John Stuart MillJohn Stuart Mill, (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist

John Stuart Mill Quote

“War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

John Stuart MillJohn Stuart Mill
~ John Stuart Mill

paraphrased from "The Contest in America," Fraser’s Magazine (February 1862); later published in Dissertations and Discussions (1868), vol.1 p. 26

Ratings and Comments

Joe, Rochester, MI

Uglier still is welfare. It keeps the miserable creatures (those unwilling to fight for anything) down. END welfare. The least it will do is lower our taxes. The best it will do is give people responsibility for themselves.

Mike, Norwalk
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Mike, Norwalk Joe, Rochester, MI 8/21/20

“Charity is no part of the Legislative duty of the government.” (James Madison) The dole / welfare is an issue of religion, NOT! a secular body politic. The occupying statist theocracy infesting this land has weaponized welfare to justify theft from We The People, break down the family, dull the noble being's senses and destroy the de jure Representative Republic (representing individual sovereignty, inalienable rights and liberty at "the laws of nature and of nature's God" (Declaration of Independence)). Such theocratic endeavor is an ugly war on honor, principle and virtue. Charity and welfare in a a religious setting is a most noble endeavor for both giver and recipient.

Dave Hemphill, Boulder City, NV

This quotation addresses a lamentable condition which has developed to a great degree in our country - complacency, along with a sense of entitlement to freedom.

TerryBerg, Occidental, CA

And, according to Dr. Samuel Johnson (on this site), "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." while "Moral indignation is in most cases 2% moral, 48% indignation and 50% envy." according to Vittorio de Sica. This quote is actually a simple patchwork of palaver and lacks pointed logic. Clearly, on occasion, there are SOME sensible justifications for war. Beliefs, religious or secular, are not among them. Beliefs engender crusades.

A.Jurgensen, Stuart, FL

I wonder if John Stuart Mill would say these words today...and if he did I would disagree with him. "The voice of never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum is bidding all men obey in silence the tyrannous word of command." -- Charles Eliot Norton

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Anonymous    11/30/05

I don't see how welfare has anything to do with this quote. War is far far uglier than anything on this planet - and it affects a far range of people, from the soldier to the citizen. Please take your false musings about welfare to an appropriate forum. As for freedom, everybody is entitled to it. Read the Declaration of Independence. You are BORN with rights that cannot be taken away - you don't have to "earn" them. The point of an standing army is to defend our interests in the world. You have NATURAL rights no matter WHAT is happening in the world. Besides, wasn't it JSM that said most conservatives are idiots?

Anonymous, boone nc
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Anonymous, boone nc Anonymous 4/1/07

Freedom is a not a right but a privilege since many are born without their own freedom, so freedom must be earned and protected because someone is always more than willing to take them way your fucking moron, lets see how free you are without conservatives, 90% percent of the military and the other 10% is whining liberal bitches who join as a means of getting college money instead of serving their country or liberating the oppressed.

Murph, Modesto Ca

Makes me think of current members of a certain political party

crosstalk, New Mexico

JSM is very specific on one thing which is worse than war. The anonymous comment that rights can't be taken away is missing a crucial point: one may have a right to freedom, but the exercise of that right can be forcibly denied. While that would be 'wrong', so to speak, it can happen, and is likely to happen unless prevented by the exertions of better men.

Mary Dare, Largo

Convaluted thought. W.C. Fields in a movie, once said to a child, "I'll get you to like me if I have to beat it into you".

dougmcr8, Springfield, VA

After Thomas Payne and perhaps TR - also one of the best. However, First Anonymous above shows his courage by belittling others anonymously.

warren, olathe ks

A bit long winded but still gets five stars. Some one once said "If there is nothing worth dieing for then there is anything worth living for". It is obvious looking at other comments that some see lack of war more important than peace. Yea I meant that as I typed it. Not a typo. Some will get it and some will not.

Kevin O'Neill, Nashville

I cannot put it any better than TerryBerg above. This is an ugly sentiment.

Dave Wilber, St. Louis

Welfare and warfare accomplish the same thing, Both take other people's property without payment, however ending welfare cannot reduce taxes. Though the effect of taxation is real, taxes are imaginary in this system that the Fed said "works only with credit" that would keep its value "if there were fewer people bidding against each other." I'd say the Bush's war is a howling success if its purpose is to distract us from the biological, chemical, economic, psychological and spiritual warfare HERE. "Giddy the people's minds with foreign wars and you can get away with anything at home."---Shakespeare. While our minds were giddied with the Vietnam war, they got away with our silver coins. Taxes can be paid with nothing less than silver coins because the only substance measured in dollars is silver. No one wants us to pay taxes, we must pretend or risk punishment. See: site contains no advertizing

Mike, Norwalk

There are things worse than death and destruction of man's material creations. I'm with Patrick Henry, I prefer life with liberty.

Paul, Union, WA

Killing tyrants is a good thing, but how does one always know who is the tyrant? We once killed the king's Redcoats over a 4% tax, and even made a national holiday to celebrate the act. Now King Congress burdens us with taxation far above that, but we rally to the flag and say "we gotta support the king!" much like the Loyalists did. I have to wonder if those Continentals would still give their lives if they knew how quickly we squandered what they gave us, or that we have effectively ecome Loyalists who support King Congress who is becoming (or has already become?) arguably more oppressive than King George ever was.

E Archer, NYC

Anyone willing to fight for what they believe in would agree. It doesn't necessarily mean that we are right. It is a matter of honor. It would certainly apply to a Shiite muslim believing he is fighting the good fight as well as the Christian marine fighting to keep his comrades alive. We should remember that a man fighting in his own homeland for his own people would have more courage and tenacity than foreign troops fighting in a foreign land hoping to go home soon.

warren, olathe

The tax from King George was with out representation. However small it was unjust in the eyes of our forefathers. The real agitation was that mother England was trying to create a monopoly in our market place. Tea in particular was being under priced at the expense of the English government in order to run American tea companies out of business and then have a monopoly in that business. That is what the Boston Tea Party was really all about. The tea in the harbor was a message to King George that we were not going to put up with him trying to have control over our enterprises.

Kevin Casey, Berkeley, CA

This alleged "quote" is a misrepresentation of Mill's thought and is widely used by the US military when indoctrinating soldiers. The "quote" is a paraphrase of what J.S. Mill wrote in an article supporting the Union's fight against the Confederacy. Not only is the paraphrase taken out of context, but it eliminates the following sentence that qualifies Mill's overall meaning: "When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people." That sentence is one of two appearing between the two sentences in the paraphrase, but both were deleted without elipses or other indications of editing. The paraphrase also exagerates Mill's meaning by adding the word "much" in the first sentence. (You can find the full article at ). Should we be surprised that the US military so widely uses this "doctored" quote to inspire a sense of pride and purpose in its recruits? I think not ... it's just another of the half-truths that have accompanied outright lies in the military's propoganda arsenal.

Paul Labrador, Denver CO

Yes, Kevin, it is a parphrase. But it still keeps with the intent of the whole qoute. We in the military are free citizens in arms to defend the whole. We are not slaves nor automatons. The missing portions spells out the types of wars we should be fighting and why we are fighting them. And Mill is also correct in the assertion that Rights may be God given, but they are protected by those willing to fight (and pay the price) for them. I would say that isn't restricted to those in uniform.

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    winsmith    9/3/09

    When government takes everything without paying for anything, a slave state exists. People pretend they are paid with checks that order banks to pay, then pretend they are paid with the strips of paper that banks may give them but many or most never see the green paper and are satisfied but not paid as long as they can write checks against deposited checks. "None are so hopelessle enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free." --von Goethe.

    johnnygoodboy, Boise

    In the real world; the one that I live in; what most of us would call a polite society; I find myself fighting daily for all kinds of things.The only difference is that sometimes I or sometimes the person I am fighting with gives in without fisticuffs. Wars happen when the object or the subject is too important for either side to just GIVE up. By that time, to point of what is worth fighting for has become moot. There will be blood.

    Anonymous, Kaneohe, Hawaii

    We dare not believe that we are BORN with rights... those rights are EARNED through the death of those who believed so fervently in the nobility of the ideals so much so that they pledged "their lives and their sacred honor" to the protection of those rights. We dare not believe that the rights we have are GIVEN to us without responsibility. Each man, woman and child in this country has an obligation to those who die preserving that freedom to live free... ever mindful of the sweetness of the freedom they enjoy, for that sweetness was forged in the bitterness of battle.

    Jeff, Longview, TX

    I find no evidence that JSM served. Apparently, he found no cause worth his personal involvement in war during his lifetime. That said, who on this thread would say that no cause is worth war? And I for one, feel an intense debt to the better men. Thank you...if you are reading this.

    Laura, Louisville, Ky

    Wow, I think so many people are missing the point of what he is saying. If a person believes there is nothing worth fighting for, giving their life for, not even your freedom, then you will never have anything not given to you by someone else paying the price. that's what makes that person a miserable creature. That is what's uglier than war and that is profound because war is indeed ugly. Yes, theoretically, everyone has the right to be free, but it's obvious by history and still yet today, that some are not entitled to freedom. If you want it you have to be willing to fight and die for it.

    Hop, Broomfield, Colorado

    Personally, I agree and agree with fervor in the essence of this fine quote. Would that its piercing insight would abound and replace the sickening alternative to which it is directed. The only reason I am giving it four stars instead of five is simply that I felt it could have been a bit more concise. It's just a tad clunky -- but still a real winner.

    J Carlton, Calgary

    Freedom isn't Free...but Imperialism is morally wrong. Which is why we have the right and duty to defend our freedoms, liberties and nation, but foreign intervention shouldn't be on the menu. We need to get back to the Constitution.

    Caliber, Carson City

    One of the wisest men in American history, and a pioneer in philosophy.

    Eli, Woodland Park CO

    John Stewart Mill is often misquoted, the redacted version is meant to goad men into fighting for ANY cause and is the version you see so often....the original quote from John Mill's work On Liberty reads as follows; But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

    Quite a difference if you ask me.

    Mark B, United States Air Force

    The commenters who insist on saying that Mr. Mill was misquoted are flat wrong, and, not surprisingly, are historically ignorant. Sounds like you found a certain interpretation and regurgitated it verbatim. So here's HISTORY 101 for those people:

    The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and JSM was born in 1806, 6 years BEFORE the War of 1812 (referred to as the "second war of Independence"). The historical "context" of this is that the people we were fighting were primarily the British Army--mostly made up of conscripts (draftees forced into military service). This historical context explains the part of his quote that is often left out because it does not apply to the American forces, who were all volunteers (...'when a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets'....) This is a very clear reference to the British forces, commanded by elitist officers and using conscripts as "mere" bullet catchers, lined up and ordered to stand firm or be shot by their own officers, and all for the purposes of doing the bidding of a King who was often seen as a tyrant. These passages are often left out because they do not apply to us as Americans (at the time). But what he WAS talking about were the portion of so-called Americans who were against the war. Those that thought that we should have surrendered to British rule instead of fighting for our freedom. "...A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice, a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice is often the means of their regeneration." This part is also often not included, but is there any possible way you can read those words and NOT understand that this part of his quote refers to us? Americans? The "rebels" fighting for our freedom from the tyrannical injustice of Britain's king? Seriously? If he were around to read your comments, he would have had to change his quote to add "smarter men than themselves." Class dismissed.

    Malgroid, Freedom, CA

    War is the most beautiful thing. Spend more on war!

    Stowe, Potomac

    To Mark B: If one cannot control their need to speak down to others they ought, at least, to be correct; JSM made the statement above in 1862 (Harper's magazine), so obviously wasn't referring to the War of 1812, or to British soldiers. In the full article, "The Contest in America", he describes in detail exactly what he is referring to and he means. Those in this thread who have pointed out the often-circulated version is "clipped" are correct for doing so; the clipped version removed the qualifications JSM made on the kinds of war for which his sentiment applies, thereby expanding the specific meaning of the quote to a general statement about all armed conflicts, which JSM clearly didn't intend. JSM would very likely oppose the Bush wars for precisely the reasons he gives in the clipped material!

    Don Lee, Reno

    Spot on. Something is worse than the war for men that are free, and that is slavery


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