John Stuart Mill, and His Liberalism, Were Not as Secular as Often Assumed

While the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill is remembered by both admirers and detractors alike as the epitome of rationalist, secular, utilitarian liberalism, Timothy Larsen argues in a new book that the author of On Liberty had a complex spiritual life and, even if not a believer in the strict sense, was openminded about religion in general and Christianity in particular. Larsen, writes James K.A. Smith in his review, also makes “a wider argument about the alleged incompatibility of liberalism and religion.”

Mill’s legacy was effectively “edited” by his philosophical and political disciples, excising any hint of religious life. One would never know from the canon in our philosophy departments, for example, that Mill wrote an appreciative essay on “Theism.” Nor would many realize that his closest friend at the end of his life was the Protestant pastor in Avignon who buried him with prayer. Nor would these heirs know what to do with the inscription on the tomb of his beloved [wife and collaborator] Harriet Taylor that pines for “the hoped-for heaven.”

The selective inheritance of Mill crammed him into a particular cultural mythology—one that proclaims political liberalism as the devotion we adopt when we’ve outgrown the backward pieties of religion. And this is a story told both by liberals and conservatives, who both seem to have a stake in a supposed antithesis between Christianity and liberalism. . . .

Mill, Larsen shows us, “was the kind of ‘secular’ figure who read theological treatises appreciatively.” For his entire adult life, when the introverted, isolated Mill gave himself over to relationships and friendships, they were often with devout individuals—the Anglican theologian F.D. Maurice, a treasured friend, for example, as were intimate circles of Quakers and Unitarians. . . . Mill’s A System of Logic was published by the house now known as SPCK—the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge—and Mill was always delightfully surprised by how enthusiastically his books were received by religious leaders.

Most significantly, Larsen offers the first close reading of Mill’s “Theism” essay that this philosopher has encountered—which says more about our philosophical curricula than it does about Mill. In this late text, published posthumously, Mill arrives at a position that philosophers today would call “probabilist theism.” After assessing the evidence, Mill judged that there was “a large balance of probability in favor of their being a Creator.”

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Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: History & Ideas, John Stuart Mill, Religion and politics, Secularism

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians