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Would John Stuart Mill have been a Green Liberal Democrat?

April 19, 2020 9:58 PM
By Joseph Dodd

John Stuart Mill (wikimedia - Postcard_featuring_John_Stuart_Mill)As Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson claimed the English liberal thinker and politician John Stuart Mill would have been a supporter of Brexit. In his Brexit speech in February 2018 he said:

"[Brexit] is to fulfil the liberal idealism of John Stuart Mill himself, who recognised that it is only the nation - as he put it, "united among themselves by common sympathies which do not exist between themselves and others". Only the nation could legitimate the activities of the state."

Plenty of people in the know made light work of Johnson's crude use of Mill's words to justify the case for the UK's exit from the European Union. And yet, this does make one wonder whether Mill would have been a Green Liberal Democrat had he been alive today. As one of the most celebrated liberal thinkers and Liberal Party parliamentarians, we can confidently assert that Mill would have been a full paid up member of the Liberal Democrats.

His writings in 'Principles of Political Economy' suggest that Mill would have rightly recognised climate change and ecological destruction has the most pressing challenge of our time. He wrote:

"If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compel them to it."

We will never be able to say conclusively whether Mill would have been a climate denying Brexiteer or a Green Liberal Democrat. We can only wonder.

Read more on Joseph's blog at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2018/03/05/was-boris-johnson-justified-in-using-john-stuart-mill-to-make-the-case-for-brexit/

John Stuart Mill (wikimedia - Postcard_featuring_John_Stuart_Mill)