After Mill: Freedom

The Struggle against Authoritarian Control

Lesson Objectives

Appreciate the authoritarian threats to personal autonomy and freedom

Appreciate how the Political Center-Right combats Authoritarianism

Appreciate how the Political Center-Left combats Authoritarianism

Understand the Horseshoe Theory of Political Philosophy in Ethical Terms

Key Terms


Negative Liberty

Consent of the Governed

Positive Liberty

General Will

On Authoritarianism

The Political Absence of Personal Autonomy & Democracy

Authoritarianism in the 20th Century

• Strongmen leadership concentrated power away from the people

     • Weber contrasted charismatic leadership with rational leadership

     • Authoritarianism is a political philosophy of concentrated power

• JS Mill advocated for individual liberty and dissenting public opinion

     • Promoted education as essential for a free and open society

     • Stood in opposition to Authoritarianism and supported democratic process

• Authoritarianism vs Democracy

     • Authoritarianism: power concentrated in a small group of élites

     • Democracy. We the People: autonomy, consent, and pursuit of happiness

Authoritarianism & the Political Left

• Mao Zedong: Little Red Book (1964)

     • Overthrew the Democratic leadership of the Republic of China

     • Installed Maoist-Communist regime that brutalized millions in Great Leap

• Critique, Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent (1988)

     • Authoritarian regimes maintain power thru propaganda

     • Mao's authoritarianism distorted reality thru a cult of personality

• Critique, Slavoj Zizek: The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012)

     • Mao's cult of personality fed his own ambitions — not Chinese people

     • Mao's propaganda machine created a false consciousness in China

Authoritarianism & the Political Right

• Benito Mussolini: The Doctrine of Fascism (1932)

     • Fascist, totalitarian state in control of media, economy, the arts, etc.

     • Target minorities: Jews, People of Color, Religious Minorities, LGBTQ

• Critique, George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia (1938)

     • Orwell decried Fascism from first-hand war experience in Spain

     • Spanish Nationals allied with Mussolini (Italy) & Hitler (Nazi Germany)

• Critique, Hannah Arendt: The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

     • With the breakdown of trad social structures, sense of belonging is missing

     • Authoritarian élites manipulate people thru violence and media