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The dichotomy between the personal and the political has long been a contentious issue in political philosophy now. With the period of Enlightenment followed by the ascent of modernity the importance of the role of the individual has grown immensely over the centuries. The concept of the individual and notions of agency, freedom and equality are the characteristic features of liberal theory. Philosophers with authoritarian undertones have defied these notions and placed an emphasis on public life and the role of the state. In their views the state is an overarching institution which best knows the interest of its people. But with pluralism and diversity on the forefront, liberals continue to argue for the individual’s own freedom to choose. This paper aims to discuss the issue of this divide between what issues are deemed to be the individual’s choice and what issues are deemed to be addressed by the public sphere. For this purpose it will take into account the texts of John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant and Carl Schmitt.
John Stuart Mill addresses the question of civil liberty. He is concerned with that aspect of power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. Mill reiterates the evolution of how political power developed over time and how it has come to define its sphere today. Initially the leader was considered as someone in opposition to the people at large and his authority a weapon of tyranny against which the people needed to be protected. Soon however the populace gained awareness regarding the idea of leadership and it was thought that the leaders should be actually the representatives of the people as opposed to being antagonistic authorities. People realized that if they could identify with their leaders then their own interests would coincide with the interests of the rulers (Mill, 303). This chain of thought soon developed further and the birth of modern democracy took place.
    Democracy too over time however deteriorated and distanced itself from many of the premises that it was based on. Soon it was realized once again by people that the form of “self government” that was idealized was fading. Moreover the “will of the people” on which the entire system of government was based was in effect the will of the majority. Soon this “will” of the majority displayed itself in the form of the “tyranny of the majority” (Mill, 305). This too at first is perceived by one as something comprising the domain of the political and hence subject to public debate. But Mill contends on the other hand that a form of social tyranny exists. This is when society tends to uphold certain beliefs and opinions and penalizes socially those who deny these opinions. These thoughts of defiance are not punished legally, however the individual who dares this act experiences the interference of society into his personal domain and in a sense as Mill proposes, imprisons his soul. According to Mill there needs to be a limit on the power of collective opinion to the extent that it does not end up crushing the individual opinion (Mill, 305). So Mill is in a sense proposing that the lines of the private sphere must be respected as regards the importance of individuality. Therefore on the question of political despotism, most political theorists will argue that it is something that needs to be addressed by the society at large since it concerns the well being of the entire polity.

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