October 27, 2017 Matthew

John Stuart Mill’s Liberalism and the Male/Female Relationship

John Stuart Mill is known for three particular writings:

  1. On Liberty
  2. Utilitarianism
  3. The Subjection of Women

He is called a philosopher and classical liberal. A classical liberal is not like modern so-called liberals in America. Some of the main tenets of classical liberalism are actually found in conservatism like individual liberty, limited government, and free markets. With all the political and philosophical “isms” there really is only one fundamental issue to recognize. The issue is individualism vs. collectivism. Political philosophies are shaped around this issue more than you can imagine.

In our most recent days the philosophy of collectivism has swung hard at our society with the Left’s insistence on viewing (and solving) social issues through the prism of collective identities (hence, identity politics) this is includes race, sex/gender, religion, etc. By this philosophy certain images and perceptions are ascribed to the individual based on those collective identities. We all do this inadvertently and sometimes intentionally as individuals because of how we are. We are highly judgmental creatures. Our need to judge is just that: a need. We don’t like not having an answer. We don’t like living in the dark. Even if it is an unsubstantiated judgment, as long as it makes us feel like we have an answer, it is acceptable to us. So we stereotype, judge, and cast individuals into massive nets of collective identities so that we we can feel like we know them.

But what a question. Are you a collective or an individual?

John Stuart Mill’s belief is that we are strictly individuals and thus formed his political philosophies around that maxim:

The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself.  (Mill, On Liberty)

For him there is no collective by which we are ultimately bound. This has been a fundamental value in America for a long time. In armies across the West and throughout history a soldier would be shot for cowardice. 346 British soldiers were shot for cowardice in World War I. 15,000 soldiers were shot for dereliction of duty in World War II, and over 8,000 Russian soldiers were shot by their own army for cowardice and desertion. In America’s armies no one was ever shot for cowardice or desertion although General George Patton did slap a whining soldier in a hospital once, but was at once reprimanded for this by American society. He apologized.

Individualism in America is special, there can be no doubt about it. Much of this has to do with the Bible being in the fabric of American society. The Bible places value on the individual like no other religious literature:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matt 10:29-31

Don’t you know that God knows everything? Whatever it is that oppresses your mind or soul that God know it better than you do? You know you have hair, but God knows exactly how many at any given moment. Talk about value.

However what a lot of classical liberals and even conservatives of today have done with this value is they’ve run away with it. They have become like goats, on their own, doing their own thing, wishing to be left alone. This is essentially the basis of John Stuart Mill’s works. Utilitarianism says that right and wrong should be pragmatic and results based. The Subjection of Women is an essay built on that premise that men and women are not dependent on each other but independent of each other, and if independent then they must be allowed to go their own way. Mill’s philosophy is pretty evident here and I refer to it as “goat philosophy” because, well, it fits. For him we are the opposite of sheep, we should not be compelled to stick together, and we should be accountable to no one. The Liberal Left of today wants to re-create society completely based on collectives and hold you accountable to it in every way possible. This is why free speech, once an indisputable pillar of American life, has become a hot topic of debate.

Church life is not independent life and that’s were the question comes back to us as Christians in a much more profound way: “Are you a collective or an individual?”

The New Testament answers thus, “Wrong question. You are, in fact, both.”

A true Christian is a member of the body of Christ. He is at once both an individual of high value and a collective. Because Jesus compares the saved with the lost as sheep to goats we can easily surmise that there is in fact only one true collective. All others are imagined.

This brings me to the main point I want to make. Male and female roles, when looked at from the standpoint of anti-collectivism goat behavior seems pointless. And for goats, it is. But for a true collective consider the implications. That is, it’s no longer about you. It’s for the good of the collective, the Church. Male and female roles are not utilitarian, nor are they unfair as Mill would suggest. They create a collective. And they are accountable to it. The Church, unlike the government, is involved in the personal lives of it’s constituents. This is the reason for all of the NT instructions on church authority, protection, accountability, and moral obedience. Men and women in the church are not just a bunch of individuals who have something in common. They create and constitute the very body of Christ:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:22-30)

Notice in the aforementioned passage the direct comparison Paul makes between the individual male-female roles and the fact that we are all members of Christ’s body, a collective. These stated roles are ultimately for the sake of the body. This is a point that cannot be overstated in our times.


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