“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will,” Mill wrote, “is to prevent harm to others.” Therefore, while middle-class business and factory owners were entitled to increase their own happiness, the government should prevent them from doing so in a manner that would harm workers.
Mill further called for giving the vote to workers and women. These groups could then use their political power to win reforms. Most middle-class people rejected Mill's ideas. Only in the later 1800s were his views slowly accepted. Today's democratic governments, however, have absorbed many ideas from Mill and the other utilitarians.
Philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill supported extending suffrage. Mill believed that political power through voting could lead to necessary reforms.
What did John Stuart Mill see as the proper role of government?
While the champions of laissez-faire economics favored the free market and individual rights, other thinkers focused on social inequality and what they claimed were the evils of industrial capitalism. They argued that industrialization had created an unjust gulf between rich and poor.
To end poverty and injustice, some thinkers offered a radical solution—socialism. Under socialism, the people as a whole rather than private individuals would own and operate the means of production—the farms, factories, railways, and other large businesses that produced and distributed goods. In practice, when socialist governments gained power in the 1900s, they tended to regulate the production and distribution of goods, which often proved inefficient.
Socialism grew out of the Enlightenment faith in progress and human nature and its concern for social justice. Socialist thinkers developed a number of different ideas about how to achieve their goals. The early experiments in socialism differed greatly from what later socialist governments would do.
A number of early socialists established communities in which all work was shared and all property was owned in common. When there was no difference between rich and poor, they said, fighting between people would disappear. These early socialists were called Utopians. To critics, the name implied that they were impractical dreamers.
Widespread poverty, as shown here, motivated socialists to seek a more equitable economic system.