The aim, therefore, of patriots, was to set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty. First, by obtaining a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable.
Mill justifies the value of liberty through a Utilitarian approach.
His essay tries to show the positive effects of liberty on all people and on society as a whole.
It appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of the State should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure.
In that way alone, it seemed, could they have complete security that the powers of government would never be abused to their disadvantage.
To the first of these modes of limitation, the ruling power, in most European countries, was compelled, more or less, to submit.
It was not so with the second; and to attain this, or when already in some degree possessed, to attain it more completely, became everywhere the principal object of the lovers of liberty.That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the people.What was now wanted was, that the rulers should be identified with the people; that their interest and will should be the interest and will of the nation.In particular, Mill links liberty to the ability to progress and to avoid social stagnation.Liberty of opinion is valuable for two main reasons. Second, if the opinion is wrong, refuting it will allow people to better understand their own opinions.Liberty of action is desirable for parallel reasons.The nonconformist may be correct, or she may have a way of life that best suits her needs, if not anybody else's.His next two chapters detail why liberty of opinion and liberty of action are so valuable.His fourth chapter discusses the appropriate level of authority that society should have over the individual.By degrees, this new demand for elective and temporary rulers became the prominent object of the exertions of the popular party, wherever any such party existed; and superseded, to a considerable extent, the previous efforts to limit the power of rulers.As the struggle proceeded for making the ruling power emanate from the periodical choice of the ruled, some persons began to think that too much importance had been attached to the limitation of the power itself.