Liberty and Equality in Political Economy
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Liberty and Equality in Political Economy

From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present

Nicholas Capaldi and Gordon Lloyd

Liberty and Equality in Political Economy is an evolutionary account of the ongoing debate between two narratives: Locke and liberty versus Rousseau and equality. Within this book, Nicholas Capaldi and Gordon Lloyd view these authors and their texts as parts of a conversation, therefore highlighting a new perspective on the texts themselves.
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Chapter 7: Mill’s Place in the Liberty Narrative

Nicholas Capaldi and Gordon Lloyd


John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx were the two great synthetic thinkers of the nineteenth century. It should come as no surprise that Mill articulated the clearest and most cogent version of the Liberty Narrative in the nineteenth century just as Marx will do so for the Equality Narrative. Not unsurprisingly, Mill’s articulation of that narrative owes much to Tocqueville and Kant. Mill (1803–76) was the son of James Mill and the godson of Jeremy Bentham, both radical reformers and utilitarians. In his Autobiography (1873), J.S. Mill documented an intellectual journey marked by a movement away from narrow utilitarianism and toward a deeper understanding of liberty. He was the last major British philosopher to present an integrated view of the whole of philosophy and, like Kant and Hegel, to relate the theoretical and normative dimensions of his thought in a direct fashion. Mill understood his work in the technical areas of philosophy as a foundation for his social and political philosophy. His Principles of Political Economy (1848 and several subsequent editions; hereafter PPE) achieved the status of a canonical textbook. Nevertheless, Mill corrected Locke, Smith, Tocqueville and Kant. Mill endorsed and amended the Lockean narrative. First, he endorsed the technological project and economic growth. Mill’s view on technology is expressed in his historical account of the stages of economic growth, a view which owes much to Scottish Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume, Smith, and Ferguson.

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