More prescience from JSM

John Suart Mills’s depressive breakdown is most movingly described by his autobiography: what makes it fascinating is that it was a crisis of ideas as well as of emotions and desires. Some of them — such as the one I am looking for, about music — were silly. But his main fear was quite astonishingly prescient:

bq. For though my dejection, honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind in general was ever in my thoughts, and could not be separated from my own. I felt that the flaw in my life, must be a flaw in life itself; that the question was, whether, if the reformers of society and government could succeed in their objects, and every person in the community were free and in a state of physical comfort, the pleasures of life, being no longer kept up by struggle and privation, would cease to be pleasures.

Mills’s depression fell on him in the late Eighteen Twenties, so far as I can make out from the DNB. This was a time of great material wretchedness, even in England, perhaps the richest country in the world. Yet he foresaw all the troubles of affluence, which are distinct from the corruptions of wealth, and he was, I think, the first man to do so. But at the same time he had nothing of the mean spirit of the affluent: he continues

bq. And I felt that unless I could see my way to some better hope than this for human happiness in general, my dejection must continue; but that if I could see such an outlet, I should then look on the world with pleasure; content as far as I was myself concerned, with any fair share of the general lot.

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1 Response to More prescience from JSM

  1. Saltation says:

    if you like Mills and you want a fuller (and funnier) treatment of his realisations re the source of human happiness, i think you’ll very much enjoy [“The Situation Is Hopeless But Not Serious: The Pursuit Of Unhappiness”: by Paul Watzlawick.

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