government to shift for what is good for the people into a totalitarian system. Scott Yenor argues against Mills and his theory of suppression of liberty. Mill provides three arguments for the goodness of liberty against the tendency among modern liberals to encroach upon personal freedom. None of the arguments are fatuous, although all of them have imits in theory and in practice. Mill’s “marketplace of ideas” (an apt term Justice Oliver Wendell ffolmes used from the bench) argument is his most famous.
Mill holds that the truth emerges from the testing and conflict provided by an environment of free expression. The suppression of an idea, on Mill’s account, means the suppressor believes he possesses “absolute certainty,” a certainty inconsistent with human limits. Liberty is the best way of managing our lack of absolute certainty. It would also be the best way to manage possession of absolute certainty if human beings could attain such a thing. True and partly true opinions can win out only if given the chance afforded by free expression.
Exposure to false opinions forces defenders of the true or partly true to stay sharp and maintain a lively sense of why they believe what they believe. The other possibility for Mills theory is to have the government alter what we believe causes the greatest amount of happiness and we would become the puppets of our own governing body. This theory worries me mainly due to the lack of effort it would take to fool individuals into believing this theory is correct. It appeals to our desire for appiness and pleasure, but merely happiness and pleasure do not create exceptional individuals.
In the theory recreational drug use is perfectly acceptable. It does not cause anyone harm, and only creates happiness and pleasure for the user. Child marriage could be argued for with Mills theory. If it causes happiness for the individuals and doesn’t affect others, then it would be perfectly acceptable. Drug use, child marriage, bestiality, cannibalism, assisted suicide, euthanasia, any issue that does not affect others would be acceptable with Mills view on legislated morality. In Mills theory, religion could not exist simply because religions would disagree and cause unhappiness which would cause the government to step in.
I believe Mills intended for his theory to be devoid of religion, mainly due to his hatred for Christianity and its ethical code. Wendy Donner reviews Linda C. Raeders article covering Mills distain for religion. Mill and his father rejected Christianity, unable to accept “that a world as … full of evil as the one they perceived could possibly be the work of a Creator simultaneously omnipotent and all-benevolent”. Both shared what Raeder calls “policy of concealment with respect to their religious views” and a “habit of insincerity. ” His encounter with Bentham produced his first conversion experience.
His connection with Comte gave him his spiritual sanctuary. A quote from Mill’s correspondence with Comte is key to understanding Mill’s writing on religion and to unmasking his character in her unflattering portrayal of his motives. Mill says, “Today, I believe one ought to keep total silence on the question of religion when writing for an English audience, though individually one may strike any blow one wishes at religious beliefs”“. Mill’s comradeship” with Comte is usually seen as temporary, ending when Mill recognized the despotic character of Comte’s philosophy.
Raeder claims that Mill never moved beyond his own illiberal proclivities, although he tried to conceal them. The accepted picture of Mill the “great moral figure” obscures “Mill’s shadow” which Raeder is keen expose. “Mill can be seen as a manipulative strategist who carefully crafted his arguments to obscure his genuine views while attempting to lead the unsuspecting reader closer to his own position”– anti-Christian to its core. “On some level, he undoubtedly experienced his own tudied silence on religion as cowardly and dishonest.
One important result was the psychic outburst of On Liberty and its passionate plea for freedom of discussion” In Mills theory there could be no religion, private organizations, political parties, or even sports teams merely because they would be a factor to cause unhappiness and the government would have to ban those forms of activities. Possibly even politicians would be punished if they argued against the majority view. In Mills hypothetical world, there could be no private institutions that are very select on whom they accept to educate. No one could ave an advantage over another because the one without would be unhappy.
This would continue on and on, until a society ruled by dictators emerged or a Marxist society would form where the concept of without is not known. I would argue that Mills either intentionally or unintentionally created the stepping stones towards a Marxist society. Mills theory is most definitely of a socialistic stand point. The problem with the Marxist theory is that the only way for it to work the entire world must be under Marxism. Arguments in favor of Mills theory would claim that seeking the happiness for the majority is better han making the difficult choice.
They would find the unfavorable choice to be the wrong choice, which is not the case. With Mills theory the majority is always considered to be right. With this in mind, how could we judge the fascist government of Germany when they were eradicating Jews? The fascists were the majority and they deemed it as the right answer to an issue, why did we stop them then? Those in favor of Mills view would argue that the other powers deemed the fascist as unfavorable and began World War II, but the war itself caused more pain than what the Nazi’s were doing in their conquered territory.
We did not fight World War II because it was the most pleasurable thing to do, but rather it was the right thing to do. The other counterargument that could be raised by a Mills supporter is, what is so wrong with a utilitarian system? The whole concept of what is deemed right is for the majority to decide is fundamentally flawed. Tough decisions have to be made, and people might not be happy with the best course of action. Wars cannot be led by mere civilian approval. Justice cannot be true if decided by the majority. Innocent men would be wrongfully punished if the majority were in control.
Tough economic decisions could not be conducted due to the displeasure of the majority. Governments cannot be completely controlled by their people, just as a government cannot fully control its citizens. There must be a balance to both. Mills theory of legislated morality is flawed and far too extreme. Utilitarianism is an ethical code unfit to have any basis in modern day society. Regrettably, I have only covered one issue within legislated morality. There are countless others that must be covered and discredited to prove they have no basis within reality.
Anarchy would be one issue I did not address, but hopefully my predecessors will finish were I have left off. Abortion, assisted suicide, recreational drug use, governmental over reach all fall into legislating morality and need to be addressed. As for Mills view of legislated morality, I could not fathom the amount of depth I could have gone on the subject. Factors such as how our society would act, what our economic systems would be, or even how our education system would be within Mills model is something I did not even address, but is very important to discrediting Mills theory.