Radical Heroes

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart MillJohn Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was perhaps the central figure of nineteenth century British social thought. Yet his ideas would seem a sea of contradictions to us today. Author of the most prominent textbook of nineteenth century political economy and the central defender of free market economics of his era, Mill was eventually a committed socialist and defender of trade unions. For years the defining feature of utilitarian philosophy, Mill revered in a more spiritual than instrumental way the sacredness of individual freedom and autonomy. Consistently the most radical of democratic reformers, Mill fought for universal suffrage, including for women, yet feared the ignorance of the masses and sought ways to give extra weight and influence to experts. While he is most remembered as a political economist and philosopher, Mill was one of the most practical intellectuals of his era, spending more than three decades administering parts of the British East India Company and serving in parliament for the Liberal Party he helped form from the Radical party of his mentor Jeremy Bentham and the Whig Party.