The Struggle Between Liberty and Authority

The Far Middle

Mar 13 2024 • 29 mins

The Far Middle episode 147 begins with an only-in-America connection as Nick presents the unique link between U.S. Senator Rand Paul and the installment’s sports dedication, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jim Bunning. Nick discusses Bunning’s accomplishments on the diamond that took him to Cooperstown, as well as his post-baseball career that took him to the United States Congress.

“It's another sports dedication that isn't so much about sport as it is about the unique journeys and opportunities that present themselves in America,” says Nick.

The conversation then transitions into a discussion of John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," Mill’s formative essay on individual freedom and the role of government in society. Nick’s commentary extends from and expands upon his recent article, “Revisiting On Liberty: Magnificent Guide in Troubling Times.”

Nick explores many themes from Mill’s 1859 masterpiece, such as the importance of protecting individual rights from societal and governmental coercion, the dangers of suppressing dissenting opinions, and the need for tolerance of nonconformity. Nick draws connections to present day issues, such as vaccine mandates, censorship on social media, and ideological polarization.

Regarding that polarization and today’s thought police, Nick notes that “Mill pointed out that society benefits from genius, but genius, it requires individuality and freedom. Everyone appreciates a genius in art. So, when some musical or literary genius comes on the scene, everybody loves that. But the same people often disdain contemporary genius that disrupts political, economic, religious, or scientific status quo and power. It's quite inconsistent.”

In the closing lines of On Liberty, Mill writes, “The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it…a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.” Nick contends that the individual is going to have to reign once again supreme in the U.S. if we want to secure a bright future.

Concluding the episode, Nick connects back to 1859, the publication year of On Liberty, to reflect on another milestone that year. And that breakthrough event took place in Titusville, Pa., where Edwin Drake struck oil giving birth to America’s oil industry.