What I stated was, that the Conservative party was, by the law of its constitution, necessarily the stupidest party. Now, I do not retract this assertion, but I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative.
The main subject of this chapter is an eminent economist, John Stuart Mill (JSM), whom we dare say, our former supervisor, colleague and dear friend Alessandro Roncaglia, perhaps too hastily, somewhat overlooked throughout his long and successful career as an economist and historian of economic thought.
In his magnum opus, The Wealth of Ideas, Roncaglia (2005a) approvingly recalls JSM's analysis of individual behavior, from which our present analysis departs, but almost neglects On Liberty (JSM, 1859, henceforth OL), on which we focus here. The need to limit himself to core economic themes, and the necessity to summarize an impressive number of sources and authors in a single book, may explain this choice. However, as Roncaglia (2008, 27; our translation) stresses, “the conception of economics as a social science cannot be locked in the restrictive boundaries of disciplinary specialization,” and we argue that JSM's not purely economic works still are a crucial foundation of modern liberal socialism and the associated economic policy stance—to which Roncaglia contributed especially in the Italian context.
As we attempt to show, JSM's treatment of the subject has many commonalities with Roncaglia's—the primacy of the moral dimension of social issues; the identification of the root (and main method) of democracy in the honest (as we will denote, “ethical”) debate rather than in mere voting; a nuanced view of the individual and her agency; a political bet on education at 360 degrees (including the “training” of responsible citizens); and a rejection of the intellectual distortions of biased, conservative liberalism, too often incorrectly superimposed with classical liberalism.
Of course, JSM's analyses require crucial updating to consider an enormously changed social context. This, we hope, will occupy some of our and Roncaglia's time in the next few years.