“Even Mill came to see the limitations of his own principle as a guide for policy and to deny that all pleasures were of equal significance for human existence. It was better, he said, to be Socrates discontented than a food satisfied. Mill acknowledged that some goals were intrinsically worthier of pursuit than others.
“This being the case, not all freedoms are equal, and neither are all limitations on freedom: some are serious and some trivial. The freedom we cherish – or should cherish – is not merely that of satisfying our appetites, whatever they happen to be. We are not Dickensian Harold Skimpoles, exclaiming in protest that ‘Even the butterflies are free!’ We are not children who chafe at restrictions because they are restrictions. And we even recognize the apparent paradox that some limitations on our freedoms have the consequence of making us freer overall. The freest man is not one who slavishly follows his appetites and desires throughout his life. […]
“We are prepared to accept limitations to our freedoms for many reasons, not just that of public order. Take an extreme hypothetical case: public exhibitions of necrophilia are quite rightly not permitted, though on Mill’s principle they should be. A corps has no interests and cannot be harmed, because it is no longer a person; and no member of the public is harmed if he has agreed to attend such an exhibition.
“Our resolve to prohibit such exhibitions would not be altered if we discovered that millions of people wished to attend them or even if we discovered that millions already were attending them illicitly. Our objection is not based upon pragmatic considerations or upon a head count: it is based upon the wrongness of the would-be exhibitions themselves. The fact that the prohibition represents a genuine restriction of our freedoms is of no account.”
▪ Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left of It (Ivan R Dee, 2005) extract from pages 222 though to 223.
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