J.S. Mill: Victorian Firebrand

John Stuart Mill was a feminist, and there is no doubt that the engine of his feminism was his friend, lover, collaborator, and wife, Harriet Taylor.

Mill believed in complete equality between the sexes, not just women’s colleges and, someday, female suffrage but absolute parity; he believed in equal process for all, the end of slavery, votes for the working classes, and the right to birth control (he was arrested at seventeen for helping poor people obtain contraception), and in the common intelligence of all the races of mankind.

He led the fight for due process for detainees accused of terrorism; argued for teaching Arabic, in order not to alienate potential native radicals; and opposed adulterating Anglo-American liberalism with too much systematic French theory—all this along with an intelligent acceptance of the free market as an engine of prosperity and a desire to see its excesses and inequalities curbed. He was right about nearly everything. All of which makes trouble for a biograher.

But as Adam Gopnick explains in this New Yorker feature, Richard Reeves’s “John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand” one of the many virtues of this funny, humane biography is that it brings Mill to life in the only way sententious great men can be brought to life, and that is by showing us what he was like when he lost his heart and when he lost his reason. Read full article at the New Yorker.