Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.
Liberalism, if it means anything, must be about a society in which we all have the freedom and opportunity to flourish, and to realise as much of our human potential as we can. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, it is not only law which can oppress this possibility, but also custom, tradition and social pressure toward conformity.
David Laws' resignation reflects an error of judgement in his expenses claims which the government believe made his position untenable. But its root cause was a lack of confidence in the liberalism of contemporary Britain.
The sad fact is that this liberal politician simply did not experience Britain, even of 2010, as a liberal society in which a gay man who was ambitious in his career in the City and then politics, and who wished to maintain relationships with family and friends, could openly flourish as himself. Sadder still is that there will be a widely shared sense that he was almost certainly wrong about that (though one can never underestimate the pain and difficulty of anybody's own personal and family relationships).
Laws' moving short interview with The Times about his sexuality makes very clear that not being 'out' was not for him rooted in a simple liberal preference for maintaining a private sphere from his public life, but a deeply painful difficulty in reconciling himself to who he really was.
“When I grew up, being gay was not accepted by most people, including many of my friends. I have kept this secret from everyone I know for every day of my life. That has not been easy, and in some ways it is a relief not to have to go on misleading those close to me about who I am ... I hope that others will now learn that it is time for people to be honest about their sexuality. Keeping secrets is much tougher than telling other people who you really are”.
While I do not share Laws' vision of a small state liberalism, it is a personal tragedy to see a political career cut short for that reason, accentuated because Laws' approach seems so unnecessary in a more liberal and open Britain in which civil partnerships have been celebrated and cherished for the last five years.
Yet we are all products of our experience and upbringing. The transformation of attitudes towards homosexuality has been very rapid, and that can easily be forgotten.
David Laws was born in 1965. His personal account shows how much more difficult it was for many to be 20 years old in 1985 than it was in 1995 or 2005 - and how difficult it can be to change our formative attitudes with which we enter adulthood. The unprecedented and welcome speed with which attitudes in elite politics changed happened just a moment too late for him.
Laws was active in politics as a Parliamentary candidate in 1997, and as the LibDem director of policy until 1999, before becoming an MP in 2001. Again, most of us would expect a liberal party to have had little problem with gay aspiring politicians by the time of the milennium. Yet, right up to 2005, every Liberal or LibDem MPs who were gay or bisexual had stayed in the closet, from Jeremy Thorpe to Simon Hughes. Laws' personal background, his Catholic upbringing and family, would seem to have played an important role for him personally. But he would have inevitably have had thrust upon him the identity of a 'pioneer' role in his own party. All parties need such pioneers, and those who come later have enormous reasons to be grateful to Chris Smith and others who are prepared to take those risks first, but that was something with which Laws would clearly have felt very uncomfortable.
So, instead Laws made the arrangements which have led to his resignation, combined with avoidable errors in his expenses claim after rule changes of questionable purpose (and yet which clearly reflect the public pressure to know about MPs' personal lives in the name of transparency). Some argue he deserves as little sympathy as anybody making the same case to the DWP or local benefits office, though despite his breach of these rules, Nick Clegg and David Cameron could have refused his resignation.
Britain became a much more open and more liberal society over the last decade. It might give those who have declared this to be a "liberal moment" pause for thought that David Laws' Cabinet career has been cut unfortunately short because, when it came to his own life, he did not yet have the confidence to believe it.
Despite the expenses breach, that seems a most unfortunate reason to end to a political career.
So many, whether political allies and opponents, will wish David Laws not only the time and space to find personal happiness but will also hope that his speedy and dignified resignation may also give him the opportunity to resume a frontline political role.