Mill on Snyder Protests: Destructive or Harmless?
I have been waiting for the right time to discuss the controversy with Governor Snyder’s recent policy changes, and after learning about Mill and his philosophy on free speech and opinions I thought this would be the perfect time. As a student at the University of Michigan, I have almost felt a sort of obligation to discuss this controversy being that the education cuts directly relate to those of us enrolled in the U of M.
I have been keeping up with the recent news on his policies as well as the large amount of protests and petitions, both on campus and off, that are occurring. On March 15, thousands of students and local activists gathered at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing to protest Governor Snyder. A main argument that was conveyed at this particular gathering was the fact that Snyder’s plan takes away our constitutional right to repeal the bill because of the power that will be given to Snyder to eliminate any municipal government in an area he decides is in “financial stress” without the input from voters. This policy that Snyder is proposing would definitely not fly with Mill.
According to Mill, there is something to be learned from all opinions, and that opinions directly impact the betterment of our society by increasing diversity and individuality. He believes that by silencing one opinion, you are keeping possible truths from being heard. But Mill also clearly explains that there should be limits on the opinions of citizens that prevent the opportunity of causing harm on others. So my first question is, would Mill support these protests on Snyder’s policies, or would he feel that they are harming others?
At first I felt there was no debate here, that Mill would certainly say the mere expression of distaste in Snyder’s policies is not harmful, but rather a form of free speech and expression of opinion. This was until I came across the following article in the Business Insider, which discusses how Michigan’s teachers’ union is asking its members to vote in favor of authorizing “crisis” measures if Snyder’s budget passes, which includes an illegal strike.
After learning this, would Mill believe this is taking it too far by proposing harm on others? Would this mean that the state would then have a right to take action against the union? Where do you draw the line when it comes to expressing one’s opinions? As Mill says,”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. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant” (On Liberty, pg. 597 ) Perhaps state is not necessarily the best way to deal with people who violate this harm principle because of the potential debate from either side, but it is clear that Mill would feel this matter of free speech impacts the betterment of society as long as it is not posing harm onto others.