This extract is part of Australian Liberalism: The Continuing Vision
...the whole essence of freedom is that it is freedom for others as well as for ourselves: freedom for people who disagree with us as well as for our supporters; freedom for minorities as well as for majorities. Here we have a conception which is not born with us but which we must painfully acquire. Most of us have no instinct at all to preserve the right of the other fellow to think what he likes about our beliefs and say what he likes about our opinions. The more primitive the community the less freedom of thought and expression is it likely to concede.
...Now, why is this first freedom of real importance to humanity? The answer is that what appears to be today's truth is frequently tomorrow's error. There is nothing absolute about the truth. It is elusive. In the old phrase, "it lies at the bottom of a deep well". It is hard to come at. So few of us have objective minds - detached minds - and what we conceive to be the truth is very often coloured or distorted by our own passions or interests or prejudices. Hence, if truth is to emerge and in the long run be triumphant, the process of free debate - the untrammelled clash of opinion - must go on.
...Many of you will recall John Stuart Mill's famous essay on Liberty, which was published eighty-three years ago, but is still full of freshness and truth. In the course of that essay Mill stated many principles, four of which I should like to put to you in his own words. First:
There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence. and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.
What is being pointed to in that passage is the easily forgotten truth that the despotism of a majority may be just as bad as the despotism of one man. Public opinion in a reasonably educated community will, I believe, in the long run over a term of years, tend to be sound and just; but public day-to-day opinion, which must frequently be ill-informed, is quite capable of being not only wrong, but so extravagant as to be unjust and oppressive.
My second passage from Mill is this:
The principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others
Here again we have a pregnant truth. It is a good rule, not only of common law but of social morality, that we must so use our own as not to injure others. The man who claims too much aggressive liberty for himself may be getting it at the expense of somebody else. Liberty is for all, not for some.
Mill next says:
As the tendency of all the changes taking place in the world is to strengthen society and diminish the power of the individual, this encroachment is not one of the evils which tend spontaneously to disappear, but, on the contrary, to grow more and more formidable.
I find this passage particularly illuminating Fascism and the Nazi movement are both based upon a social philosophy which elevates the all-powerful State and makes the rights of the individual, not matters of inherent dignity but matters merely of concession by the State. Each says to the ordinary citizen, 'Your rights are not those you were born with, but those which of our kindness we allow you." It is good to be reminded by Mill that this tendency is not confined to any one country. As the organisation of society becomes more complex we must be increasingly vigilant for the freedom of our minds and spirits.
My final passage from Mill is this:
Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.
In other words, it is a poorly founded and weakly held belief which cannot resist the onset of another man's critical mind.
Radio Broadcast 19 June 1942. Reprinted in The Forgotten People, Sydney: Angus & Robertson 1943