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Mill’s On Liberty

Power, it can be said, is one of the many reasons in the world why people do many things, whether good or bad, in order to wield it as their own. Power has led to the rise and fall of nations and civilizations ever since humanity roamed the earth. It can destroy and rebuild lives inasmuch as it can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted in varied ways, legally justified or not. In his essay, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote, “that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

” That is to say that no reason can justify one to wield and exercise other than preventing others from harm’s way, to which I partly agree. Indeed, a person can rightfully exercise power in order to prevent harm from being inflicted to any civilian especially under dire circumstances where the reasons to use that power is both necessary and beneficial. There are few examples to illustrate the point where power can be used to stop harm from being inflicted to people especially innocent civilians. One example is that of a man armed with a butcher’s cleaver who wants to murder an innocent child.

The armed man can very well say that he does not want others to intrude on his plan to kill the child, which includes the powers of the police authority to stop him. It goes to show that the man armed with the cleaver opposes the powers of the legal authorities and that the power wanting to be enforced upon him is against his will. Yet even though it is against the will of the armed man, the power of the law enforcers to stop the man and thereby preventing harm to the child or to any other person can be justified precisely because the authorities have the right to exercise their power over the man.

That is the part where Mill’s argument is concretized in real-life scenarios, to which I agree because maintaining and upholding the welfare of people is paramount in any civilized and morally upright society. However, in the case of the September 11 bombings of the United States ‘twin towers’, would the judgment of that ‘superpower’ to engage other nations into war in order to prevent more harm from being done by terrorists be justified?

Is it a rightful exercise of power over ‘others’ who do not subscribe nor will to be encompassed by the power of the United States? Indeed, as Maja Zehfuss points out, the World Trade Center bombing was an unforgettable event because the “superpower” was “attacked on its very own territory, caught off-guard” and “humiliated” (p. 513). Do these things, apart from the idea of preventing harm, justify the exercise of power of America through its ‘war on terrorism’? What makes it right for America’s to war with other nations?

From the standpoint of Mill, it can be argued that the preservation of the welfare of man is truly paramount inasmuch the prevention of harm remains the ultimate cause to rally behind efforts of achieving that end. With the case of America’s war on terrorism, the wars inflicted by the nation do the opposite of preventing harm. As Larry Goodson points out, Afghanistan, one of the target nations of America in its war on terrorism, has “become too dangerous for the U. N. and the non-governmental organizations to work there (p.

15). ” The same can also be said about those who live in Afghanistan, especially the common folks who toil everyday to make a living. Thus, if indeed Mill is correct, does his notion of the rightful exercise of power applicable in the case of America’s war on terrorism? Apparently, it can be said that the elements are there to establish the point that, at the least, America may want to prevent harm in terms of preventing harm from being inflicted on its territory and people after the September 11 bombings.

It may indeed seek to protect the Americans from more harm that may come in future times, caused by no less than the terrorists. Then again, it can hardly be doubted as well that the move of America to wage war and exercise its power and, moreover, its status as a ‘superpower’ has also caused more harm to others, especially to those who live in the nations who are under the helm of America’s war on terrorism, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The irony of it all rests on the fact that America’s exercise of power in preventing more harm has done the opposite in other parts of the world. Hence, Mill’s argument is partly acceptable under certain circumstances, yet it, too, is not acceptable, or contradicts itself, in other circumstances. If we are to believe that prevention of harm is paramount in the argument of Mill, then we can also argue under the same light that preventing harm should not entail the wielding of power which can also bring harm.

As Friedland and Merari once said, the impacts of terrorism, as well as the counter measures against it, can be a double edged sword (Friedland and Merari, p. 591). This can also be said about Mill’s position on the subject of preventing harm with respect to the exercise of power, especially when nations wield power to prevent harm when what it does is to inflict more harm, if not unto the proponents of the war at least to those who stand at the receiving end of the violence that goes with it.

Works Cited Friedland, Nehemia, and Ariel Merari. “The Psychological Impact of Terrorism: A Double-Edged Sword. ” Political Psychology 6. 4 (1995): 591. Goodson, Larry P. “Afghanistan in 2003: The Taliban Resurface and a New Constitution Is Born. ” Asian Survey 44. 1 (2004): 15. Zehfuss, Maja. “Forget September 11. ” Third World Quarterly 24. 3 (2003): 513.

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