The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

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Jeremy Bentham, "Historical Preface" to A Fragment on Government (1823)

Editing History

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“Historical Preface, intended for the Second Edition” of A Fragment on Government (1823) in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 1. <>. Esp. Parts III and IV .

1st ed. 1776; 2nd. ed. 1823

Editor's Intro


Text: Historical Preface intended for the Second Edition


III. Among the effects of the work, such as it was, was a sort of concussion, produced by it in the sort of world it belonged to: in the world of politics, but more particularly in the world of law: more particularly still, in the higher regions; the inhabitants of which, in this as in other professions, form a sort of celestial conclave, of the secrets of which, whatsoever observation is endeavoured to be made from the subjacent low grounds, is made through a medium impregnated with awe, admiration, and conjecture.

The peep here given into its mysteries will, perhaps, be found neither uninteresting nor uninstructive: it may be assistant to the grand purposes which the work itself has for its objects—objects which may be seen containing the germ of every thing which, on the same field, has been sown by the same hand since. A more particular object is the throwing light into the den of the long-robed Cacus.—Cacus felt the light, and trembled.

The more extensive, and indeed all-comprehensive object is, the pointing attention to the imperfections which even at that time of day were seen swarming in the frame of the government, and to the ricketiness of the only foundations in which, on the ground of argument, it had ever found support. No such imperfection having place but what brought profit, in some shape or other, to those among whom the power was shared, their interest of course was, that those same imperfections should, in their whole mass, remain for ever unremoved, and therefore be at all times as little as possible in view.

As a basis for all such operations as should be directed to this same object, the Fragment, at the same time, Fragment as it was, undertook to set up, and may be seen setting up accordingly, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, in the character of the proper, and only proper and defensible, end of government; as the only standard by which any apt judgment could be formed on the propriety of any measure, or of the conduct of any person, occupied in making opposition, or giving support to it. At that time of day, so far as regards the general frame of the Government, scarcely in any one of those imperfections did the Author of the Fragment see the effect of any worse cause than inattention and prejudice: he saw not in them then, what the experience and observations of nearly fifty years have since taught him to see in them so plainly, the elaborately organized, and anxiously cherished and guarded products of sinister interest and artifice.

Under the name of the principle of utility, (for that was the name adopted from David Hume), the Fragment set up, as above, the greatest happiness principle in the character of the standard of right and wrong in the field of Morality in general, and of Government in particular. In the field of Government, it found in this country the original contract in possession of that character.

The existence of that pretended agreement (need it now be said?) was and is a fable: authors of the fable, the Whig lawyers. The invention, such as it was, had been made by them for their own purposes, and nothing could have been better contrived: for, the existence of the contract being admitted, the terms remained to be settled: and these would of course be, on each occasion, what the interest of the occasion required that they should be. It was in this offspring of falsehood and sinister interest that the Fragment beheld the phantom, on the shoulders of which, the Revolution that substituted Guelphs to Stuarts, and added corruption to force, had till then had its sole declared support. Against this phantom, the Fragment will be seen making declared war: the only war but one that had ever been made against it, on any side, and the only war without exception that had ever been made against it, on the side and in favour of the people. Against this attack, thus made, no defence has, I believe, ever been attempted: scarcely since that time has the chimera been seen to show itself; scarcely, at any rate, under its own name. Such as it was, it was the offspring of Fiction; meaning here by the word Fiction, that which is meant by it in law-language.

A fiction of law may be defined—a wilful falsehood, having for its object the stealing legislative power, by and for hands which could not, or durst not, openly claim it,—and, but for the delusion thus produced, could not exercise it.

Thus it was that, by means of mendacity, usurpation was, on each occasion, set up, exercised, and established.

A sort of partnership was thus formed: formed, in so far as a partnership can be said to have place, between a master and his at all times removable servants: a partnership, having for its object the extracting, on joint account, and for joint benefit, out of the pockets of the people, in the largest quantity possible, the produce of the industry of the people. Monarch found force; lawyers, fraud: thus was the capital formed. Creatures of a day, and for years together, neither possessing present nor certainty of future existence, the representatives of the people, now such convenient partners, were not as yet ripe for admittance. Parties in the concern as yet but those two:—monarch and lawyers. Whatever was the fraud thus practised, partners on both sides found their account in it: interests of both provided for of course.

The monarch, not being acknowledged in the capacity of sole legislator, had every thing to gain, by suffering these his, at all times, removable creatures, thus to exercise the power belonging to that office; for, with the instrument thus constructed, and always at hand—an instrument which continually increasing experience showed to be so fit for use—depredation and oppression might at all times be exercised: exercised in shapes and degrees in which he could not have dared to exercise them by himself in a direct way, or to propose in an open way to the representatives of the people.

As little could the authors of this power-stealing system fail to find their account in it: since, for the sake of the profit received by him as above, their master could do no otherwise than connive all along at those other lies and devices, by which depredation and oppression were acted by them for their own benefit. Here again was another source of profit to the head partner: for, in virtue and to the extent of his power of patronage,—upon each vacancy, their office, with the annexed plunderage, became his; his—not to retain indeed, but at any rate his to give.

Mendacity is a name too soft for falsehood thus applied; applied to such purposes, and by men so situated: for, in comparison of the suffering thus produced, the greatest ever produced by any thing to which the word is applied in the intercourse between individual and individual, would be found inconsiderable. An operation, by which the nature and effects of it would be placed in their full and true light, is obvious and simple. Run over the field of law, as laid down in any of the books: pick out the several parts in which a fiction in any shape has been employed; the most extensively and mischievously operative will be found in Blackstone: for others, the books of judicial procedure called Books of practice, would be to be looked at: set down the several fictions, under the several heads they belong to; in each instance, the particular mischief to the public, together with the profit to the judge or judges of the judicatory (called the court, for the purpose of letting in the servants to a share of the worship paid to the master) are the articles to be looked for; if honestly looked for, in no case would there be much difficulty in finding them; in the profit made out of each fabrication, would be seen the final cause of it.

One pre-eminently serviceable and all-comprehensive effect there is, to which, if to no other, they would every one of them be found contributory. This is general debility in the understanding of the deluded people: for, the more prostrate that debility, the more flagrant the ulterior degree of depredation and oppression, to which they might thus be brought to submit. Of the degree of debility produced, no better measure need be given, than the fact of men’s having been in this way made to regard falsehood as an instrument not only serviceable but necessary to justice.

In others, this vice was not only punished all the while by these appointed guardians of virtue, but painted in its proper colours. That which is vice in all others, how could it in them be virtue? how, but that to them belonged the power of making wrong and right change natures, and determining what shall be morality as well as what shall be law; making as well the one as the other thus dependent—not on their effects on the happiness of the community at large, but on the ever-changeable good pleasure of the possessors of power, by what means soever obtained, and in what manner soever exercised; thus, in regard to morality: and in regard to truth, the power of determining, if not what shall be truth, what, to all practical purposes, shall be taken for it. To produce ductility, produce debility. No recipe was ever more effectual: no time at which the virtue of it has been more thoroughly understood than at present. But for this, how could judges have been suffered to make law, or priests gospel, as they have been and still are?

Though in the Fragment the mask was not taken off so completely or forcibly as here, still the effects produced by any such disclosure may, without much difficulty, be imagined. Nowhere, till this little work appeared, nowhere had there been a heart to declare—nowhere, perhaps, even an eye clearly to see—that, in the hands of these arbiters of every man’s destiny, this pretended product of matchless wisdom—this object of veneration to the deluded multitude—had never been any thing better than a cover for rascality. By no former hand had the gauntlet been thrown down in the face of the brotherhood: that gauntlet, which, though so repeatedly offered again to learned vizards no eye has ever yet seen the possibility of taking up.

IV. The effects produced on sinister interest—on sinister interest in these high places—by the wounds thus given to it, may without much difficulty be imagined. But the greatest happiness of the greatest number requires, that they should be not only imagined but proved: and this they shall now be, in so far as natural probability, aided by whatever support it may be thought to receive from the character of the narrator, can gain credence, for the indication given of a set of actings and workings, of which, for the most part, the mind, in its most secret recesses, was the theatre. These effects the reader will see in the deportments of the various personages—keepers and workers of the state engines—in relation to the present work and another by the same hand; and among them will be found the several shining lights, to which, by the conjecturists, who thereby so clearly proved themselves not to have been members of the above-mentioned conclave, the work was, as above, ascribed.

He will see the great lawyers of the age—those of the one party as well as those of the other—concurring (and he will learn to judge whether it was not by concert) in a system of deportment and discourse having for its effect—(and he will judge, whether it had not also for its object)—the keeping covered up in the napkin the talents, such as they were, by which the unwelcome performance had been produced. He will see the hand of a great statesman employing itself at length in the endeavour to draw them out of the napkin, and put them to use.

But for the great purpose which have been seen, never would the patience of the public have been tried by any such string of personal anecdotes, in which an insignificant individual cannot but be the most prominent figure. In themselves the facts, are much too trivial to afford a warrant even for the time employed in bringing them to view—a time which, considering the engagements, the performance of which has thus been delayed,* cannot be thought of without remorse. One consolation is, as already observed—(and this it is that constituted the temptation)—that, to the all-comprehensive theory of which those engagements required the establishment, these anecdotes will afford the confirmation given by particular experience.

Fundamental principles of the Constitutional branch of the all-comprehensive Code now forming, three:—

1. End-indicating principle, the greatest-happiness principle.

2. Obstacle-indicating principle, the universal self-preference-announcing principle.

3. Means-indicating principle, the interest-junction-prescribing principle. To him to whom the House of Commons’ Votes, or even the newspaper indications given of them, are familiar, neither a warrant, nor a key will be found wanting for these denominations, laconic as they are.

Of all the great public men who will here pass under review, one alone will be seen, to whom the greatest happiness principle, and the Author of the Fragment, in respect of the proclamation and applications made of it, was not, according to all appearance, an object of aversion. Of this aversion, the cause lay (it will be seen) in the nature of the species, of the class, and of the situation of the class on the one part; not in the nature of the individuals on either part. In that same situation, the conduct of any other individuals would, without material variation, have been the same: the individuals in question being of both parties; men, in every sense as good as any that are ever likely to be in those same situations so long as the form of government is what it is.

Sinister interests, two in the same breast—lawyer’s interest and ruling statesman’s interest: lawyer’s interest, hostile to that of all suitors, and of all those who may have need to be so, that is to say—of all who are not lawyers. Ruling statesman’s interest, hostile to all subjects’ interest, in a form of government, which, to the inclination common to all breasts, adds in the ruling hands adequate power: power, to an amount sufficient for winding up to the pitch of perfection the system of depredation and oppression: power, by means of the corruption and delusion, which are the essence of this form of government, in addition to that physical force and those means of intimidation and remuneration, which belong of necessity to every form of government.

Of the three confederated interests, that of the lawyer tribe is in a more particular degree mischievous: mischievous, in as much as, to their share in the common sinister interest, they add one which is peculiar to themselves, and in as much as, by the peculiar strength given to their minds by exercise, they take the lead of all the other members of the confederacy, and are the men by whose exertion whatsoever is most difficult of that which is wished to be done, is done.

And thus will be seen an exemplification of the obstacle-indicating—the universal-self-preference indicating—principle.

So long as the form of Government continues to be what it is,—not better and better, but continually worse and worse,—must the condition of the people be, until the sinister sacrifice—the sacrifice of the interest of the many to the interest, joint or several, of the one or the few—shall have been consummated. In that which Austrian Italy—in that which English Ionia—in that which Ireland is—may be seen even now that which England is hastening to be. Forms continuing what they are, Englishmen cannot too soon prepare themselves for being shot, sabred, hanged, or transported, at the pleasure of the placed and momentarily displaceable creatures, of a Monarch, free from all check, but the useless one of an Aristocracy, sharing with him in the same sinister interest. Precedents have already been established: and, by whomsoever made, whether by those who claim to make law, or by those who in the very act disclaim it, every thing for which a precedent has been made is regarded as justified. Of the several particular interests of the Aristocrat in all his shapes, including the fee-fed lawyer, and the tax-fed or rent-fed priest, all prostrate at the foot of the throne—is composed the everlastingly and unchangeably ruling interest. Opposite to the interest of the greatest number—opposite through the whole field of Government—is that same ruling interest. That which this interest requires, is—that the quantity of power, wealth, and factitious dignity, in the possession and at the disposal of the ruling few, should be at all times as great as possible. That which the interest of the subject many requires, is—that the quantity of power and wealth at the disposal of the ruling few should at all times be as small as possible: of these necessary instruments, the smallest quantity; of that worse than useless instrument—factitious dignity, not an atom: no such instrument of corruption and delusion, no such favoured rival, and commodious substitute, to meritorious and really useful service: no such essentially disproportionate mode of remuneration, while, for really useful service, apt notification would afford the only remuneration, which in the shape of honour can be proportionate. Can opposition be more complete? But, to be governed by men, themselves under the dominion of an interest opposite to one’s own, what is it but to be governed by one’s enemies? In or out of office; possessors or expectants; Tories or Whigs; leaning most to the Monarchical side, or most to another side equally hostile to that of the people—what matter is it in which of these situations a man is, if to all the interest, he adds more than the power, of an enemy? Vain, therefore—vain for ever, will be all hope of relief, unless and until the form given to the Government is such, that those rulers in chief, whose particular interests are opposite to the universal interest, shall have given place to others whose particular interests have been brought into coincidence with that same universal interest; in a word, till the interest-junction-prescribing principle, as above, shall have been carried into effect. In the Anglo-American United States, this problem—has it not been solved?

Six public characters must now be brought upon the stage; Mr. or Sir Alexander Wedderburne, Lord Mansfield, Earl of Shelburne, Lord Camden, Mr. Dunning, Colonel Barré: denominations those which belonged to them at the time spoken of.

In the case of Lord Shelburne, it will be seen how ill-assorted the picture of the statesman is with those of the lawyers that precede and follow it. But the interpolation is unavoidable; without it, the other personages could not have been brought to view.



See Codification, Proposal, Appendix xi. Acceptance given by the Portuguese Cortes to the offer of an all-comprehensive code.



Jeremy Bentham, Chap. XXIV “Special Juries”, Principles of Judicial Procedure (1827)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Chap. XXIV “Special Juries” in Principles of Judicial Procedure, with the Outlines of a Procedure Code (1827), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2. <>

Editor's Intro




A special jury is a petit jury, composed of members distinguished by opulence from those of a common petit jury.

This institution, a palpable innovation, a production of the last century, is of the number of those benefits for which the people of England stand indebted to the Whigs of England.

It had for its purposes and objects—

1. To assist in the destruction of the liberty of the press.

2. In revenue causes, to provide for the joint instrument of the monarch and aristocracy in the situation of chief judge of the chief revenue judicatory, in the room of a bridle,—an instrument, and a cloak.

3. In all cases in which the interests of the ruling, the influential, and the opulent and consuming few stand in competition with those of the subject, the laborious and producing many,—to give to the few whatsoever facility could thus be given, by sacrificing the greatest happiness of the greatest number to that particular and sinister interest.

4. In all cases in which the interests, and thence the will, of the monarch and his instruments of all sorts, are in a more particular manner concerned, and in particular in Parliamentary election cases, to secure to the power of the monarch, by whose will, directly or indirectly applied, they always receive their situation, an instrument on which he might depend for giving execution and effect to that will, on all occasions.

5. To put an additional quantity of money into the hands of the lawyers.

The infusion of this poison into the frame of government was accordingly the fruit of a conspiracy between three parties—the monarch, the aristocracy, and the lawyers.

In all causes in which such is his Majesty’s pleasure (cases of felony and a few others excepted,) his Majesty has a clear and uncontested right to a special jury for his jury; the party on one side has thus an incontestable right to the nomination of the judges.

An engine thus convenient—how happened it that it escaped being employed in cases of felony?

Under a form of government which has for its object the greatest happiness of the greatest number—that of the Anglo-American United States, for example—any limitation to the application of the investigative branch of procedure, to a power so necessary to good judicature in all cases, will, when once brought to view, be seen to be beyond dispute an imperfection.

Under a form of government which has for its main and characteristic object the sacrifice of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, to the particular and sinister interests of the members of the government and their adherents, it is, and to a vast extent, only by some imperfection less mischievous, that any security, how imperfect soever, can be obtained from more mischievous abuse. Under a form of government which has for its object the greatest happiness of the greatest number, the laws will (bating this or that casual misjudgment, oversight, or want of discernment) have that same end, not only for their object, but for their effect. With no other exception than the one just alluded to, it will, under such a government, be a result conducive to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and thence a desirable one, that the execution and effect given to the laws should throughout be entire and uniform. Under a government which has for its object and effect the advancement of the sinister interest above mentioned, and thereby the continual sacrifice of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, it is to a certain extent, and that a vast and difficulty definable one, conducive to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, that the laws, such as they are, should to the greatest extent possible fail of being carried into execution and effect.

In a country thus labouring under the yoke of sinister interest, so vast will be the extent and mischievous tendency of those laws and arrangements, by which sacrifice is made of the greatest happiness of the greatest number to that sinister interest,—that rather than full effect should be given to this disastrous class of laws and arrangements, it is conducive to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and thence clearly and eminently desirable, that the whole frame of the laws and government should labour under a degree of general imbecility and inefficiency as effective as possible.

The laws and other arrangements by which the liberty of the press is sought to be suppressed, having for their object, and if carried into effect, their sure effect, the obliteration of those few, imperfect, and ever precarious shades of distinction, by which the limited is distinguished from a pure monarchy,—it were a lesser evil that crimes of all sorts should shound still more than they do, and juries give false verdicts still more frequently than it is endeavoured to make them do, than that the designs and endeavours against that vital security should be accomplished.

Under a government which has for its object the greatest happiness of the greatest number, official frugality is an object uniformly and anxiously pursued: peace, were it only as an instrument of such frugality, cultivated with proportionable sincerity and anxiety: any want of effect given to the laws, by which contributions are required for the maintenance of government, universally felt and regarded as a mischief: all endeavours employed in the evasion of them regarded as generally mischievous, and as such punished, and with full reason, by general contempt.

Under a government which has for its main object the sacrifice of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, to the sinister interest of the ruling one and the sub-ruling few, corruption and delusion to the greatest extent possible, are necessary to that object: waste, in so far as conducive to the increase of the corruption and delusion fund, a subordinate or co-ordinate object: war, were it only as a means and pretence for such waste, another object never out of view: that object, together with those others, invariably pursued, in so far as the contributions capable of being extracted from contributors, involuntary or voluntary, in the shape of taxes, or in the shape of loans, i. e. annuities paid by government by means of further taxes, can be obtained:—under such a government, by every penny paid into the Treasury, the means of diminishing the happiness of the greatest number receive increase;—by every penny which is prevented from taking that pernicious course, the diminution of that general happiness is so far prevented.

As, under the one government, every man, in proportion to the regard he feels for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, will give his strength to the revenue laws, and set his strength against all endeavours employed for the evasion of them,—so, under the other sort of government, in proportion to the regard he feels for that same object, will he set his strength against the laws, and in support of all endeavours employed for the evasion of them. Thus in particular, and so in general. In so far as the laws have been made every man’s enemy, every man in defence, not only of his own happiness, but of the happiness of the greatest number, will, in desire and endeavour, be an enemy to the laws.





Jeremy Bentham, Chap. VII “Popular Corruption (ad superbiam)” in The Book of Fallacies (1824)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Part IV. Fallacies of Confusion. Chap. VII “Popular Corruption (ad superbiam), in The Book of Fallacies (1824), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2. <>

Editor's Intro




Exposition.—The instrument of deception, of which the argument here in question is composed, may be thus expressed:—The source of corruption is in the minds of the people; so rank and extensively seated is that corruption, that no political reform can ever have any effect in removing it.*

Exposure.—This fallacy consists in giving to the word corruption, when applied to the people, a sense altogether indeterminate—a sense in and by which all that is distinctly expressed is the disaffection of the speaker as towards the persons spoken of, imputing to them a bad moral character or cast of mind, but without any intimation given of the particular nature of it.

It is the result of a thick confusion of ideas, whether sincere, or affected for the purpose.

In the case of a parliamentary election, each elector acts as a trustee for himself and for all the other members of the community, in the exercise of the branch of political power here in question. If, by the manner in which his vote is received from him, he is precluded (as by ballot) from the possibility of promoting his own particular interest, to the prejudice of the remainder of the universal interest,—the only interest of his which he can entertain a prospect of promoting by such his vote, is his share of the universal interest: and for doing this, he sees before him no other possible means than the contributing to place the share of power attached to the seat in question in the hands of that candidate who is likely to render most service to the universal interest.

Now, how inconsiderable soever may be in his eyes this his share in the universal interest, still it will be sufficient to turn the scale where there is nothing in the opposite scale: and, by the supposition, the emptiness of the opposite scale has been secured in the mode of election by ballot, where the secresy thereby endeavoured at is accomplished, as to so complete a certainty it may be. If, then, to continue the allusion, the value of his share in the universal interest, in his eyes, is such as to overcome the love of ease—the aversion to labour—he will repair to the place, and give his vote to that candidate who, in his eyes, is likely to do most service to the universal interest: if it be not sufficient to overcome that resisting force, he will then forbear to give his vote; and though he will do no good to the universal interest, he will do no harm to it.

Thus it is that, under an apposite system of election procedure, supposing them in the account of self-regarding prudence equal, the least benevolent set of men will, on this occasion, render as much service to the universal interest as the most benevolent: the least benevolent, if that be what is meant by the most corrupt; and if that is not meant, nothing which is to the purpose, nor in short anything which is determinate, is meant.

On the other hand, in so far as the system of election is so ordered, that by the manner in which he gives his vote a man is enabled to promote his own separate interest, what is sufficiently notorious is, that no ordinary portion of benevolence in the shape of public spirit will suffice to prevent the breach of trust in question from being committed.

In the case, therefore, of the subject-many, to whom exclusively it was applied, the word corruption has no determinate and intelligible application. But to the class of the ruling few, it has a perfectly intelligible application—application in a sense in which the truth of it is as notorious as the existence of the sun at noonday. Pretending to be all of them chosen by the subject-many,—chosen, in fact, a very small proportion of them in that manner—the rest by one another,—they act in the character of trustees for the subject-many, bound to support the interest of the subject-many: instead of so doing, being with money exacted from the subject-many bribed by one another acting under the ruling one, they act in constant breach of such their trust, serving in all things their own particular and sinister interests, at the expense and to the sacrifice of that interest of the subject-many, which, together with that of the ruling few, composes and constitutes the universal interest. Corrupt, corruption, corruptors, corruptionist, applied to conduct such as hath been just described,—the meaning given to these terms wants assuredly nothing of being sufficiently intelligible.

A circumstance that renders this fallacy in a peculiar degree insidious and dangerous, is a sort of obscure reference made by it to certain religious notions—to the doctrine of original sin as delivered in the compendium of Church of England faith, termed the 39 articles.

Into that doctrine, considered in a religious point of view, it is not necessary on this occasion to make any inquiry. The field here in question is the field of politics; and, applied to this field, the fallacy in question seeks to lay the axe to the root of all government. It applies not only to this, but to all other remedies against that preponderance of self-regarding over social interest and affection, which is essential to man’s existence, but which, for the creation and preservation of political society, and thence for his well-being in it, requires to be checked—checked by a force formed within itself. It goes to the exclusion of all laws, and in particular of all penal laws; for if, for remedy to what is amiss, nothing is to be attempted by arrangements which, such as those relative to the principle and mode of election as applied to rulers, bring with them no punishment—no infliction,—how much less should the accomplishment of any such object be attempted by means so expensive and afflictive as those applied by penal laws!

By the employment given to this fallacy, the employer of it afforded himself a double gratification: he afforded an immediate gratification to his own anti-social pride and insolence, while he afforded to his argument a promise of efficiency, by the food it supplied to the same appetite in the breasts of his auditors, bound to him, as he saw them to be, by a community of sinister interest.

Out of the very sink of immorality was this fallacy drawn: a sentiment of hatred and contempt, of which not only all the man’s fellow-countrymen were the declared, but all mankind in at least equal degree were the naturally supposable object:—“So bad are they in themselves, no matter how badly they are treated: they cannot be treated worse than they deserve: Of a bad bargain (says the proverb) make the best; of so bad a crew, let us make the best for ourselves: no matter what they suffer, be it what it may, they deserve it.” If Nero had thought it worth his while to look out for a justification, he could not have found a more apt one than this: an argument which, while it harmonized so entirely with the worst passions of the worst men, screened its true nature in some measure from the observation of better men, by the cloud of confusion in which it wrapped itself.

In regard to corruption and uncorruption,—or to speak less ambiguously, in regard to vice and virtue,—how then stands the plain and real truth? That in the ruling few there is most vice and corruption, because in their hands has been the power of serving their own private and sinister interest, at the expense of the universal interest: and in so doing, they have, in the design and with the effect of making instruments of one another for the accomplishment of that perpetual object, been the disseminators of vice and corruption:—That in the subject-many, there has been least of vice and corruption, because they have not been in so large a degree partakers in that sinister interest, and have thus been left free to pursue the track pointed out to them, partly by men who have found a personal interest in giving to their conduct a universally beneficial direction—partly by discerning and uncorrupted men, who, lovers of their country and mankind, have not been in the way of having that generous affection overpowered in their breasts by any particular self-regarding interest.

Nearly akin to the cry of popular corruption is language commonly used to the following effect:—“Instead of reforming others—instead of reforming your betters, instead of reforming the state, the constitution, the church, everything that is most excellent,—let each man reform himself—let him look at home, he will find there enough to do, and what is in his power, without looking abroad and aiming at what is out of his power,” &c. &c.

Language to this effect may at all times be heard from anti-reformists—always, as the tone of it manifests, accompanied with an air of triumph—the triumph of superior wisdom over shallow and presumptuous arrogance.

One feature which helps to distinguish it from the cry of popular corruption, is the tacit assumption that, between the operation condemned and the operation recommended, incompatibility has place: than which, when once brought clearly to view, nothing, it will be seen, can be more groundless.

Certain it is, that if every man’s time and labour is exclusively employed in the correcting of his own personal imperfections, no part of it will be employed in the endeavour to correct the imperfections and abuses which have place in the government; and thus the mass of those imperfections and abuses will go on, never diminishing, but perpetually increasing with the torments of those who suffer by them, and the comforts of those who profit by them: which is exactly what is wanted.



This was an argument brought forward against parliamentary reform by William Windham in the House of Commons, and by him insisted on with great emphasis. This man was among the disciples, imitators of, and co-operators with,Edmund Burke—that Edmund Burke with whom the subject-many were the swinish multitude:—swinish in nature, and apt therefore to receive the treatment which is apt to be given to swine. In private life, that is, in their dealings with those who were immediately about them—at any rate, such of them as were of their own class—many of these men, many of these haters and calumniators of mankind at large, are not unamiable; but, seduced by that sinister interest which is possessed by them in common, they encourage in one another the anti-social affection in the case where it operates upon the most extensive scale. If, while thus encouraging himself in the hating and contemning the people, a man of this cast finds himself hated by them, the fault is surely more in him than them; and, whatever it may happen to him to suffer from it, he has himself to thank for it.



Jeremy Bentham, Part V. Chap. IX “The Demand for Political Fallacies: How created by the State of Interests” in The Book of Fallacies (1824)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Part V. Chap. IX “The Demand for Political Fallacies: How created by the State if Interests” in The Book of Fallacies (1824), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2. <>

Editor's Intro




In order to have a clear view of the object to which political fallacies will in the greatest number of instances be found to be directed, it will be necessary to advert to the state in which, with an exception comparatively inconsiderable, the business of government ever has been, and still continues to be, in every country upon earth; and for this purpose must here be brought to view a few positions, the proof of which, if they require any, would require too large a quantity of matter for this place—positions which, if not immediately assented to, will at any rate, even by those whom they find most adverse, be allowed to possess the highest claim to attention and examination:

1. The end or object in view, to which every political measure, whether established or proposed, ought according to the extent of it to be directed, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons interested in it, and that for the greatest length of time.

2. Unless the United States of North America be virtually an exception, in every known state the happiness of the many has been at the absolute disposal either of the one or of the comparatively few.

3. In every human breast—rare and short-lived ebullitions, the result of some extraordinary strong stimulus or incitement excepted—self-regarding interest is predominant over social interest: each person’s own individual interest, over the interests of all other persons taken together.

4. In the few instances, if any, in which, throughout the whole tenor or the general tenor of his life, a person sacrifices his own individual interest to that of any other person or persons, such person or persons will be a person or persons with whom he is connected by some domestic or other private and narrow tie of sympathy; not the whole number, or the majority of the whole number, of the individuals of which the political community to which he belongs is composed.

5. If in any political community there be any individuals by whom, for a constancy, the interests of all the other members put together are preferred to the interest composed of their own individual interest, and that of the few persons particularly connected with them these public-spirited individuals will be so few, and at the same time so impossible to distinguish from the rest, that to every practical purpose they may, without any practical error, be laid out of the account.

6. In this general predominance of self-regarding over social interest, when attentively considered, there will not be found any just subject of regret, any more than of contestation; for it will be found, that but for this predominance, no such species as that which we belong to could have existence: and that, supposing it, if possible, done away, insomuch that all persons, or most persons, should find respectively, some one or more persons, whose interest was respectively, through the whole of life, dearer to them, and as such more anxiously and constantly watched over than their own, the whole species would necessarily, within a very short space of time, become extinct.

7. If this be true, it follows, by the unchangeable constitution of human nature, that in every political community, by the hands by which the supreme power over all the other members of the community is shared, the interest of the many over whom the power is exercised, will on every occasion, in case of competition, be in act or in endeavour sacrificed to the particular interest of those by whom the power is exercised.

8. But every arrangement by which the interest of the many is sacrificed to that of the few, may with unquestionable propriety, if the above position be admitted, and to the extent of the sacrifice, be termed a bad arrangement; indeed, the only sort of bad arrangement—those excepted, by which the interest of both parties is sacrificed.

9. A bad arrangement, considered as already established and in existence, is, or may be termed, an abuse.

10. In so far as any competition is seen, or supposed to have place, the interests of the subject many being on every occasion, as above, in act or in endeavour constantly sacrificed by the ruling few to their own particular interests,—hence, with the ruling few, a constant object of study and endeavour is the preservation and extension of the mass of abuse: at any rate, such is the constant propensity.

11. In the mass of abuse, which, because it is so constantly their interest, it is constantly their endeavour to preserve, is included not only that portion from which they derive a direct and assignable profit, but also that portion from which they do not derive any such profit. For the mischievousness of that from which they do not derive any such direct and particular profit, cannot be exposed but by facts and observations, which, if pursued, would be found to apply also to that portion from which they do derive direct and particular profit. Thus it is, that in every community, all men in power—or, in one word, the ins—are, by self-regarding interest, constantly engaged in the maintenance of abuse in every shape in which they find it established.

12. But whatsoever the ins have in possession, the outs have in expectancy. Thus far, therefore, there is no distinction between the sinister interests of the ins and those of the outs, nor, consequently, in the fallacies by which they respectively employ their endeavours in the support of their respective sinister interests.

13. Thus far the interests of the outs coincide with the interest of the ins. But there are other points in which their interests are opposite. For procuring for themselves the situations and mass of advantages possessed by the ins, the outs have one, and but one, mode of proceeding. This is the raising their own place in the scale of political reputation, as compared with that of the ins. For effecting this ascendency, they have accordingly two correspondent modes: the raising their own, and the depreciating that of their successful rivals.

14. In addition to that particular and sinister interest which belongs to them in their quality of ruling members, these rivals have their share in the universal interest which belongs to them in their quality of members of the community at large. In this quality, they are sometimes occupied in such measures as in their eyes are necessary for the maintenance of the universal interest—for the preservation of that portion of the universal happiness of which their regard for their own interests does not seem to require the sacrifice: for the preservation, and also for the increase of it; for by every increase given to it they derive advantage to themselves, not only in that character which is common to them with all the other members of the community, but, in the shape of reputation, in that character of ruling members which is peculiar to themselves.

15. But in whatsoever shape the ins derive reputation to themselves, and thus raise themselves to a higher level in the scale of comparative reputation, it is the interest of the outs, as such, not only to prevent them from obtaining this rise, but if possible, and as far as possible, to cause their reputation to sink. Hence, on the part of the outs there exists a constant tendency to oppose all good arrangements proposed by the ins. But, generally speaking, the better an arrangement really is, the better it will generally be thought to be; and the better it is thought to be, the higher will the reputation of its supporters be raised by it. In so far, therefore, as it is in their power, the better a new arrangement proposed by the ins is, the stronger is the interest by which the outs are incited to oppose it. But the more obviously and indisputably good it is when considered in itself, the more incapable it is of being successfully opposed in the way of argument otherwise than by fallacies; and hence, in the aggregate mass of political fallacies, may be seen the character and general description of that portion of it which is employed chiefly by the outs.

16. In respect and to the extent of their share in the universal interest, an arrangement which is beneficial to that interest will be beneficial to themselves: and thus, supposing it successful, the opposition made by them to the arrangement would be prejudicial to themselves. On the supposition, therefore, of the success of such opposition, they would have to consider which in their eyes would be the greater advantage—their share in the advantage of the arrangement, or the advantage promised to them by the rise of their place in the comparative scale of reputation, by the elevation given to themselves, and the depression caused to their adversaries.

But, generally speaking, in a constitution such as the English in its present state, the chances are in a prodigious degree against the success of any opposition made by the outs to even the most flagrantly bad measure of the ins: much more, of course, to a really good one. Hence it is, that when the arrangement is in itself good, if with any prospect of success or advantage, any of the fallacies belonging to their side can be brought up against the arrangement, and this without prejudice to their own reputation,—they have nothing to stand in the way of the attempt.

17. In respect of those bad arrangements which by their sinister interest the ins stand engaged to promote, and in the promotion of which the outs have, as above, a community of interest,—the part dictated by their sinister interest is a curious and delicate one. By success, they would lessen that mass of sinister advantage which, being that of their antagonists in possession, is theirs in expectancy. They have, therefore, their option to make between this disadvantage and the advantage attached to a correspondent advance in the scale of comparative reputation. But, their situation securing to them little less than a certainty of failure, they are, therefore, as to this matter, pretty well at their ease. At the same time, seeing that whatsoever diminution from the mass of abuse they were to propose in the situation of outs, they could not, without loss of reputation, unless for some satisfactory reason, avoid bringing forward, or at least supporting, in the event of their changing places with the ins,—hence it is, that any such defalcation which they can in general prevail upon themselves to propose, will in general be either spurious and fallacious, or at best inadequate:—inadequate,—and by its inadequacy, and the virtual confession involved in it, giving support and confirmation to every portion of kindred abuse which it leaves untouched.





Jeremy Bentham, Section III. “Causes of the Above and All other Mischiefs” in Plan of Parliamentary Reform (1817)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Section III. “Causes of the Above and All other Mischiefs: Particular Interests Monarchical and Aristocratical, adverse to the Universal — their Ascendency” in Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the Form of a Catechism (1817), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3. <>.

Editor's Intro




Goaded to the task by the groans of all around me, of late,—with an attention, which the nature of the objects that were continually forcing themselves upon all eyes and upon all ears, rendered more and more painful to me,—I have been looking more closely than ever into the constitution;—I mean the present state of it;—and, in as few words as possible, of this most appalling of all examinations, what follows is the result.

As early as the year 1809, and I forget how much earlier, it had seemed to me (it has been already hinted,) that in the principle which, by those in whose hands the fate of the country rested, had not only been acted upon but avowed, the road to national ruin might be but too clearly traced. This principle was—that in the hands of the trustees of the people, the substance of the people was a fund, out of which, without breach of trust, and without just reproach in any shape—fortunes—as the phrase is—by those who, without exposing themselves to punishment, could contrive to lay their hands on the means, might be—nay—and, it being matter of necessity, at any price, and to an amount absolutely unlimited, ought to be—made.

In this principle I saw the two domineering interests—the monarchical and the aristocratical—which in our mixed constitution—(for such at least it was at one time)—antagonizing with the every now and then struggling, but always vainly and feebly struggling, democratical: completely agreed,—and without concert, because without need of concert, co-operating with each other,—in the dissemination, and in the inculcation of it: the party out of power as well as the party in power inculcating it in theory; the party in power, by theory and practice.

That, on the part of both these interests, this principle, together with the practice that belonged to it, was but too natural—was abundantly evident: that, for its adoption, it had any such plea as that of necessity, was a notion which, when once taken in hand, vanished at the slightest touch.

Power, money, factitious dignity—by an attractive force, the existence of which, and the omnipotence, is as indisputable as that by which the course of the heavenly bodies is determined—each of these elements of the matter of good—that precious matter, the whole mass of which, in so far as at the hands of the monarch it is sought by a member of either of the two other branches of the efficient sovereignty, operates in the character of matter of corruptive influence—attracts and draws to it the two others: the greater the quantity a man has of any one of them, the greater the facility he finds in his endeavours to obtain for himself the two others; each in a quantity proportioned to his desires:—those desires, which in human nature have no bounds.

The more he has of any one of them, the more therefore it is his wish to have of that and all of them. But the more he has of any one of them, the more is it right also that he should have of them? All of them at the expense of the people,—the poor people, at whose expense whatsoever is enjoyed by their rulers is enjoyed? Oh gross, oh flagitious absurdity! The more? No: but on the contrary the less. Whatsoever be the quantity of the matter of reward, which, in any shape whatsoever, may be necessary to obtain at a man’s hands the requisite service, the more he has of it in any one shape,—the less the need he has of it in any other shape.

In the case of the poorest individual,—in the character of a guardian, by any man has any such immoral notion ever been started, as that, in the substance of his ward, any proper source of enrichment to himself is to be found? Power, over a single individual and his little property, a sufficient payment for the labour: and power over twenty millions, and their property, together with all that mass of patronage,—lucrative of necessity, a great part of it,—shall it not be sufficient? Those who either have no property, or have it not in sufficient quantity for their maintenance,—such men must, indeed, either be paid or not employed:—but, among men who not only have property, but have it in sufficiency, is it supposable that there can ever be a deficiency in the number of those, in whom the pleasure of possessing such power will be sufficient compensation for all the pain attached to the exercise of it? Look at the country magistracy: see we not there—not only an example, but a host of examples? Yes: and in those examples a host of proofs.

Unfortunately—in the breasts of all who have power, merit being, as they all agree and certify—to one another and to the people, infinite—so must be the reward.

Of the demand for the matter of reward—viz. money, power, and factitious dignity—(these are its principal shapes)—the infinity and absolute irresistibility being thus established, then and thereupon comes the demand for the supply—and that supply a proportionable one. Here, however, to a first view, comes somewhat of a difficulty. From the body of the people—how habitually soever blind and passive—money in infinite quantity cannot be demanded all at once: they would become desperate; they would rise: better (they would say to themselves,) better be shot or hanged at once, than starved.

A set of drains must therefore be established and set to work: drains, by and through which, by degrees—those degrees ever in the eyes of the devourers but too slow—under colour either of use, or what is so much better, of necessity—money may be drawn out of the pockets of the blinded, deluded, unsuspicious, uninquisitive, and ever too patient people:—1. Wars: 2. Distant and proportionably burthensome dependencies all over the habitable globe—(and note, that, in prosecution of these views, every such dependency, without exception, has been made a source of net expense—net expense, the amount of which is destined to perpetual and unlimited increase:) 3. Penal colonies: 4. Claims of universal dominion over the universal water-way of nations, with a determination to destroy the shipping of all nations by whom those claims shall be contested: 5. Annexation of “Hanover to Hampshire:” and that to the end that not a hostile gun may be fired anywhere on the continent, but that we may be in readiness to interfere, subsidizing one of the contending parties, and helping to oppress the other!* 6. Splendour of the crown; that effulgence, with the increase of which—and in exact proportion to that increase—will increase the respect, and with it the submission, and with it the happiness of the people: 7. Erection of Hanover into a kingdom for that purpose, and that the Hanoverians may the less grudge the increase of taxes that will be necessitated by the increase of dignity. Here, though not yet a complete one, is a list of these productive drains:—and are they not efficient ones?

As for war—never can a pretence for it be wanting—a pretence not yielding to any, in which, at any time in the course of the present reign, it has ever been made:—no; never can a pretence be wanting, so long as that nation exists anywhere, against which war can be made.

The nation—the nation to be warred upon—is either formidably strong, or providentially weak:—if formidably strong, too long have we delayed the necessary task of obtaining, at the expense of it, indemnity for the past and security for the future:—if providentially weak, now is the favourable time for taking advantage of its weakness, and preventing it from becoming formidable:—now has the Lord of Hosts—as the archbishop’s prayer will not fail to inform us—delivered the enemy into our hands! Thus, if there be nothing past, for which to obtain indemnity, security for the future will, at any rate, be an easy purchase.

The French people, for example—already have they had one set of Septembrizers,—and—so happy were they under them—by the first favourable opportunity they would give themselves another: and, no sooner had they septembrized France, than they would cross over, and, with the assistance of the travelling orator and the Spenceans, septembrize us in the same way. The French have already had one Bonaparte;—so happy were they under him—leave them to themselves—immediately they would give themselves another. In his scheme for invading and conquering this country, the first Bonaparte failed:—the second Bonaparte, by whom such another plan would immediately be formed, would succeed in his. From these two considerations put together, or indeed from either of them, follows the necessity of garrisoning France, and keeping possession of the country till the danger is at an end:—yes, till the danger is at an end; which it is impossible it ever should be.

Yes: wars would be invaluable, were it only for the merit of which they are the never-failing sources. When a battle is fought—unless it be a drawn one, which does not often happen—it must be gained by somebody. Gained on one side it must be, in what degree soever the generals on the respective sides are fit or unfit for their work. The greater the number that fight, the greater the number of those who are capable of being killed. A battle is gained,—the number of the killed is great,—and half a million is scarce enough to reward the merit which, from one single bosom, has been displayed in it.

In regard to all these drains of money, and all these sources of merit and reward,—the great misfortune is this: For every shilling which, by means of any one of these drains, unless it be the last, the men of merit—and all placemen without exception are ex officio men of merit,—for every shilling which the men of merit thus put into their pockets, some score, or some dozen at least, must come out of the pockets of the poor people. A man who sets his neighbour’s house on fire, that he may roast an egg for himself,—is the emblem by which a certain sort of man is pictured by Lord Bacon. Would you see a man of this sort, you need not look far, so you look high enough for these five-and-twenty years, or thereabouts—to go no further back—has this poor nation been kept on fire, lest the emblematic eggs in sufficient quantity should be wanting to its rulers.

Money, is it wanting (and it always is wanting) for the support of the splendour of the crown?—for the support of royal dignity? Money supplied by parliament—supplied in a direct way, and without a burthen more than correspondent to the supply being deficient—and it always is deficient—Droits of Admiralty are sent by Almighty Providence to feed, but never to fill up—for nothing can ever fill up—the deficiency. The persons, for the reward of whose merit more and more of that object of universal desire is everlastingly wanted—these persons join with one another, not only in commencing groundless war, but in commencing that groundless war in a piratical manner,—in a manner in which the monarch and his instruments may add millions to the conjunct splendour,—not only the foreigners who thus and for this purpose have been converted into enemies, are plundered, but the men, by whose hands the plunder is got in, deprived of that which, had the war been commenced otherwise than in the way of piracy, would have been their due. Thus do these on whom it depends bribe one another to commit piracy!—piracy, which has been made legitimate, because, by their power and for their own benefit, it has been made unpunishable!

Money, power, factitious dignity—among the modifications of the matter of good—among the good things of this wicked world—these, as it is the interest, so has it ever been the study,—as it has been the study, so has it been the endeavour—of the monarch—as it has been, so will it, and where the monarch is a human being, so must it be everywhere—to draw to himself in the greatest quantity possible. And here we have one partial, one separate, one sinister interest, the monarchical—the interest of the ruling one—with which the universal, the democratical interest has to antagonize, and to which that all-comprehensive interest has all along been,—and unless the only possible remedy—even parliamentary reform, and that a radical one, should be applied,—is destined to be for ever made a sacrifice:—a sacrifice? Yes: and, by the blessing of God upon the legitimate and pious labours of his vicegerent and the express image of his person here upon earth, a still unresisting sacrifice. Omnipresence, immortality, impeccability—equal as he is to God, as touching all these “attributes” (ask Blackstone else, I. 270, 250, 246, 249,)—who is there that, without adding impiety to disloyalty, can repine at seeing anything or everything he might otherwise call his own, included in the sacrifice?

Meantime the money, which, in an endless and boundless stream, is thus to keep flowing into the monarchical coffers—this one thing needful cannot find its way into those sacred receptacles without instruments and conduit-pipes. Upon and out of the pockets of the people it cannot be raised, but through the forms of parliament:—not but through the forms of parliament, nor therefore without the concurrence of the richest men in the country, in their various situations—in the situation of peers, great landholding, and as yet uncoroneted commoners, styled country gentlemen,—and others. In those men is the chief property of the country, and with it—(for in the language of the aristocratic school, property and virtue are synonymous terms)—the virtue of the country. And here we have another partial, separate, and sinister interest—the aristocratical interest—with which the democratical interest has also to antagonize:—another overbearing, and essentially and immutably hostile interest,—against which, and under which, the universal interest has to struggle, and as far as possible to defend itself.

Such is the state in which the country lies:—the universal interest crouching under the conjunct yoke of two partial and adverse interests, to which, to a greater or less extent, it ever has been made,—and to the greatest extent possible, as far as depends upon them, cannot, in the nature of man and things, ever cease to be made, a continual sacrifice.

For the consummation of this sacrifice, adequate inclination—such is the nature of man—never could have been wanting:—but as to the power—the effective power—never at any former period could it have been seen swelled to a pitch approaching to that at which it stands at this moment.

Well: such being the swell of voracious power, what are the means—what the instrument—by which it has been effected? What but the precious matter already mentioned?—Yes, the very matter of good:—for such in itself it is, but, by reason of the two relative situations—the situation of the hands by which it is possessed, and that of the hands, which the very nature of man keeps ever open to receive it, operating—and by the whole amount of it—in the character of matter of evil—matter of corruptive influence. Ever upon the increase is the quantity of this essentially good, this accidentally, but alas! how extensively pernicious, matter:—ever upon the increase the pernicious effect of it. In an endless series of alternating and reciprocating operations, this matter is itself both effect and cause. Waste begets corruption; corruption, waste. Fed through the already enumerated drains—viz. useless places, needless places, overpay of needful places, groundless pensions, and sinecures, some number of times more richly endowed than the most richly endowed efficient offices—these, together with peerages, and baronetages, and ribbons—for peerage-hunters, baronetage-hunters, and ribbon-hunters—these, by their bare existence, and without need of their being either asked or offered,—always with the fullest effect, never with the personal danger, or so much as the imputation, attached to the word bribery,—operate in the character, and produce the effect, of matter of coruptive influence: that pestilential matter, against the infection of which not a household in the country can be said to be secure, from the archiepiscopal palace down to the hovel by the road side.

What? not the ducal mansion? Oh no: that full as little as any other. The duke, who, if there were no such thing as a ribbon, nor any such place as a gaming-house, nor . . . . but there is no end to the et cæteras—might of himself be independent, is dependent by his dependents: and the more enormous the mass of his property, the more numerous, as well as the higher, the list of his alliances,—the wider and the more craving is the circle of his dependents.*

Laud his virtue, party orator, party scribe:—laud that virtue, which is composed of rank and property, and consists of nothing else: laud him to-day, while he is yet yours:—come to-morrow, he has crossed over, and his place is on the other side. A duke has a borough, and in it a brace of seats. Sincere or insincere, quoth the duke to one of his agents, whose attachment to the cause of the people was well known to him, cast your eyes around you, and find me out the two honestest and ablest men you can lay your hands on, to fill those seats. The agent bestirs himself, and reports. But ere the report reaches its destination, the coroneted patriot has found money wanting, and the borough, the seats, with the patriotism that would have filled them, are all sold.

Yes: in this country—under this constitution—may be seen an official person, who by his station is, for ever, ex officio, C—r- General: it is his situation makes him so: it suffices for the purpose: to produce the effect (and let this be well observed,) no overt act—no, nor so much as a thought—is on his part necessary:—were it possible for him to have the will, scarcely in his situation would it be in his power to avoid being so.

Well: this attribute, which Blackstone has forgot to add to the other “attributes” of the god of his idolatry—this attribute of C—r-Generalship, which, after all, could not have place if there were not a parliament to c—,—this inseparable attribute, disastrous as it is, does it, in this our country, form any peremptory objection to monarchy? Not it indeed. But why not? Even because, in democratic ascendency—such as it would be constituted by radical reform—the corruption would have its antidote—its constantly operating antidote—and that antidote an effectual one.

Extinguish monarchy?—suppress, extirpate the peerage?—Oh, not I indeed: nothing would I extinguish; nothing would I extirpate: uti possidetis—that which you have, continue to have—and God bless you with it:—this, in all matters of reform—this, in so far as is not inconsistent with the very essence of the reform, is—and, so long as I have had any, has ever been—with me a ruling principle. Leaving, with all my heart, the full benefit of it to monarchy and aristocracy—to the ruling few, my aim, my wishes, confine themselves to the securing, if it be possible, a participation in that same benefit to democracy—to the subject-many—to the poor suffering and starving people.

Monarchy a property! Not it indeed. Monarchy is a trust: is it not, Prince Regent?—have you not said it is? Peerage a property? Not it indeed. Peerage is a trust: is it not, my Lord anybody? If it is not, what business have you to be what you are, and where you are?

Ascendency! ascendency—that is what is sufficient: this, therefore, is all that should be asked for. In Ireland, we have Protestant ascendency. Well: and what is the effect? In Ireland, the Catholics—the great majority—are not yet, it is true, quite so well circumstanced as could be wished: still, however, they exist; still they are not extirpated.

For the seduction of his fellow-traveller, what was the course taken by the ingenuity of Ferdinand Count Fathom? Ask his biographer—ask Smollet: he will inform you. He began with picking her pocket: her purse, and with it her virtue, was then at his command. By mere existence on the throne on which he is sitting, without need of stirring a finger, uttering a word, or giving a nod, in the character of that Ferdinand, and with the same disastrous success, may the monarch of these realms act. Accomplices—the hero of Smollet’s history had none: he needed none. The official s—of Britannia’s virtue—the C—r-General of this country—may have as many as there are men, in whose breasts exists an effective demand for any of the good things which he has at command: and, in regard to this effective demand—as Adam Smith would call it—the difficulty would be to find—not the bosom in which it does, but the bosom in which it does not display itself.

In this state of things, C—r-General being the proper style and title of the head-manager of the concern, taken by himself,—add the aristocracy—the corrupted and corrupting aristocracy—C—r-General & Co. is the proper firm of the partnership. As to the business of it, it consists but too plainly, like that of the Bank of England, in draining the contents of all pockets into its own; and the more intolerable the indigence thus produced, the more craving the demand for that corruptive supply, by the hope of which men are engaged to concur in the continually repeated measures, from which the indigence receives its continually repeated aggravation.

Now of this almost universal corruption, what is the effect? A mere moral spot?—a mere ideal imperfection? Alas! no: but a somewhat more palpable and sensible one. What the real, the sensible mischief consists in is—the sacrifice made, as above, of the interest and comfort of the subject-many, to the overgrown felicity of the ruling few: the effect of the corruption being—to engage all whom it has corrupted to bear their respective parts in the perpetual accomplishment of their perpetual sacrifice. Is not this sufficiently intelligible? Well, if that expression be not, perhaps this may be: viz. that the subject-many long have been, and, but for the only remedy, may with but too much reason for ever expect to be, continually more and more grievously oppressed, that the ruling few may be more and more profusely pampered.

Now suppose an army of Frenchmen garrisoning England, as an army of Englishmen (oh! pretenceless and inhuman tyranny!) are garrisoning France. In that case, what would the description of our condition be? What but that the dominion we were groaning under was the dominion of a set of men whose interest was opposite to our own, by whom that oppositeness was understood and felt, and by whom our interest was made a continual sacrifice to that separate and hostile interest. Well: that, and but too indisputably, is it not the description—the too just description—of the dominion under which we live?

Discarding the case of public—of national—subjection under a foreign yoke, take the case of private—of domestic subjection:—take the case of negro slavery. The description of the case, is it not still the same? The slaveholder, it may be said—for it is continually said—has an interest in common with that of his slaves. True: and so has the mail-coach contractor in common with that of his horses. While working them, and so long as they appear able to work, he accordingly allows them food. Yet, somehow or other, notwithstanding this community of interest, so it is, that but too often negro as well as horse are worked to the very death. How happens this? How but because, in the same breast with the conjunct interest, is lodged a separate and sinister interest, which is too strong for it. Even so is it in the case of C—r-General and Co., under whose management the condition of the poor people is day by day approaching nearer and nearer to the condition of the negro and the horse.

“I can have no interest but that of my people,” says the royal parrot—I can have no interest but that of my people: with these words in his mouth, he gives the touch of the sceptre to a bill for establishing a nest of sinecures.*

Under the constitution as it stands—under the administration as it is carried on—in what state, as towards the one and the other, are the affections of the people? Take the answer from Lord Castlereagh (Morn. Chron. Feb. 8, 1817.) In the year just ended, 53,000 were the number of firelocks “indispensably necessary to aid the civil power in the discharge of its duty:” in other words, to keep the people from the endeavour to substitute a better to the government as it stands. Now, indeed, at this season of forced retrenchment, 5000 is the number of men to be struck off from the desired complement of 53,000. Struck off! Why? because they are regarded as superfluous? Oh no: for of those means of coercion which require no money, boundless is the supply which at this very moment is providing. Why, then? Even because,—as under the most perfectly undisguised despotism, so under a disguised one,—in so far as supplies cannot be had,—the revenue having, in the compass of a single year, fallen off, for example, by any such amount as that of one-sixth,—retrenchment must be made. In this time not only of peace but of triumph—no Pretender in existence—France, instead of a cause of fear, an object of compassion—three-and-fifty thousand men necessary to be kept up to prevent a second revolution! In the same year of the last century, as this is of the present one, our great-grandfathers—what would they have said to such a number?—our great-grandfathers,—in whose days, a Pretender continually threatening from abroad, and at home a strong party, even after a defeat, were still strong enough to keep on foot matter for another rebellion, which in twenty-eight years from that time, actually broke out! In the same year of the last, as this is of the present century, what was the whole number demanded and provided for this same service? Answer: 16,000, and no more; not so much as one-third of the number actually in demand, as above. Walpole, then in opposition, opposing even that number on the ground of alleged excess.*

Well then: by a standing army it is that we are governed: and a standing army—a standing army of the magnitude which has been seen:—this, this is the sort of instrument, without which, it is said, we could not be governed; and by which,—so long as the constitution, in the form into which it has been moulded, lasts,—it is the intention of those that govern us that we shall be governed. And this is that constitution—that Matchless Constitution—in the praises of which, those whose opulence or power have been produced by, or are dependent on, the abuses of it, never tire. And in this Constitution we have a Parliament:—and in this Parliament a House of Commons:—and in this House of Commons a mask for a military government of its own erection:—and this mask so transparent an one! and, under this military government, so long as the mask remains—under this military government are we to lie down, now and for ever, prostrate and contented.

Well: the United States—the seat of representative democracy, alias anarchy—what plots, real or pretended, have they, or have they ever had, in their bosom? What standing army is it that they have? On the subject of those concerns, which are the concerns of every man, what laws have they to prevent each man from communicating with every other?—on pain of death, to prevent every man who is not, from speaking his mind to any one who is a soldier?

Oh! but the fault, whatever it is, it is always the fault of the people:—behaving continually worse and worse, they must continually be treated with more and more just severity:—the sinners for their own sins—the non-sinners for the sins of the sinners—so long as any of them are left alive . . . .*

No: at this time—at any time, on the part of the people, any extensive discontent, that has ever manifested itself, never has it been the fault of the people. Discontent? No: patience—too much patience—in that has been their fault—their only fault: a sad fault that:—and, unhappily, under every government but an adequately representative government—under which alone the concerns which are those of every man, are left without restraint to the discourse of every man—an incurable one. The people? What interest have they in being governed badly?—in having their universal interest sacrificed to any separate and adverse interest? But the men by whom they have been governed—the interest which these men have had in governing badly—in governing as they have governed—this interest has here been made manifest, or nothing can be.



Parl. Reg. xv. anno 1784. Commons, Earl Nugent. “He (Lord Chatham) had often said, that Hanover was a mill-stone about the neck of England, that would weigh her down, and sink her.”


In the pension list are still to be seen the pensions enjoyed by divers ladies, procured for them by a certain duke, they being relations of his by marriage, then in a state of infancy; their father, a hero of the turf, living and dying in the bosom of affluence.

In one part of the present most religious reign, there existed an Earl of Leinster:—at that time, and under that title, premier peer of Ireland. Being so high, and withal so rich, he was made a duke, that with the exception of the blood-royal, no race might ever be so high as his. When for some time he had been a duke, being so high as he was, it was found that he was not rich enough. On the pretence of his administering the sort of law called equity,—but having no more to do with either, or with justice, than the Duke of Montrose has, who receives his £2000 a-year for calling himself Lord Justice-General,—he was accordingly made Master of the Rolls: assistant as such to and under the Lord Chancellor of Ireland—receiving fees, and doing nothing whatever for any of those fees: helping thus to deny justice to the poor—falsely pretending to render justice, and from richest and poorest without distinction exacting money on that false pretence: “obtaining money on that false pretence;” and instead of the Hulks, having his station at the head of the House of Lords.

After those examples—to which scores of such might be added—let any one speak of the matter of wealth, in the character of a preservation against corruption: for this is among the pretences by which the waste made of it, by the cramming of official pockets with it, has been justified.

Whatsoever blanks may eventually be observable in the remainder of this work, the prudence of the printer is the virtue to which the honour of them will be due. In the present instance, for filling up the deficit between the C and the r, the candour and sagacity of the reader may employ the letters onservato, or any others, if any others there be, which in his view may be more apposite.—(Note to the original edition.)


Behold the connexion between waste and corruption, in the view taken of it by divers statesmen at divers periods.

Proceedings of the Society of the Friends of the People, London, 1793, May 5th, W. Baker, M.P. chairman, Lord John Russell, deputy chairman—p. 22—“We positively affirm, that in fact, a case has lately occurred, which, on the very principles of the objection, establishes the necessity of a reform in the construction of the House of Commons. We mean the late armament intended to act against Russia, which might have involved the nation in a most impolitic and ruinous war; and to which a large majority of the House of Commons gave their support, in direct contradiction to the real interests, and to the acknowledged sense of the people.”

Page 31—From the answer (to Major Cartwright’s society,) proposed from the committee for the adoption of the society:—“The immense accumulation of debt,—the enormous taxation of seventeen millions of annual revenue—demonstrate that the collective interests of the community have been neglected or betrayed.”

Parl. Reg. anno 1793, p. 408?—Burke, anno 1770? as quoted with applause by Mr. Erskine, now Lord Erskine.—“When the House of Commons was thus made to consider itself as master of its constituents, there wanted but one thing to secure it (this was in 1770,) against all possible future deviation towards popularity—an unlimited fund of money to be laid out according to the pleasure of the court.”

Parl. Reg. anno 1793, p. 420. Mr. (now Sir Philip) Francis.—Speaking of parliamentary reform, “This (says he) is the only measure that can restore and preserve the constitution—that can prevent such ruinous wars in future.”

Parl. Reg. anno 1793, p. 319.—Charles Fox and Edmund Burke.—“Since that time” (1784, the year of Pitt the second’s accession,) “four-fifths of the elective franchises of Scotland” (in this work he had the aid of the first Lord Melville,) “and Cornwal more particularly, have passed into the hands of government; and the prediction, which an honourable gentleman (Mr. Burke) then made upon the occasion, has been literally fulfilled—no House of Commons has been since found strong enough to oppose the ministers of the crown.” Thus far Charles Fox:—add—nor willing enough.

Woodfall’s Debates, vol. iii. anno 1797. Charles Fox and Pitt 2d.—Speaking of the American war, and observing that, popular or not popular at the commencement (anno 1780,) in which year a dissolution of parliament took place, the war was at any rate “extremely unpopular, as a proof that the parliament did not even then (anno 1780) speak the voice of the people:” and after asserting the opportunities of information possessed by him, and the care and accuracy with which he had endeavoured to avail himself of them, he adds, “Not more than three or four persons were (then) added to the number of those who had from the beginning opposed . . . . that war.”

In the same page, Pitt being present, Fox, from words alleged to be those of Pitt, imputes to him a persuasion to that same effect:—“You see,” says Pitt, as thereupon quoted by Fox—“you see that so defective, so inadequate is the present practice, at least, of the elective franchise, that no impression of national calamity, no conviction of ministerial error, no abhorrence of disastrous war, are sufficient to stand against that corrupt influence which has mixed itself with election, and which drowns and stifles the popular voice.”

Woodfall’s Debates, anno 1797, iii. 323.—Charles Fox.—There is a lumping consideration . . . . which, now more than ever, ought to make “every man a convert to parliamentary reform: there is an annual revenue of twenty-three millions sterling, collected by the executive government from the people.” Thus far Fox. Anno 1797, it was these twenty-three millions: now, year ending 5th January 1817, £57,360,694. Last year, year ending 5th January 1816, it was £66,443,802. Commons House, Abstract of net produce of revenue; years ending 5th January 1816 and 1817. Date of order for printing, 3d February 1817. The hope, of course excellent, with all speed, its deficiency will be supplied, and increase added. Well now: besides the other evils, is it not by the twenty-three millions that the sixty-six millions have been generated? In another twenty years, will the sixty-six millions have been swelled to 132 millions? No:—but for what reason? Only because, before it can have arisen to that pitch, the people must, in such a proportion, have been either slaughtered or starved, that by no addition, either to the slaughtering or the starvation, could any increase be produced.

Woodfall’s Debates, anno 1797, iii. 330.—Charles Fox. (Speaking of and to Pitt 2d.)—He “has bestowed no fewer than 115 titles, including new creations and elevations from one rank to another: how many of them are to be ascribed to national services, and how many to parliamentary interest, I leave the House to inquire.” So far Fox. This was no more than thirteen years, from 1784 to 1797: since that time, twenty years have elapsed: to any person who would have the goodness to inform me, on produceable grounds, what the addition that has since been made may amount to, that I may give to the information such publicity as may be in my power, the gratitude of all honest reformists will be due.

Parl. Reg. anno 1793, p. 383.—“Mr. Grey,” (now Earl Grey) “remarked, that when Mr. Pitt moved for an addition of 100 members to be added to the counties, he could not carry his motion; and yet he had contrived (this was in nine years from 1784 to 1793) to procure the nomination of forty members by indirect means; for he had added to the House of Peers thirty members, who either nominated directly or by irresistible influence, that number of members of the House of Commons as . . . . the petitioners were ready to prove.” See the petition, ib. p. 518, in which it is asserted, that at this time (1793) 150 members owe their elections entirely to peers: and that forty peers return eighty-one members.

Parl. Reg. anno 1793, p. 383.—Mr. Grey, now Earl Grey.—“Were the evils of the American war nothing? These were, in his mind, entirely owing to the unequal and corrupt representation in parliament.”


Upon a necessarily hasty search, made into such documents as happen to lie within my knowledge and my reach,—the following are the amounts of such part of the army, as appears to have been employed—employed for the same sort of service as that one above, for which the 53,000 have been employed. To match the present and last year, the years here exhibited, by the description of years of ordinary demand, have all of them been years of manifest and complete peace. Out of the hundred years in question, no more than 29 (it may be observed) are on this occasion brought to view. Of the comparative smallness of this number, there have been three causes:—1. About half the number of years have been years of actual war. 2. Of the remaining fifty or thereabouts, being years of peace (i. e. years in no part of any of which was war actually carried on,) twenty-nine was the only number, concerning which, in the sources of information in question, any information could be found. In consideration of their being so nearly in agreement with each other, and at the same time forming so considerable a majority, twenty out of the twenty-nine are here inserted, under the above head of years of ordinary demand. In the case of the remaining nine years, ranked, as will be seen, under the contrasted head of years of extra demand,—the circumstances of the times not being, for any such purpose as the present, capable of being subjected to a particular examination,—the very circumstance of the superiority of the numbers, in so much smaller a number of instances, has been regarded as constituting an adequately conclusive proof, that in those years respectively there existed some special cause of alarm,—either from within or from without, or both,—of such a nature, as to cause the condition of those years to make an approach more or less considerable to the condition of war years.

How (it may be asked)—how is it that, by preparation for war to be carried on abroad, increase should be given to the number of troops employed or provided for home service? Answer—They are raised and kept at home in readiness to be employed in foreign service: and till they are thus employed, they are not distinguishable from those destined to no other than home service.

Note that, in the very nature of the case, to a very considerable amount, though it be impossible to say to what amount, the number cannot but have been—so from the very first, even Walpole himself declared it to be—superfluous and excessive: the excess having for its cause the principle of the inseparable union between waste and corruption, as already brought to view.

Years of ordinary demand. Extra demand.
Years. Number of Soldiers. Years. Number of Soldiers. Years. Number of Soldiers.
1717 16,000 1767 16,754 1728 22,955
1739 17,709 1768 17,265 1734 25,734
1736 17,704 1769 17,142 1740 28,852
1737 17,704 1775 17,547 1741 29,033
1738 17,704 1774 18,024 1742 35,554
1752 18,857 1786 14,380 1746 33,030
1753 18,857 1787 14,140 1770 23,000
1764 17,532 1788 14,380 1771 23,442
1765 17,421 1789 17,448 1784 21,505
1766 17,306 1790 17,448

asterisks From Chandler’s Debates, years 1717, 1728, 1729, 1734, 1737, 1738, 1740, 1741, 1742. From Almon’s Debates, 1752, 1753, 1764, 1765, 1766, 1767, 1768, 1770, 1789, 1790. From Annual Register, 1769, 1771, 1774, 1784, 1786, 1787, 1788. From Almon’s Parliamentary Register, year 1775.

Shields and Monitions—by these two appellations, two different sets of quotations, examples of which are hereinafter likely to be found, may be designated: shields, composed of quotations exhibiting opinions accordant with those here delivered, and having for their object the defending those opinions against the scorn or hostile terror of those, in whose eyes, by the single word innovation, be the proposition what it may, an objection, and that a conclusive one, is afforded: of these an exemplification has just been seen:—monitions, composed of quotations from persons who—being absolutely, and, generally speaking, more or less well-informed as it may have happened—have, by one means or other, commonly by that presumption which is so natural an accompaniment of power, by what means soever obtained—been led into the misadventure of betraying, at any rate, relative ignorance,—by their eagerness to overwhelm with the reproach of ignorance men in inferior situations, whose interests and wishes have been regarded as not accordant with theirs.

As to the quotations employed as shields, an intimation given once for all, may in this place have its use. In the plan itself, may be seen the train of reasoning, by which I was led to the several particular conclusions: in the formation of that train of reasoning, no opinions drawn from any external source bore any part: hence it is, that,—unless what regards the narrowness there given to the extent of the electoral franchise be regarded as an exception,—in no instance has it happened, that the opinions here employed as shields had served in the character of sources of judgment or invention: the formation of the opinion having, in every instance, preceded the discovery of the external support.

Not that I could ever suppose myself exempt from the yoke of that necessity,—by which, on many of the most important occasions of life, all humankind are condemned to speak and to act, upon no firmer ground than that of derivative judgment:—not that any such continually disproved fancy could ever for a moment have had place in my thoughts,—but that, on any question or subject, those excepted on which a self-formed judgment had been formed by me, it has never happened to me to see, in my own instance, any use in the endeavour to present anything to the public eye. Ascribing to my own opinion, taken by itself, as little intrinsic weight as it is possible for any other person to ascribe to it,—never giving it as worth anything, and by this only means making sure of never giving it for more than it was worth,—accordingly so it is, that, in the reasons subjoined to it by way of support, they having been the considerations from which the judgment expressed by it had been deduced,—in these reasons may be seen the only claim, which I could ever regard any opinions of mine as possessing to the public notice.

As to innovation,—in the instance of every man, by whom, under that name, any proposed measure is held up to view in the character of a just object of horror or terror—let it be judged whether, by the importance attached to that universally irrelevant argument, an acknowledgment is not made of a sort of incapacity of framing, in relation to the subject, any self-formed judgment—a sort of incapacity of producing any arguments that are not irrelevant ones. Of the consciousness of any such sense of incapacity—if not humility, at any rate toleration as towards dissentients should be a natural, and would be a more becoming result: unhappily, pertinacity and intolerance are full as apt to have place in the inverse as in the direct ratio of the soundness of the judgment—of the degree in which appropriate intellectual aptitude has place,—and of the quantity of appropriate information possessed.


So long as, in any shape, offences, having for their object relief from the mischief of misrule, are committed,—the laws, whatever they are, that have been made for the punishment of them, are thereby proved insufficient; and thus it is, that, for the self-same offences, fresh and fresh laws, continually increasing in extent and severity, must be made.

Theory as well as practice, is not this become already a maxim of government?—is not this become the very character of the government? Lie as you are, you are more and more oppressed gradually:—seek relief—forcibly, or be it ever so peaceably—you are oppressed and crushed suddenly. When all hands are cut off, lest they should write treason—all eyes put out, lest they should read treason—all tongues cut out, lest they should speak treason—then it is that the climax of precautionary wisdom will be at an end.—Yes: then, indeed! but how much earlier? Not at all: unless, in some part of this or a future century—as towards the close of the seventeenth—the people—soldiers and all—should become effectually tired of such theory and such practice.



Jeremy Bentham, Section XIII. “Exclusion of Placemen, &c. from the Right of Voting” in Plan of Parliamentary Reform (1817)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Section XIII. “Exclusion of Placemen, &c. from the Right of Voting — Mischievousness and Profligacy of the Opposite Arrangement” in Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the Form of a Catechism (1817), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3. <>.

Editor's Intro




On the topic here brought to view, something has been said already, in a preceding section (§ V.;) something also in the Plan itself: in each of these places something; and surely in either of them enough to satisfy any reasonable and unprejudiced mind: in a word, any mind whatever, that is not led blindfold, either by sinister interest or interest-begotten prejudice, or by an undiscriminating regard to custom: custom, that blind guide, to the guidance of which, if to the rejection of reason, none but the blind submit themselves.

Placemen seated by the king, with right of speech, and even right of motion: placemen from all the departments of government, from which a demand for information can present itself—each of them with right of speech and motion—but in every case without vote:—this is what is there proposed.499

Decompose thus in idea the existing practice, though as yet it never has been decomposed in practice. Perform this operation for yourself, gentle reader, if so it be that your habits and faculties are suited to the task—suited to the performance of the operation; or, at any rate, to the conception and remembrance of the result of it:—if not, turn, at any rate, from this section; else, nothing that you will see in it can be otherwise than misconceived.

Let there be no mistake. By nothing that has here been said, or will be said, is any such foolish insinuation meant to be conveyed,—as that, to the possession of an office under the crown—accompanied with any such mass of profit as shall be found adapted to the nature of it,—to the possession of any such situation, when considered by itself, any mark of reprobation ought to be annexed. To the case in which it operates with the effect of a bribe—a regularly repeated bribe—to this case, and to this alone, is everything which has been, or will be, said of offices, in the character of masses of the matter of corruption, meant from first to last to be applied. No:—considered in its own nature—considered even in any connexion, other than that of the sort here in question—office is no more a bad thing than money is a bad thing. Censure passed on office thus connected, is no more a censure passed on office at large, than censure passed on a murder committed for the sake of money with a knife, would be a censure on the use of money or on the use of knives. Considered in this point of view,—and independently of the particular connexion here pleaded against,—as it is with any one office, so is it with every other:—to no part of the official establishment—whether among those parts in which the office is in the gift of the monarch, or among those of which the patronage is in any other hands;—neither to any such part, nor to the whole taken in the aggregate;—has anything which is here said been ever meant to have any application.

If the sitting in perpetual judgment over the conduct of the several functionaries, possessors of offices in all the several departments of government—if this be not of the number of the functions properly belonging to, and, in show at least, exercised by the Commons House,—what other functions are there that can be said to belong to that same House? If, in so far as exercised with propriety and effect, this function of the House has not its use,—to what good use, with what good effect, can its other functions—all or any of them—be exercised?

In the situation of those functionaries, who, under the official name of judges, are judges and nothing more,—an incident which of necessity has sometimes happened, is—that, of a suit, in which one of these judges has been a party, being instituted and carried on in a judicatory in which his seat on the bench was situated;—of course, when the cause has come to be heard, he has been anywhere but upon that bench. What would his brethren—what would the bar—what would the audience—what would the public—have thought and said, had he staid and voted there? If, in a word, the judica-teipsum principle—the principle brought to view by Blackstone, for the purpose of condemnation—and illustrated by the story of the sinning and repentant pope, who, in virtue of a sentence passed by himself upon himself, was burnt alive,—were, on any of those seats which are called benches, realized?

In the situation of any one of the twelve, say rather of the fifteen superior judges,—on the occasion, though it were of but one single cause, and that between individual and individual,—suppose a man convicted of having received a bribe:—by bench, bar, audience, public—what would be thought and said of him, as above? By the very height of its improbability (for assuredly few political suppositions can be more improbable,) the case serves but the better in the character of a case put in the way of supposition, for the purpose of argument.

Well—here, in the Commons House—in the instance of every member by whom a political situation of any other kind, under the patronage of the crown, is at the same time holden, this judica-teipsum principle, as above explained, is it not exemplified and realized?

In any such instance—on any occasion in which, by any such member, in case of a division, a vote is given—the other situation having either money or money’s worth attached to it—the taint of bribery, is it in any degree less strong upon the case of such member, than if a bank note—say of a hundred pound—had but just before been received by him?—received, under an engagement, “implied,” or (if Mr. Speaker pleases) “express,” that such or such should be the direction given to his vote? Oh no: it is abundantly more strong; for, in the section in which the comparison has been made between bribery and terrorism, this has been shown already. At any time at which a quarter’s salary is put into his hand, the effect of it in the way of seductive influence,—is it in any degree less than that which would be produced by money to the same amount put into his hand (suppose him not in that or any other office,) under a stipulation—implied or express as before—that during the next ensuing quarter, on every occasion on which a vote should come to be given by the Cabinet Ministers,—such of them as were in the House,—his vote should be on the same side with theirs? Less, did I say? Not it indeed; but much greater. Why? Answer: Because, in the case of a bribe, so called,—the amount of it, being on each occasion fixed, is on each occasion limited: whereas, in the case of the bribe not so called—of the bribe received under the name of salary attached to an office,—though that one office and no other is in the man’s possession, yet in prospect,—by the side of it, beneath it, and above it,—each with its emoluments, is a cluster of other offices—a cluster boundless in number and value—for self and friends.

In the highest—in the most comprehensive—in the in every way most important seat of judicature in existence,—in the judicatory in which the lives and fortunes—the everything—not of A and B only, but of all the inhabitants of the whole empire—not to speak of those of almost all other countries on this globe—are, day by day,—if not actually at stake,—liable to be at stake, in the exercise given to its powers,—do the men in question,—in a number, on almost every occasion, capable of deciding the part taken by the whole House, and thence by the whole Government,—as often as the conduct of the partnership to which they belong is called in question, sit and act, each man as judge in his own cause: each of them, in respect of every vote he gives (I speak of those who to their seats add offices of emolument, from which they are removable at the pleasure of the crown,) each of them tainted with the matter of corruption; and that, as hath been shown, in a form, in comparison of which bribery is purity.

Suppose this told of a foreign country:—with what horror would not the state of government in that country be regarded! with what commiseration that of the wretched people!

Think then of the American United States!—think of the sentiments with which, on so many accounts—and on none more particularly than on this account—the condition to which we are doomed, cannot but be regarded by a citizen of those happy States!

Storm of indignation in the breast of Honourable Gentleman:—at this page, should his patience have lasted him thus long,—down, not improbably, goes the page on the floor, and then the foot upon it. Never but of one complexion—and that the purest—are his conduct, his intentions, or his motives. Self-regarding interest—the motive corresponding to that interest—the sort of motive, on the general predominance of which over every other the whole species is continually dependent for its very existence,—never for any such sordid motive can any place be ever found in so honourable a breast.

A hundred to one,—for want of the habit of examination, no tolerably clear conception has he, on any occasion, of the springs of action by which his own conduct is determined: no tolerably clear conception of anything that is passing in his own mind.

On the present occasion,—supposing him able to endure any such task, as that of forming a comparative estimate of the degrees of mischievous efficiency, as between corruption in the shape of bribery, commonly so called, on the one part, and corruption in the shape of place-holding and place-hunting on the other,—in the following queries he may perhaps find some assistance, while occupied in that more instructive than pleasant process:

1. Whether, if on any occasion, in effect or in intention, the measure brought upon the carpet by the minister be mischievous, or the measure opposed by him beneficial,—in which case his opposition, in so far as effectual, is mischievous,—whether, in any such case,—for securing, as far as depends upon votes in that House, the production of the mischief,—any means more effectual than the sort of arrangement in question could be devised?

2. Whether, in the case of punishable bribery,—the bribe being either in possession or in prospect,—the connexion between the desired end and the criminal and punishable means, can, in any degree, be closer than—or even so close as—in the present case?

3. Whether, by the impunity which in the bribery case has not place, and in this case has place, the strength of the temptation, or the probability of its being yielded to, is diminished?

4. The like questions, with regard to the ignominy and reproach which in the case of the bribery have place,—and which in the present case find their place occupied by honour and respect;—at any rate in the breasts of the custom-led and unreflecting multitude?

5. Whether, in the case of the bribery, the quantity of the matter of good,—operating, whether in the shape of money, money’s worth, or any other shape, in the character of matter of corruption,—is not fixed, and by being fixed, limited?—and whether,—to the quantity of that same precious matter, in the shape of offices and so forth, capable of being held by himself, or by connexions of his of all sorts and sizes—relations, friends, dependents—in countless multitudes—held by the side of him, underneath him, and above him—his own situation being, at the same time, compared with the moment at which a bribe in the ordinary form is received, a permanent one,—and, unless it should please him whose place is above all a perpetual one—whether, to the quantity of this same seductive matter there be any determinate limits? whether, compared with that of a mass of the matter of corruption, applied and received in the shape of a bribe commonly so called, the seductive power of a mass of that same matter, in the shape here in question,—in the eye of imagination, inflamed as it is by desire,—be not as infinity to one?

6. Whether, in the connexion which thus by positive institution has been established between the public mischief and the private benefit, there be any the smallest public use?—the smallest public use,—or, except the creation, preservation, or increase of the public mischief, any other assignable intended use or effect than the production of the private benefit?

7. Whether, if in any of the imputations here attached to the monstrous conjunction in question—the conjunction of the perpetually accountable situation with the situation to which account is perpetually rendered—whether, if in any of these imputations there be anything really grievous to the feelings of any one to whom they apply, there has ever been a time at which it has not been in his power to rid himself of it?—and whether there has ever been a time at which it has not been in the power of the majority of those who find their profit in the monstrosity, to rid the country of it?

8. Whether, when, in a case of imputed delinquency, all other evidence, and that sufficient, is against a man,—any other resource be left to him than the vehemence of the protestations by which he makes assertion of his own innocence?—and whether, from any such vehemence, the probative force of such his evidence receives in the eye of reason any increase?*

Suppose a prize offered, for him, by the fertility of whose imagination that political arrangement should be proposed, which, with a view to justice and public utility, should be most flagrantly flagitious;—to any purpose but that of corruption and misrule, the most grossly and palpably absurd:—could any other be found capable of making a match for this? Oh no: not although every man who ever gave himself to politics were to employ his whole life in the research. Suppose such a prize offered,—would all the poetry, added to all the oratory of the right honourable the president of the board of controul, suffice him to win it?—No, not even though the Quarterly Review and British India were left to themselves, and the whole mass of his powers concentrated upon this one object.

A constitution, with this poison—slow, but not the less sure—in the bowels of it! Rotten, even from the time that this poison was injected into it, must have been the Matchless Constitution,—rotten at the core—and, of such rottenness, what we are now suffering is among the fruits.

As a match for Utopia, suppose a Cacotopĩa discovered and described,—would not filth in this shape be a “fundamental feature” in it?

For fear of the influence of the crown in a relatively subordinate sphere,—judges forsooth in certain courts—though in certain courts only—judges, in courts where four of them sit together, though not in the court in which the powers of all four are condensed into one breast—judges in these relatively subordinate situations, fixed firmly on their benches,—while on the benches on which the fate of these men and all others depends,—the judges, on whom the whole of the business depends, are thus kept—kept for ever—in a state—not only of dependency, but corruptedness! Behold here another gnat strained at, while camels and cameleopards are swallowed.

Search the whole fabric through, where will an end be found to this tissue of hypocrisy:—to this mixture of sham securities and real mischiefs—of sham securities provided, and real mischiefs fostered?—efficiency to bad purposes, coupled with inefficiency to good ones?

Hypocrisy? Yes: over and over. Can any hypocrisy be more shameless—more transparent—than that which is manifested in marking bribe-taking with punishment, and, as far as may be, with infamy, while, in the person of a so-styled representative of the people, place-holding under the crown is held in honour? The place-holding held in honour!—Why? Even because the corruptors and the corrupted—the bestowers and the receivers of the matter of corruption—have need that so it should be. Bribe-taking marked with punishment and with infamy!—Why? Even because the corruptionists,—by whom the matter of corruption, together with the impunity and the honour, is given and received in that other—in that wholesale and so much more profitable shape,—have no need of it in any such petty and retail shape. By vituperating it in the shape in which it is of no use to them, men think to earn—and, if they do earn, it is without expense—the praise of virtue: of that virtue, the vice opposite to which has taken such full and never disturbed possession of their practice and their hearts.

Limit the number of those pretended representatives of the people? of these real representatives of the monarch? Limit the number of those public trustees into whose hands, as sure as quarter-day comes, the bribe by which they are hired shall be paid? Limit the number of those men who, on the bench of justice, as often as they become malefactors, shall sit in judgment on their own conduct and that of their accomplices? Well: when, for the purpose of this limitation, a bill is ready for passing, tack on then to it a rider, limiting the number of street-prostitutes that shall be employed as teachers in any boarding-school for young ladies.

Once upon a time, and once only,—into one of the plans of moderate reform, peeped (it will be seen)—and with congenial modesty—a proposition for a limitation to this effect. Once, and once only: nor does it appear that, on that one occasion, a proposition so daring—so innovational—so Utopian—so near to Jacobinical—found any one to second it.*

Oh blessed Constitution!—that in which (for of this you will find men ready to assure you) business could not go on, unless, in this way, delinquents—and those upon the largest scale—were judges in their own cause! And thus it is that, in the mind of every man who thinks, impeachment—the sole legal remedy against misrule—has been blotted out of the list of remedies.

Give me a place—give me a peerage—give me court favour: I will pocket £10,000 of the public money—I will confess I have done so,—and with honour on their lips—proclaiming each man his own honour—noble lords shall declare me innocent.

Oh Matchless Constitution!—And so, in this Matchless Constitution—such is the nature and virtue of it—business could not go on,—unless, besides being judges, each one of them in his own cause, those by whom everything is done, were not—every one of them—throughout the whole course of his service—corrupted: corrupted in a mode of corruption beyond comparison more effectual and more mischievous than that of bribery!

Look now to the United States!—look to the General Congress! See whether, in that head seat of democratic government, corruption in any such shape is in any instance to be found. What! does not business then go on in Congress?—in Congress, where, in the very last year that was, there was a surplus to the amount of a fourth of the year’s income, instead of a deficit, as here, to the amount of a sixth?

Take the heir-apparent of a duke—(alas! poor duke!)—take him, and, having seated him in the House of Commons, put him into a coloured sinecure, to serve as a substitute to an automaton for signing papers: his hand to the papers; the will by which it is directed, together with the judgment, such as it is, that belongs to that will, safe lodged all the while in another place. In this one picture behold the anti-jacobin triad—Waste, Corruption, and Oppression: waste made of the salary; corruption, the purpose it is applied to; Oppression, the channel through which for such purposes it is extracted. Behold the lauded preparatory seminary for the training of young nobility to business: behold a training school for young nobility, in the true anti-jacobin style: behold in the triad the true and everlasting object of anti-jacobin worship: behold now the regius professor of piety in the Honourable House: behold him—should any such blasphemy as this assault his eyes—behold him rending his heart—not at the sight of the waste—not at the sight of the corruption—not at the sight of the oppression—but at the allusion which, with the help of Mr. Attorney-general, he will have descried: the allusion made to a something more sacred than the Bible—to a substitute, which, with all-embracing, and blessedly efficient, orthodoxy, is put into the place of that old-fashioned miscellany—a substitute which, in the Established Church of Scotland, a man would no more rend his heart about, than in the Established Church of Morocco.

Reader, is the language here too warm for you? Turn to the Plan itself, there may you find the substance of it in as cool a state as the coldest heart can desire.

In any language—warm or cold—let him, who thinks he can, produce an answer to it.

Look once more to the United States:—see—whether, in that seat of democracy—of representative democracy—where swinish rulers are chosen by swinish multitudes—see whether, in that seat of illegitimate incorruption and good government—any such monster is to be found, as a man constituted judge—perpetual judge—in his own cause?

Oh blessed Constitution!—a constitution in which it is become a fundamental principle—become, I say—for for centuries it was otherwise*—that, among those who rule, there shall not be a man who is not judge in his own cause! Can it be matter of wonder, that among men thus self-qualified for the function of rendering justice—men,—in whose instance the sacrifice of universal interest to particular—of social interest upon the largest scale to self-regarding interest upon its own narrow scale—of duty, in a word, to interest, is matter of constant and universal practice—should not be to be numbered among those who are given to change?

And in this state is the Constitution, which in this very state, on pain that shall follow, we are called upon and forced to love!

Say, Mr. Wilberforce, how long shall a state of things like this be looked upon with no other than a smiling and admiring countenance? How long shall reform, and not abuse, be the object of all fears? When immorality is thus operating—operating upon the largest scale—say, what in this world is religion good for, if, instead of a check, immorality finds in it a support?—if, instead of a support, morality finds in it a substitute?

The man who, with open eyes, lauds the constitution with these sins in it—sins circulating in every vein, and tainting every fibre—the man who, with open eyes (and your eyes,—have they not had time to open themselves?) lauds and cherishes all these sins, say, where is the sin among them all, of which the guilt does not lie upon his head?

Sad—oh sad condition of human nature! Conceive, if you can, the enormity so atrocious, that, so as this one circumstance be but superadded to it,—viz. that of its having been habitually practised—practised with impunity by men in power, and under the protection of the law—will not, if by any strange accident exposed and complained of, find in that quarter a host of inexorable and indignant supporters and defenders—in that of the suffering multitude, alas! with how few exceptions!—so many indifferent and incurious observers, if not prostrate venerators! Presented at first in its true colours, and by its proper phrase, it would not perhaps have gained acceptance: presented in an improper phrase—dressed up in false colours—it passes without objection,—and, for ages after ages, the country is tormented by it.

Ah! when will the yoke of Custom—Custom, the blind tyrant, of which all other tyrants make their slave—ah! when will that misery-perpetuating yoke be shaken off?—when, when will Reason be seated on her throne?


Say, in a number equal to the average of the number of those, who since the irish Union have had seats in the House,—army and navy officers, nominated of course by the monarch: officers—not, as now, engaged in active service, thence in a line of duty, with the fulfilment of which, the fulfilment of that of a Member of the Commons House would, if constancy of attendance, as hereinafter proposed, were effectually enforced, be incompatible,—but veterans, who, their service in their respective lines being at an end, would,—to a body of professional experience superior to that which at present, under the dispensations of blind chance, is afforded by the average of all characters and all ages,—add a degree of leisure, such as would not present a demand for any abatement from the most perfect constancy of attendance.

These, attending of course in their respective uniforms—other official persons, in official uniforms expressive of their respective official situations, and thus at one view presenting the sort of information which they were respectively regarded as being in a peculiar degree qualified to afford. Choice of these uniforms: behold here an exercise—nor that, it is humbly supposed, altogether an unacceptable one—for the taste and talents of the Prince Regent. In the situation here proposed, the use of an appropriate uniform seems rather more obvious, than in those situations of a non-military nature, in which uniforms, it is said, are already in use.


Like queries, in the case of a chancellor, supreme judge in a judicatory in which, immediately or through the channel of patronage, he pays himself by fees, the aggregate amount increasing with the aggregate of individual bankruptcy and public misery produced or increased by war—in the case of the judge of a prize court paying himself and Co. in like manner—the aggregate amount of the fees depending altogether upon war—chancellor and judge strenuous from first to last in the support given to war, by vote, eloquence, and influence. Think of this, and then say, whether, under a government so formed, in looking for the causes of war, commencement, and continuance, the eye need to convey itself to any unmeasurable distance?

Like queries in the case of a judge, sitting in a superior situation, to judge of the propriety, in each individual case and in the aggregate, of fees received to his own use in a subordinate situation;—and in another place, with transparent yet ever prevailing fallacies on his lips, and flame and fury in his eyes, slapping the door in the face of every measure, in which the vast majority of the people behold the only possibility left to them, of obtaining so much as a chance for justice!—See Scotch Reform: and Protest against Law Taxes.

Think, as often as war—and the causes and the profit and loss by it—come in question,—think whether in any company—private, or even mixed—it be a frequent occurrence to meet with an officer, in any branch of the military service, who makes any scruple of declaring his wishes to see war commence, or if already in existence, continued:—and, unless it be in the article of frankness, whether there be any reason for supposing human nature to be in this respect different in the one of those situations, from what it is in the other?

If, on any such occasion, from general rules the inquiry should descend to individual cases, then would naturally come the question, whether, in the individual instance or instances in question, there be any such known contempt of money, as, in such instances respectively, to take the individual case out of the general rule.


See Section XVI. Moderate Reform, &c.

See above, Section IV. p. 16, note.


See Section XV—Representatives—Impermanence, &c.



Jeremy Bentham, IX. “Honourable House incorrigible: this Disorder incurable: the Constitution subverted by it” in Plan of Parliamentary Reform (1817)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Section XIV. Universal Constancy of Attendance — Its Importance. IX. “Honourable House incorrigible: this Disorder incurable: the Constitution subverted by it” in Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the Form of a Catechism (1817), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3. <>

Editor's Intro



IX.: Honourable House incorrigible: this Disorder incurable: the Constitution subverted by it.

Well now, note what has been seen:—1. The nature of the species of delinquency in question; 2. The vast—the undeniable mischievousness of it; 3. The impossibility of the mischief’s ever finding a remedy in the exertions of individuals on individual occasions; 4. The sinfulness of the sin, in the breast of every individual who, after proof seen of its sinfulness, shall forbear to contribute his best endeavours, by whatsoever sweeping measure may be most surely effectual, to purge the House of it: to cleanse the House from it; and if so it be that he himself is of the number of the sinners, thus to bring forth the only fruits meet for repentance. All these things seen, exists there that man, in whose eyes the wish, to behold the concurrence of the votes necessary to the substitution of appropriate probity in this shape to the opposite improbity, brings with it any so much as the minutest chance for its accomplishment? If so, too plain indeed will be, if it be not already, his mistake.

On this occasion, as on all others, before you put yourself to any expense in the article of argument, look first to the state of interests:—think to overcome the force of interest by the force of argument? Think as well to take Lisle or Mantua, by peas blown out of a peashooter. The man who hastened to Rome, to convert the Pope to Protestantism—never let him be out of mind. When the Pope has put on Protestantism, look then to Honourable House:—then it is that your eyes shall behold Honourable House putting on uncorruption in the room of that corruption which sits now so easy on it. Think then whether there be that imaginable shape in which uncorruption would sit upon Honourable House more gallingly than in that of universal constancy of attendance!—a shape, under the pressure of which—unless they respectively gave up their seats—the land-officer, the sea-officer, the diplomatist, would have to give up their commissions,—the governor or other office-bearer in the distant dependencies, his office,—the lawyer his practice,—the official lawyer his office and his practice,—the fox-hunter, for months together, his dogs and horses,—the opera-fancier, his operas,—the Bond-street lounger, his lounges.

Address yourself to the man who sits by proprietorship—address yourself to the man who has come in by terrorism—address yourself to the man who has come in by bribery—address yourself to the man who, through proprietor, terrorist, or bribe-giver, has come in by purchase:—with the exception of some half-hundred or thereabouts, address yourself to any one of the 658:—tell him that his situation is a trust, that to fulfil that trust is a duty—tell him that the situation of monarch is a trust—that the Prince Regent has declared it so to be—and that in the hands even of the Prince Regent it never has been, nor ever can be, a perfect sinecure;—talk to him in any such strain:—so you may if you please, but first prepare yourself for a horse-laugh in your face. “The Prince Regent indeed! Yes: to him it is indeed a trust, it is not for him to do nothing but what he pleases. O yes; duty, and duty enough, has he to do: papers upon papers must he sign, when the time comes; it is for that that he is where he is. Sir, my case—be pleased to understand—is quite a different one. At this time, and at all times, I can do, sir, and I will do, sir, as I please. When it is more pleasant to me to go in than to stay out, I go in: when it is more pleasant to me to stay out than to go in, I stay out. This, sir, it is to be independent: this, sir, is the duty of an independent Member of Parliament: this, sir, is the use of a man’s being a Member of Parliament.”

Well now, honest reader, what you are supposing all the while is—that principles such as these are but the principles of individuals:—principles which, in so far as they are really harboured and acted upon, are but the accidental result of individual profligacy and insolence: principles too, which, in the representation thus given of them, are in the beat of argument more or less exaggerated. Alas! if such be really your thoughts, in sad truth you are in an error:—an error which you will be but too deplorably liable to fall into, should any such expectation be entertained by you, as that on that seat of self-proclaimed honour, any real regard for duty—even for acknowledged duty—is to be found. Duty as to constituents?—duty as towards swinish multitude? “Oh no!” cries Honourable House, “leave that duty to the swine.” Duty to Honourable House? Yes: on this occasion, at any rate, that duty, and no other, is the duty Honourable House knows of. Now in all this is there anything of misrepresentation?—anything of exaggeration? Read now, and judge.

Honourable House has its rules and customs: behold now one of them. Unless forty members or more are present, business cannot be begun upon:—here you have a rule. But when Honourable House so pleases, motion having been made and seconded for that purpose, what is called a call of the House is made. A day is named—always a more or less distant one—and, on that one day, attendance on the part of all and singular the members is commanded. Look once more at this rule—at this custom:—whatsoever be its name, constituted by this rule or custom, here you have a duty—an obligation established. Established? Aye: and, as often as Honourable House shall so please, enforced: for, not a member is there who, should he fail of paying duty and homage to Honourable House, either by attendance or excuse, may not—would not peradventure—by order of Honourable House, be imprisoned: imprisoned and squeezed for patronage-swelling fees. Well then—in the obligation either to attend or send excuse—here you have not only an obligation, but an obligation, as often as it shall please the Honourable House, made perfect: here you have indeed a duty. A duty? but towards whom? Even towards Honourable House, by whom, and by whom alone, it has been created,—by whom, and by whom alone, when enforced, it is enforced. But in this very duty—a duty thus created, and no otherwise enforced—in this very duty you have the abrogation of all duty as respecting the service at large—of all duty as towards the people in the character of constituents. Obligation, confined to one particular occasion—what is it but licence as applied to all other occasions? Thus it is that of Honourable House it is the law—the will—the pleasure—the constantly-entertained and frequently-declared pleasure—that, in regard to attendance—except in obedience to command issued by Honourable House,—Honourable Members shall at all times do as they please. And this is what was to be proved. Now in this, is there anything misrepresented? anything exaggerated? As towards constituents—as towards swinish multitude, of obligation not so much as the weight of a feather: not so much as that sort of obligation, the levity of which is recognised by moralists, distinguishing it as they do by the name of an imperfect one.

Proposing at the same time that all other things shall remain as they are, and therefore as “they should be,” in or out of the House,—suppose then a man to stand up and propose, that on the part of honourable gentlemen who risk nothing by it, attendance—a duty not occupying half the year—should, for and during so moderate a portion of each man’s time, be rendered as constant and universal, as on the part of soldiers, who, the whole year, and on every day in the year, risk their lives by it:—To any such effect, any such proposal would it be endured? The whole House, would it not be in an uproar? A voice crying, make a stand! make a stand! aye, and with echoes too—echoes from both sides,—would it not once more be heard, and from the reforming side of the House? To the pious among honourable gentlemen, would not the preacher of this part of the whole duty of man be as surely an atheist—to the political, a jacobin—as if his motion had been for universal suffrage? Say, how should it be otherwise—when, by the one measure as by the other, the best interests (as the phrase is)—the best interests on both sides—would alike be elbowed out, and made to give place (oh intolerable thought!) to the universal interest?

No: assuredly not to Honourable House are these arguments, or any part of them, addressed: their interest is to remain as they are and what they are, so long as the injured people and their brave defenders shall behold them sitting there. No: not to the deaf adder—not to that deaf adder, whose deafness has been produced by the charms of sinister interest, will any such charms as can be contained in argument be addressed. The ears which by the voice of honest interest—of that interest, the voice of which is in unison with universal interest—are prepared to listen to arguments, pleading the cause of that interest—these, and these alone, are the ears, to which, with any the slightest expectation of their being listened to, these arguments, howsoever in form and by compulsion addressed to any other quarter, are, or in sincerity and reality can be, addressed.





Jeremy Bentham, Section 1. "In every Political State, the greatest happiness of the greatest number requires, that it be provided with an all-comprehensive body of law", in Codification Proposal (1822)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Section 1. "In every Political State, the greatest happiness of the greatest number requires, that it be provided with an all-comprehensive body of law. All-comprehensiveness, practicable, and indispensable", in Codification Proposal, addressed by Jeremy Bentham to all Nations professing Liberal Opinions (1822), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4<>

Editor's Intro



Section 1.: In every Political State, the greatest happiness of the greatest number requires, that it be provided with an all-comprehensive body of law. All-comprehensiveness, practicable, and indispensable.

In the political state in question, whatsoever be the effect, which, in pursuance of any regard, entertained, or professed to be entertained, for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, it has been endeavoured to produce, by means of any expression given to the will of any person or persons exercising any of the powers of government,—only in so far as that will has been made known to the individual on whose conduct the production of that effect in each individual instance depends, can existence be given to such effect. If, in the instance of any one such effect, the notification, as above, of the correspondent will, is necessary to the existence of the effect, so is it in the instance of every other such effect. If, in this respect, there be any difference,—by him by whom it is discovered let it be declared.

This is what no man will attempt. Yet are there but too many men, to whom the idea of any such all-comprehensiveness, on the part of the rule of action, is an object of aversion and even abhorrence.

Who are they? A set of corruptionists, and a correspondent set of dupes.

1. First as to corruptionists.

In proportion as, in the whole field of law, a covering composed of real law is wanting,—room is left for different sets of men, to set up, each of them, in the character of law, this or that article of purely fictitious law, framed by them respectively on each occasion, in a shape adapted to whatever particular and sinister purposes they have, on that occasion, set themselves in pursuit of. There are two distinguishable classes of men, to whose sinister purposes every such void space in the body of the law is subservient. One is, the lawyer class: the other is the class of party men in general; and in particular, party leaders. Were any such all-comprehensive code in existence, and executed as it ought to be and might be, seldom would there be any such question as a question of law: never any other question of law than a question concerning the import of this or that portion of the existing text of the really existing law. In the case of the lawyer class, the need which a man has of void spaces in the body of the law, applies to the whole field of law, and every part of it. In the case of the party man, it is to the constitutional branch of the law that the convenience afforded by those void spaces to his purpose more particularly applies. Wherever real law is silent, the course he takes is this:—He sets up an article of imaginary law framed by him for the purpose, and by loud and confident assertion, supported by such analogical arguments as he can contrive to muster up, endeavours to produce, in the minds of his hearers or readers, the belief of a conviction on his part, that this sham law of his own fabricating is so much real law. If he be of the party in power, it is most commonly for the defence of his own party that the pretended law is fabricated: if he be of the party out of power, it is most commonly for the attack of the party in power that the fabrication has place.

Behold, then, in the above two classes of men, the corruptionists—the knaves. To their sinister interest it is, or is believed to be, conducive, that the rule of action should be kept in the completest state of uncertainty and confusion possible.

The dupes are those on whose minds the knaves have succeeded in producing, in relation to this matter, a persuasion which in their own minds has no existence. This is, that the composition of a code thus comprehensive is impossible. Of any attempt to prove the inutility of it, the absurdity would be too palpable. Remains, then, this notion of the pretended impossibility as the sole resource.

The strength of the argument lying in the ignorance and weakness of those to whom it is addressed, no direct mode of combating it with effect does the nature of the case admit of, except by the substituting appropriate knowledge and strength of mind to that ignorance and that weakness.

This not being within the reasonable hope of any man, the only sort of argument that presents any chance or prospect of success is this:—Let the endeavour to produce a code of this all-comprehensive description be employed: if it fails altogether, you are but as you were: so far as it succceds, so far at least you will be the better for it: instead of a counterfeit arrangement, fabricated on the occasion by this or that influential hand for its own particular and sinister purpose, you have a real arrangement; an arrangement, the knowledge of which, whatsoever has been its purpose, has been given, or at any rate may have been given, and given in time, to those whose lot it had taken upon itself to dispose of:—the knowledge of it, and thereby so far the power to conform to it. To give to you, whoever you are, this means of safety, is the endeavour of every public man whose end in view is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. To withhold it from you, is the endeavour of the corruptionist in every one of his shapes: to keep everything that is dear to you in the state of the most perfect insecurity possible. Why? Because in that insecurity he beholds an efficient cause of his own power: by every increase you get to your security, that power of his is lessened. It is because he is so fully conscious of the possibility of such a work, and accordingly so fearful of seeing it executed, that he is so earnest with you to persuade you to regard the accomplishment of it as impossible: to regard success as impossible, and thence every proposal for the endeavour as absurd. Supposing it really impossible, he would be without motive for taking so much pains to make you regard it as such.

The possibility—is it proved—the impossibility disproved—by the fact? Where the fact has place, are men in general satisfied or dissatisfied with it? Ask a citizen of the United States, whether it would be agreeable to him to see his constitutional code done away, and, throughout the whole field of law, party men and lawyers left at liberty to vociferate, upon each occasion, the law is so and so, the law is so and so:—to vociferate thus—as it would be left for them to do, and as they would not fail to do, when the truth is, that, by the very supposition, there is no such thing as any law about the matter. Ask him where the impossibility is, of doing that which, by that same constitutional code, has actually been done.

Well then—if, in the giving a covering of this sort to the whole field of constitutional law, there has been nothing impossible, why should there be in giving a like covering to any other part of the field of law? to the field of distributive, or, as the phrase is, civil law—to the field of penal law—to the field of judicial procedure?

Ask the Spaniard the like question.

Ask either of them—ask even the Englishman—seeing that so many parts of the field of law are actually covered by real law—what is there that should hinder the other parts, any or all of them, from receiving a like covering?

In every other case, the more strenuous a man’s endeavour is to render his work complete, is not the probability of its being rendered so the greater? Is it that the more studiously a man abstains from adding anything to it, the nearer to completeness it will be? Does not a more complete come nearer to an all-comprehensive than a less complete work does?

As to the mode of securing this same property of all-comprehensiveness to the several operations that required to be performed on the several parts of the field of law in the penning of a code, some instructions for this purpose may be seen in Part the Second of the work intituled Chrestomathia.

In a word, be the occasion what it may, if in specie, the language cannot always be all-comprehensive—say rather all-expressive—yet such in genere it may always be: and, as every individual is contained within its species, so is every species within its genus.




Jeremy Bentham, Chapter IX. "Good Rule and Bad Rule. (Patronage) English Government. IV.: All Branches taken together," in Constitutional Code (1827-30)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Chapter IX. "Good Rule and Bad Rule. (Patronage) English Government. IV.: All Branches taken together," in Constitutional Code (1827-30), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 9. <>.

Editor's Intro



IV.: All Branches taken together.

  • 10. or 1. Minimization of the collation and publication of appropriate facts and judgments, indicative of official aptitude or inaptitude.
  • 11. or 2. Minimization of publicity of official obligations.

In defence of the system of misrule as at present carried on in England, a plea in bar against reform, and a plea that seems to be most generally employed and relied on, is—that the system that has place now, is the same as that by which all the good effects that have ever been experienced have been produced: the same on which all the praises that have ever been bestowed upon it by foreign nations as well as its own, have been bestowed.

If things themselves are to be considered, and not mere words—the things themselves and not merely the words employed in speaking of them, nothing can be further from the truth. The assertion, if it be anything to the purpose, amounts to this: viz. that, to the power exercised by the ruling one, in conjunction with the sub-ruling few, once the subject many, there exists at present checks and securities against abuse, either the same as, or not less effectual than, any which ever had place at any former point of time.

This will be found completely false and groundless, whether the power of aggression on the part of the one and the few be considered, or the power of self-defence on the part of the many.

On the part of the rulers the power of aggression may be distinguished into the power of violence and the power of corruption: on the part of the subject many the power of self-defence may be distinguished into that which they exercise by their representatives, meaning always their actual deputies and delegates freely chosen by them, and that which they exercise by themselves.

First, as to the power of aggression by violence. It consists in, and in its amount is proportioned to, the standing force of a military nature under the absolute command of the ruling one. Of this force there are two branches: the land force and the sea force. For the period of comparison take, in the first place, the year 1753, being the fifth year after the war that terminated in the peace of 1748.

Army in 1753, 20,000. Army in 1821, 100,000.

Navy in 1753, 15,000. Navy in 1821, 60,000.

So far as aggressive power is concerned, to say that it is no greater now than it was in 1753, is to say that one hundred thousand is no more than twenty thousand: or that sixty thousand is no more than fifteen thousand.

The more assured the influence and efficiency of those causes, by the force of which, in every government, the ruling functionaries are, on each occasion, prompted and urged to concur in the making of the sinister sacrifice, the more strenuous and universal will of course be the endeavours to conceal from the eyes of all who do not participate in the benefit of it, the existence of the sacrifice itself, and thence the existence and the efficiency of the motives which on each occasion give birth to it. By action (if sufficiently observed) the demonstration afforded by it is on every occasion complete: for producing disbelief of the existence of it—for preventing men from descrying motives through the medium of actions, remain as the only resource which the nature of the case furnishes or admits of—professions. In this case the actions constitute the circumstantial evidence, and professions—mere words, the direct evidence. The circumstantial evidence by which the existence of the sacrifice, and the part borne by each man in the making of it, is demonstrated, being conclusive, nothing is left but to abuse the ears, and if possible, blind the eyes and confound the understanding, the conception, and the judgment, by an all-embracing, and indefatigably, and vehemently urged body of this same direct evidence: evidence which in every instance is mendacious. But the mendacity of it not being in its nature capable of being rendered perceptible to sense—perceptible to the bodily organs of those addressed in the character of judges; hence it is that it ever has been in the most unblushing manner obtruded, and will so continue to be to the very last.

For this purpose, not inconsiderable is the variety of phrases; as common as any is purity of motives. By this phrase what is meant to be insinuated is, either that in the part the man takes he has no regard whatsoever for his own personal interest, or any other narrow interest, or that if he has any, it gives way at all times to his regard for the national or some other more extensive interest. But preferably the meaning is, such being the more direct and obvious import of the words, the utter absence of every particle of self-regard. Of this immaculate purity, each man in the most peremptory manner asserts the existence in his own instance: deny it, or hesitate to admit it, you offer him an affront—an affront, the stain of which he perhaps not unfrequently invites you to permit him to wash away with your blood. Of this same purity he calls upon you, though perhaps in a tone not quite so loud, to admit, on the part of his colleagues and supporters. Nor yet, unless under the smart of some particular provocation, or in the ardour of some particularly advantageous thrust, is he backward in the acknowledgment of the same purity in the breasts of honourable gentlemen on the other side of the house. By this means while the praise of good temper and candour is obtained, the price for the purchase of the corresponding acknowledgment on the other side, is thus paid in advance.

No government so corrupt but that it is in the habit of receiving acknowledgments of this sort from its opponents. Nor are these acknowledgments inconsistent with the rules of policy. For if the position were—all is impurity on that side, all is purity on our side,—people might be found to doubt of it, especially in those instances in which the very same men have been seen sometimes on the one side sometimes on the other: and in that case the result might be, in some eyes, a rational supposition of its non-existence on either side.

At the expense of truth (need it be said?) is all this laudation and self-worship, every atom of it. But the more irrefragably true is the contrary position, the more strenuous is the urgency of the demand for it. Thus it is, that urged by the necessity which on all sides they are under of making men in general continue in the belief of the non-existence of that which they are seeing and feeling the effects of at every moment, public men join in the inculcating of the errors correspondent and opposite to the most important truths: in causing men to believe that, under a form of government so thoroughly corrupt, that all who belong to it are in a state of corruption—none are: to believe in that fabled purity which is not ever true even where temptation is at its minimum, much less in a situation in which it is at its maximum.

This being the language of ruler-craft, what is the language of simple truth? That in spite of everything which is said, the general predominance of self-regard over every other sort of regard, is demonstrated by everything that is done: that in the ordinary tenor of life, in the breasts of human beings of ordinary mould, self is everything, to which all other persons, added to all other things put together, are as nothing: that this general habit of self preference is so far from being a just subject of denial, or even a reasonable cause of regret, that the existence of it is an indispensable condition not only to the wellbeing but to the very being of the human species, and should therefore be a cause of satisfaction: that admitting, as perhaps it may be admitted, that in a highly matured state of society, in here and there a highly cultivated and expanded mind, under the stimulus of some extraordinary excitement, a sacrifice of self-regarding interest to social interest, upon a national scale, has not been without example—public virtue in this shape cannot reasonably be regarded as being so frequently exemplified as insanity: and that as in the case of insanity so in this,—it is in what has place in the conduct on the part of the thousands, and not in what has place in the conduct of one in every thousand, that all rational and useful political arrangements will be grounded.

Of a state of things thus incontrovertible, no sooner is the existence to a certain degree extensively acknowledged, than all pretence to this species of purity will be regarded as would an assertion of chastity in the mouth of a prostitute at the very moment of solicitation: regarded as an insult to the understandings of all those to whom it is addressed,—and will as such be resented.

Partly through artifice, partly through blind imitation, almost every sort of document, by which right instruction ought to be administered, is regularly and constantly employed in the drawing of those flattering pictures of human nature: flattering in so far as that disposition is ascribed, by which if really possessed in the degree in which it is represented as possessed, the destruction of the whole species would be the consequence. These pictures of human nature are drawn without any determinate and declared line of distinction, yet so ordered, that the favourites of fortune are the only individuals that have the benefit of it.

In all histories, in all biographies, in all funeral sermons, in all obituaries, is praise poured out with the most boundless, and indiscriminating profusion, upon those who howsoever spoken of while living, are thus richly compensated when dead. That for fortune’s favourites alone is the praise destined—that by them alone it is, or can be invoked, is not expressly said: yet so it is, that to none other, can any part of it ever have application.

Thus it is that in all these documents, honour and praise bestowed, operates as a bounty upon oppression and depredation, as an encouragement to persevere in all those courses by which human misery on the largest scale is produced.

It is from the same pernicious artifice that the adage—“of the dead say nothing but what is good,” has its source: i. e. give on every occasion false and delusive instruction, in the most important of all branches of art and science: instruction by which the few may be engaged to commit oppression and depredation in every shape, and the many engaged to submit to it.

Tender in their sympathy for those who have no feeling: callous to the sufferings of all those who are exposed to suffer from the crimes of their confederates.

This doctrine is inculcated in all seats of instruction, in every monarchy. To his disadvantage, nothing: to his advantage, anything. Thus, bating a few exceptions, the portrait presented by the aggregate of these documents, is that of universal excellence. Not that by the word excellence, anything approaching to the character of a distinct idea, can be ever presented: all that is presented, is a something by which the individual is constituted a fit subject of admiration and consequently of imitation. But these so fit subjects of admiration and imitation, to which class do they belong? Uniformly to that class, by which all the mischief done in the world has been done: while those who never come in for any share of this admiration and this praise, are with a few exceptions as before, of the class of those, by whom at the same time, whatever good has been done, has been done.

In the labouring—the productive class, life in its general tenor, is a life of beneficence: whatever maleficence has place forms the exception, and in comparison with the beneficence, those exceptions are extremely rare. By the produce of his labour, he procures his own subsistence, and contributes to that of the family to which he belongs: in so doing, he contributes at the same time to his own gratification: for by the constitution of human nature, gratification is inseparably attached to those operations by which the individual—and hence by which the species—is preserved. At the same time to an indefinite amount, according to the nature of his employment, he contributes to the gratification of others in abundance: others by whom no such contributions are made to the general stock of felicity. By him, no mischief is done: no depredation committed—no oppression in any other shape, committed.

Not the smallest particle of that praise and admiration ever falls to the share of this uniformly beneficent class. So far from being objects of respect or sympathy, they are objects of contempt and antipathy: they serve but as foils, to the receptacles of all excellence.

Here, then, are two distinct and opposite classes: the one composed of those by whom the disagreeable sensation, called disgust, is constantly experienced: the other composed of those who are the objects of it—those from whom it is experienced. But those from whom it is experienced, are undoubtedly, in a physical sense, comparatively impure: the quality, on account of which they are the objects of disgust, is impurity: while the opposite agreeable quality is among the incontestable attributes of those by whom they are contemplated in this point of view. But by those by whom everything is produced, small indeed in comparison is either the time or the money that can be afforded by them in freeing themselves from impurities:—never sufficient for the satisfaction of those, their superiors in the scale of fortune.

Unfortunately of the appellation impure, in the case in which it is with propriety applied to the productive classes, the propriety is much more obvious and incontestable, than in the case in which, it is with so much less propriety applicable to those same classes, namely, in the moral sense,—while it is with so much more propriety applicable to the unproductive classes. If a man be covered with dirt, you see it in a moment by a glance at his face. But if he be a man, who, after sacrificing to his own gratification the subsistence of 100,000 human beings of the productive class, is still running in debt, disdaining to apply a bridle to that rapacity by which he is urged to go on, in the same sinister sacrifice, so long as an obtainable particle of it remains unsacrificed—nothing of this do you see in his face, or in anything about him; on the contrary, you see him encompassed with trappings, the object of which, (and in but too great a degree the effect,) is to cause you to regard him, not as being distinguished by any of those mischievous qualities, by which he is so pre-eminently distinguished,—but as one who is pure of all those qualities, from the effects of which, suffering, in various shapes, to other individuals, is derived.

To the devising of any well-grounded and rational course, for the surmounting of the obstacles opposed to good government, by the universal self-preference in the breasts of the functionaries of government—of the constituted guardians of the universal interest—the first step was the taking a true observation of the existence and shape of that same universally prevalent, particular, and sinister interest. This theory being accomplished, correspondent and accordant practice becomes a matter of course. Hence, into the compass of these two words, may be condensed the all-directing and leading rule—minimize confidence. Such, then, is the advice which the framer of this constitution has not been backward in giving to all who are disposed to accept it. Confine within the strictest limits of necessity, whatsoever confidence you may be tempted to repose either in them or their successors.

At the same time, here as in a watch, does this main-spring require another to antagonize with it. Of all constituents be it, at the same time the care, from no delegate to withhold any of that power, which may eventually be necessary to the due performance of the service looked for, at his hands. While confidence is minimized, let not power be withheld. For security against breach of trust, the sole apt remedy is,—on the part of trustees, not impotence, but constant responsibility, and as towards their creators—the authors of their political being—on every occasion, and at all times, the strictest and most absolute dependence. In the first place with powers no otherwise limited, on the part of the Supreme Legislative, the most absolute dependence on the Supreme Constitutive, and thus in a chain reaching down to the lowest functionary: each link, through the medium of the several increasing links, in a state of equally perfect dependence on the Supreme Legislative, and by this means on the Supreme Constitutive. If the Supreme Constitutive were in a single hand—in the hand of a monarch, no objection would there be, on his part, to this chain of dependence: nor on the part of any of those who, that the many may be dependent on them, are so well content to be dependent on that one. Can it be said there is less reason for content when the few are thus dependent on the many?

With the maximization of beneficial power, to reconcile and embrace the minimization of maleficent power, lies the great, not to say, the only difficulty. For surmounting it, the course here taken is—the keeping throughout the whole field of action, in the hands of the many, the faculty of dislocating the possessors of operative power—in the hands of those by whom, and in so far as, maleficently exercised, the suffering thus produced will be felt.

In vain would the efficiency of the course, here recommended, be questioned, or its alleged dangerousness asserted and magnified. For a complete demonstration of its efficiency, as well as its undangerousness, one and the same example has already sufficed. This is that of the Anglo-American United States. In essentials, the principals by which the arrangements in the constitution of that confederacy have been determined, are the same, it may be seen, as those here laid down and applied. Of that constitution, the fundamental principle is the omnipotence of the many: the omnipotence in so far as established by the constitutive power, though not a particle of the operative power can be seen lodged in those same hands.

By the adoption and application made of this principle, while an unexampled quantity of good has been produced, and evil, in the shape of evil, from misrule excluded,—not a particle of the alleged mischiefs or dangers has ever been seen to result: while the evils, which, for want of this safeguard, have, at the same time, as well as in all former times, been produced in all other governments, are and have been, multitudinous, intense, and incontrovertible; and are destined to go on increasing, till the governments themselves are dissolved.

Not that even in this hitherto matchlessly felicitous system, imperfections of detail are wanting: witness the still unabrogated sanction given to domestic slavery on account of difference of colour, and the misrule submitted to at the hands of the lawyer tribe, for want of an all-embracing and determinate rule of action: not to speak of a quantity of useless and thence mischievous complication, by which the transparency of the system still continues to be disturbed. But in these imperfections there is nothing that flows from the above-mentioned fundamental principle: nor yet any evil that may not be seen in still greater abundance in those other states, in the constitutions of which this principle has no place. Neither is there any evil, which, without any change in the constitution, might not receive, and beyond doubt is destined sooner or later to receive, an easy cure; while to the evils resulting from the constitutions of all other states, no cure can by possibility be effected by any other means, than the abrogation of those constitutions, and substituting the sort of constitution, of which it is the characteristic to have for its fundamental principle, the omnipotence of the many, as above.

At the same time, men being the same everywhere, not less universally exemplified is the principle of self-preference in that, than in every other form of government. But where the government is in the hands of all, or what comes to the same thing, of those whose collective interests are the same with the interests of all, the natural effect of the principle of self-preference is—not as in the case where it is in the hands of one, or of a few, the sacrifice of the interest of all, to the interest of that one or those few; but the sacrifice of all interests that are opposed to the happiness of all. In so far as his aim is, to sacrifice all interests to his own,—the interests of others, to that which is peculiar to himself, no man finds any effective number of hands disposed to join with his: in so far as his aim is, to serve such of his interests alone, as are theirs as well as his, he finds all hands disposed to join with his: and these common interests correspond to the immediately subordinate right and proper ends of government, maximization of subsistence, abundance, security, and equality. In so far as by the principle of self-preference, he is led to promote his own happiness, by augmenting theirs at the same time, or even without diminishing it, so far he finds himself capable of acting without obstruction: but no sooner does he attempt to promote his own happiness, by means by which theirs is diminished, than he finds obstruction thrown in his way, by all whose happiness is, by this his enterprise already more or less diminished, and by all who, in case of his success, are apprehensive of suffering the like diminution. Thus, then, the principle of self-preference, has for its regulator in the breast of each, the consciousness of the existence and power of the same principle in the breasts of all the rest: and thus it is that the whole mechanism is at all times kept in a state of perfect order, and at all times performs to admiration everything that is desired of it, everything it was made for.

As to professions, and boasts of purity of motives; in the debates and discussions that have place in those United States, little or nothing of this sort of talk is heard. Why? Because, in the first place, there is no such demand for it: in the next place, there would be no use for it, for there would be no prospect of its gaining credence.

No such demand: for by no functionary, or set of functionaries, is any such power there possessed as that of exercising depredation or oppression in any shape—that of making of the interests of others, any such enormous sacrifices, to his own particular interest, as are made under all other governments,—any such power, nor consequently, any such habit. The sinister interest not being proved by his actions, there is no such circumstantial evidence, calling for direct evidence to furnish a disproof of it.

No credence would any such profession obtain if uttered. In a monarchy, while producing its effects in the way of corruption on the self-styled agents of the people, the matter of good above-mentioned, in their hands, and thrown round their persons, is producing its effects in the way of delusion upon the people themselves. Full, they are seen to be of money, power, and factitious dignity: proportionably full, under favour of the delusion, they are believed to be, of excellence. As of excellence in general, so of excellence in the shape of sincerity in particular: so that, when they say their motives are so pure, their regard for the interests of the people so intense, their disregard for their own interests so entire, the assertion of all these impossibilities, impossibilities as they are, is not the less followed by belief.

But in those United States, no such source of delusion has place: no man, whose impudence has soared to any such pitch, as to make pretension to any such excellence. By inward consciousness, each man stands assured of the dominion of the principle of self-preference in himself: by analogy, receiving continual support from experience, each man stands equally assured of its existence in the breast of every other man. No man, therefore, sees any advantage in coming forward with pretensions, which, if made, would be productive of no other fruit than scorn and ridicule.

By nothing which is to be found in that example, is any contradiction or exception applied to the rule, by which the greatest happiness of the rulers themselves is asserted to be the end in view of all rule: why? for this simple reason,—the supreme rulers themselves, are those, whose interests are not decidedly distinguishable from those interests of which the universal interest is composed.

Whatsoever moral considerations,—notions of moral obligation,—should induce a man to abstain from acts injurious to individuals, or to the community in the aggregate, and to oppose himself to acts of the like tendency on the part of the other individuals, or of foreigners, considered in the character of enemies, should urge him to the like conduct as against the correspondent acts of misrule, on the part of the government, and as against the form and system of government which gives birth to them. So much with regard to direction: then as to force and energy. In the case of the public wrong, the resistance ought to be to what it is in the case of the private wrong, as are the number of the sufferers in the two cases; in other words, as the mischief done by the public wrong, is to the mischief done by the private wrong.





Jeremy Bentham, Chapter X. "Corruption,"Constitutional Code (1827-30)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Chapter X. "Corruption," in Constitutional Code (1827-30), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 9. <>

Editor's Intro




Taken in its largest sense, the word corruption is employed to denote the deterioration of the subject to which it is applied,—the rendering it worse than it was before, or would have been otherwise. Corruptio is in Latin, breaking up: the breaking up of the texture of the subject in question: it being understood that, by such breaking up, it is rendered worse. In the first instance, the word was used in a physical sense: the breaking up the texture of a mass of animal or vegetable matter; from thence, it comes to be used in a moral sense,—the breaking up for the worse, the texture of the mental frame.

When the sense in which the word is used is the physical sense, no more than one object is necessarily considered as having place in the operation: namely, the corruptible mass in which the change has place: by another object, operating in the character of a ferment, the change may be promoted: but no such exterior object is necessary to it.

Where the sense in which the word is used is the moral sense, the idea of two objects at once is commonly presented by it: the part in which the one appears, an active part; the part in which the other appears, a passive part. The objects thus presented to view are commonly persons. In this case what is presented to view, is an operation in which two persons are concerned: one the agent in the operation, corrupting the other, and thereby rendering himself a corruptor: the other, the patient in the operation, being corrupted by the former, and by the having been so corrupted becoming and continuing corrupt.

Thus it is, that an operation called corruption has been performed: and by the same word corruption, the result of the operation—the state of things brought about by it—is designated.

In the operation thus described, by the party corrupting corruptive influence has been exercised: by the party corrupted, say in one word, (on the plan mentioned and recommended by Blackstone,) the corruptee—corrupt obsequiousness has been practised.

In the idea thus brought to view, is also commonly comprised that of an auxiliary agent, considered as being employed as an instrument by the principal one. This instrument is a quantity of what may be termed the matter of corruption, employed in that same character of an instrument. Applied in the physical sense, and to a physical subject, this instrument is what is called a jerment. This matter, employed as an instrument to act upon the mind, if it operates, it is in the character of an inducement that it operates.

An inducement is constituted either of the matter of evil or of the matter of good, operating on the mind in those their respective characters.

An inducement, to which the name of corruptive might without impropriety be attached, is an inducement of the intimidative kind. Say, for example, the fear of death: intimation being given, that if the party meant to be corrupted will not do the sinister service desired at his hands, he shall be put to death,—in the opposite case, not.

An instrument of this sort is not, however, the sort of instrument, the idea of which will, by the words, matter of corruption, instrument of corruption,—be in general most apt to be excited. Not a portion of the matter of evil, but a portion of the matter of good, is the sort of instrument, the idea of which will, by any such appellations, in general be apt to be excited.

This matter of good will be some portion of the matter of which the external instruments of felicity are composed, namely, power and wealth, with or without the addition of factitious honour or dignity.

In regard to corruption, the first grand distinction is, the distinction between that which is designed, and that which is undesigned. By undesigned, understand that which is capable of having place without design, not that which is not ever, in any instance, the result of design: for of that which is capable of having place without design, there is not any portion but what is not altogether capable of having place with and by design, and is abundantly in the habit of being so produced.

Suppose the creation of it the work of chance: nothing is more natural than that the preservation of it shall be the work of design.

The corruptive influence by which, in the case of bribery, an elector of a representative of the people in a mixed monarchy is engaged to give his vote in favour of a candidate by whom, or by whose agent, money is given for it, is the work of design. On the other part, the corrupt obsequiousness is accompanied with a consciousness of the nature of the corrupting inducement to which it is indebted for its existence. The corruption, in consequence of which the representative perseveres in giving support to the measures of the monarch, in that same monarchy, for a course of years, notwithstanding any depredation and oppression of which those same measures are all the while productive, may by possibility, be produced on the one part without any such design, and on the other part without any such self-criminating consciousness. The monarch, in his quality of chief executive functionary, must have subordinates, in the several situations, with large masses of emolument attached to them. The representative, seeing that these situations must have place, and thinking that the masses of emolument attached to them must have place, thinks that of these good things the possession and enjoyment may as well be in his hands as in any other’s. The monarch is kind and bountiful: in return for kindness and bounty, the moral and the religious sanction join in commanding gratitude: and thus it is, that without design of evil on the one part, or consciousness of it on the other, corruption may do its work, and evil, to any intensity, extent, and duration, be produced.

Corruption may also be distinguished into personal, or say personally seated, and systematic, or say systematically seated.

By the case in which it is personally seated, understand the case in which a determinate individual is assignable, by whom a portion of the matter of good, constituting the temptation, has been presented to the view of the individual at whose hands the sinister service was desired, and the bait accordingly swallowed, and the sinister service rendered. In this case stands the transaction between the candidate and the elector, as above. By the case in which the corruption is not personally but systematically seated, understand the case in which no such individual is assignable, but the cause of the corrupt transaction—the source of all transactions of the same nature pervading the whole official establishment, is in the system or frame of government.

A system of government in which an irremoveable functionary possesses an indispensable share in the supreme legislative power, and at the same time the whole or the greatest part of that branch of the supreme executive power, by which the subordinate functionaries are placed, and, in a proportion more or less considerable, displaceable, is a system in which corruption is systematically seated. On the one part, the corruptive influence of the chief functionary, on the other part, the corrupt obsequiousness on the part of the people’s representatives, has its source, not in the mental texture of this or that individual, but in the political texture of the system or frame of government itself. It will therefore, of necessity, go on in the production of the fruits of corruption, namely, depredation and oppression, in a quantity continually increasing, unless, and until the form of government receive an apt and adequate change.

Obsequious dependence is produced by fear or hope: fear of eventual evil, or hope of eventual good.

Dependence by the tie of fear is generally most effective: the greatest evil which a dependent is capable of receiving at the hands of a superior being more than equal to the greatest good. Suppose the degree of probability of the result to be the same, the same sum produces more effective dependence by the fear of losing it, than by the hope of gaining it: punishment, by the fear of losing it produces a dependence more effective, than reward, by the hope of gaining it.

Under the English form of government, all desirable offices, without any exception worth taking into account, being in the gift of the monarch, and to the greater part of the extent, the power of dislocation being, in relation to those same offices, also in his hands,—hence, on the part of all other members of the community, dependence, more or less effective, has place universally. The interest of this one member being opposite to that of all the rest, it is his constant desire, and correspondent endeavour, to cause them to support his interest at the expense of theirs. Thus, under that form of government, corruption is all prevalent on the part of those who possess, and those who look to possess, a share in it. And whatever may be the variation in degree, as in that, so is it, in this respect, in every other limited monarchy.

One great misfortune attendant on the use made of corruption and delusion is, the extreme facility with which the fabrication of these instruments of misrule is attended. Force and intimidation are not applied without special and strenuous exertions on the part of possessors of power, specially directed to the production of obsequiousness—the desired effect. Corruption and delusion are produced by them not only without any strenuous exertions, but without so much as any expense in the article of thought: are produced by them just as well when asleep as when awake.

To exercise corruptive influence to any amount—to produce corrupt obsequiousness to any amount, it is not necessary that either endeavour, or so much as desire so to do, should have place in the mind of the ruler. All that is necessary, is, the desire and the endeavour, which in his situation is of course followed by accomplishment,—the endeavour to produce, and of course the production of, waste. In a word, all that is necessary to him is, on every occasion that presents itself, to yield to the appetite for money in his own breast, or in the breasts of any individual or individuals connected with him, in the way of interest or sympathy: for the purpose of their individual gratification the money is put into their pockets: thereupon, by the eventual expectation of the like benefit from the like source, corruptive obsequiousness is produced in the breast and conduct of ten, twenty, or perhaps fifty times, as many breasts as those in which the gratification attached to the receipt and expenditure of the money, was produced.

In itself corruption is no evil, for neither is the receipt, nor the conferring of a benefit, in any shape an evil; in so far as it is an evil, corruption is so, only in respect of the evil effects produced by it: abstraction made of these effects, it is even a good.

To prevent here and there an insulated breach of trust, effected by means of remuneration, is impossible; but to prevent the evil effects of corruption from having place to any such amount as to be perceptible on a national scale, is possible.

In a limited monarchy, corruption by intimidation at large, cannot have place to any considerable extent: the intimidation and the consequent suffering would extend to those by whose power the limitation to that of the monarch is applied. They would call in the power of the people to their aid, and make a change either in the form of government, or in the person of the chief governor and his family, or both.

The case in which corruption by intimidation is capable of having place, is therefore reduced to that in which corruption by intimidation is connected with corruption by remuneration: the state of intimidation in question having for its efficient cause, the fear of losing a benefit, which has proceeded from the intimidating hand.

Such then will be the effect of the universally applying dislocative power here proposed to be vested in the people, in their quality of members of the constitutive authority: it will be an effectual preventive of depredation, and oppression in every other shape, at the hands of rulers. It will not indeed operate as a completely effectual preventive of corruption in the shape of corrupt remuneration in particular instances as above; but, so few will be these instances, and the evil effects, if any, so inconsiderable, that in a national point of view, they may be regarded without much regret by the most anxious lover of mankind.

Suppose that in the instance of this or that office, the choice made of the functionary by the patron, as between C, a corruptor, (in whose favour the matter of corruption has been employed,) and N, a non-corruptor, (in whose favour no matter of corruption has been employed,) has been determined by the giving of a daughter of C’s, in marriage to a son of the patron’s, with a fortune greater than would have been given otherwise: C and N, being exactly upon a par, in respect of appropriate aptitude. In this case the corruption has place, but by the supposition no ill effects whatever are among the results of it.

Suppose now, that though neither of the candidates be to any such degree absolutely unapt, as that any determinate ill effects should be seen to result from their want of aptitude, in such sort as to be neither of them perceptibly below par in the scale of aptitude,—yet one of them there is, to whom, though above par in the scale of aptitude, the one who is not above par, has been preferred. This is the sort and degree of corruption, against which neither the universally applying dislocation in the hands of the constitutive, nor this, in addition to all remedies whatsoever, which the nature of the case admits the application of, can ever operate as a completely adequate preventive. But so long as the effects of corruption rise not above this height, neither the framer of the constitutional code, nor any spectator of it, need feel much dissatisfaction at the contemplation of the work.

Corruption may be understood in a more extensive sense, namely, by being considered as designating the matter of good or evil, operating on the mind of an individual in such sort, as to cause him in contemplation of a less good to forego a greater, or by the contemplation of a less evil to subject himself to a greater, or by the contemplation of a less evil to forego a greater good.

Thus when Esau, as in the history, sold his birth-right for a mess of pottage, thus sacrificing to a lesser present, a greater future interest, his will may on this occasion be considered as having been governed by corruptive influence: and the portion of the matter of corruption by which the effect was produced, was, in this case, the mess of pottage.

In a word, whosoever the party is, to whose happiness reference is made by the word good, every case in which the lesser good is embraced in preference to the greater, or even the greater evil in preference to the less, may be considered as a case in which corruption, or say corruptive influence, has had place, and has in such sort operated, as to have given birth to the sinister effect.

An elector, who by his vote should contribute to the establishment of a constitution having for its effect, instead of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, the greatest or supposed greatest happiness of the ruling few at the expense of the happiness of the many, would, supposing himself to become in consequence of the misrule, a sufferer to a greater amount than that of the benefit received by his vote, be an Esau selling his birth-right for a mess of pottage.

Look to a man whose situation places him under the temptation above described,—see him putting into his pocket the reward thus proffered by it,—conceive him standing up and saying—never from either the prospect or the receipt of this reward, has my conduct ever experienced any the slightest influence,—a declaration to any such effect can it, in the instance of any man which ever breathed, have presented any so much as the slightest claim to credence? Yes: if,—when for the obtainment of legal evidence of a capital crime, pardon, together with a thousand pounds reward, has been offered to any partaker in the crime who, with the effect of producing the conviction of a fellow criminal, will repair to the judicatory and give his narrative of the case, if, in the course of his narrative he should take upon him to say—neither by the assurance of receiving the thousand pounds, nor by the assurance of saving my forfeited life, am I influenced by the statement I am now giving,—if, with a protestation to this effect in his mouth, the malefactor could present any claim to credence.

If, to assurances to this effect, protestations were added,—if, to protestations, eyes lifted up to heaven,—if, to eyes lifted up to heaven, summonses to God to come down and bear witness,—if, to summonses to God to bear witness, tears,—if, to tears, faintings were added; to the claim made by the simple declarations, would any additional claim either in the case of the chancellor in office or out of office, or in the case of the minor malefactor, be made to credence? Yes; if by his display in the character of Iago, Mr Kean calls him from the grave, calls the dead to life, and transforms himself into that personage.

By the common name of corruptionists, corruptors and corruptees may both of them be designated. By the use of this common appellative, the difficulty and obscurity attached to the operation of ascertaining, which of the two parts was, on this or that occasion, acted by the individual or individuals in question, may be avoided.

Everywhere, the whole official establishment, is a corruptive establishment: to possess the sinister benefits of corruption, is the universal wish.

But, without their own pale, the members of the official establishment have, in their quality of corruptors, or would-be corruptors, their accomplices, and in the natural course of things, their confederates. These are the several classes of which the aristocracy of the country is composed.

They have, all of them, that which is sufficient to make them so: the particular and sinister interest, and the situation in life, which gives them (such of them as are not rulers) the faculty of serving by confederacy with such as are rulers, that same sinister interest.

Of the expense of government, every part which has for its effect or its object, the affording to the few gratification in which the many cannot participate, is so much of the corruptive fund employed in gaining over the aristocratical classes, and obtaining their support and assistance in the depredation and oppression exercised on the many.

To the other ingredients of the corruption-fund may be added, everything that goes by the name of grace and favour: admission to places to which others would not be admitted: admission to more convenient or more honourable situations in places in which persons in general are admitted: opportunities of purchasing this or that object of desire with more certainty, or upon terms more advantageous, than those on which persons at large can obtain them.

Corruption has place where, by means of some benefit to himself, a functionary is made to violate his trust.

On this occasion, the following points must be considered, namely:—

1. The sinister effect produced, viz. mischief in some shape or other to the public service.

2. The nature of the benefit, or say, the sinister benefit, received.

3. The person corrupted,—say the corruptee.

4. The hand by which the sinister benefit is received, namely, the corruptee’s own or some other.

5. The person benefited by the sinister effect—say the corruptor.

6. The immediately corrupting hand by which the sinister benefit is applied.

7. The relative time at which the sinister benefit is received: relation had to the time at which the sinister effect is produced: namely, consequent or antecedent.

8. The motive by the operation of which, on the mind of the individual corrupted, the corruption, and thence the sinister effect, is produced.

1. As to the sinister effect of the corruption: This considered in its general complexion, is violation of the trust in question: of the trust, correspondent to the power, with which in virtue of his office, the functionary on whom the corruption operates, is invested; or if the functions be no other than such by the exercise of which no power is exercised,—the duties attached to the situation of the corruptee. The object here proposed, being the keeping as far as possible excluded, corruption wherever it is liable to have entrance, or at any rate the keeping excluded as far as possible whatever evil effects it is pregnant with, the effect must to this purpose be presumed to be in every case, evil: in what particular shape, will depend upon the particular nature of the function attached to the office whatsoever it be, and the correspondent trusts or duties of which the violation is produced.

2. As to the nature of the benefit. This may be good in any of its shapes. The matter of corruption is accordingly the matter of good in any of its shapes, considered as employed to this sinister purpose. For examples of the shapes in which the matter of good is at the disposition of governments or individuals, take the several external instruments of felicity in all their shapes: including money, power, factitious dignity, ease at the expense of official duty, vengeance at the expense of justice.

In the idea of good in all its shapes, is included the idea of evil in all its shapes. How so? Because whatever be the shape in which it is possible for evil to show itself, the exclusion or removal of it, is a correspondent good: and in the same way, under the idea of evil in all its shapes, is included the idea of good in all its shapes.*

Good may accordingly be divided and distinguished into positive and negative. Positive good, is good not consisting in the absence or removal of evil: negative good is good consisting in the exclusion or removal of evil.

Punishment may therefore in this way be made and accordingly is made an instrument of corruption. Give a man to understand that if he will not render the sinister service he will be punished; but that if he does render it, he shall remain unpunished: the non-application of the punishment has the effect of reward. Where the instrument is in both cases the same, as in the case of money, and the magnitude of it equal, the actuating force of punishment is much greater than that of reward. Aggregate value of a man’s property say £100. Give him £50, you do not produce near so much enjoyment, as you do suffering by taking from him that same sum: the ratio of £100 to £50 is twice as great as the ratio of £150 to £100. Give him £100, still further are you from producing on his part as much enjoyment as you would suffering, by taking from him that same sum: you in this case take from him his all: scarcely by giving him £1000, would you produce so much enjoyment, as you would suffering by so stripping him. Man is susceptible of pain in greater quantities than pleasure.

Considered as forming part and parcel of the matter of corruption, a benefit requires to be distinguished into that which is irrevocable and that which is revocable. In the case where it is irrevocable, the effective, or say corruptive, force with which it operates, is that only which belongs to it in the quality of matter of reward. In the case in which it is revocable, the corruptive force with which it operates is that which belongs to it in the character of matter of punishment. By giving to a man an eventually permanent benefit, of which you reserve to yourself the power of depriving him at pleasure, you invest yourself with a power of inflicting punishment—you place him in a state of dependence and subjection to that same power. As to the creation of such a power, it is an evil altogether inevitable: for without power of dislocation on the one part, and dislocability on the other, no tolerably efficient security for appropriate aptitude on the part of subordinates, can be established. But for excluding the abuse of it no securities which the nature of the case admits of can be superfluous.

To this head belongs the case of pardons, and the exercise of mercy, which has been considered elsewhere.

3. The corruptee: namely a public functionary of any grade in any department, at whose hands the sinister service is thus obtained: whether his function has power in any shape attached to it or not.

4. The immediately receiving hand—the hand by which, without the intervention of any other, the sinister and corruptive benefit is received. This may be that of the corruptee or any other: of any other person whatsoever, if connected with the corruptee by any tie of self-regarding interest, or though it be but sympathetic interest. For example, a son of the corruptee, or any other person who is in such sort in the dependence of the corruptee, that but for the sinister benefit thus received, the corruptee would, at his own expense, have had to make provision to the same or any part of the amount. Or even an ever so-perfectly-independent friend; for so long as sympathy has place between man and man, the sinister effect of corruption may be produced as fully by a benefit conferred on a person other than the corruptee, as by a benefit conferred on the corruptee himself.

This or that man who would not be won by a benefit offered to him for himself, might be won by a benefit, especially if conferred in a manner called handsome, on a friend.

5. Corruptor or corruptors: parties by whom the benefit from the sinister effect is reaped.

On each occasion these may be distinguished into special corruptor or corruptors, and corruptor or corruptors-general. Special corruptors are those by whom the benefit on the occasion of this or that individual transaction is reaped. Corruptors-general are those by whom the benefit from the whole system of corruption taken in the aggregate is reaped.

In every political state the whole body of public functionaries constituting the supreme operative, require to be considered in the character of corruptors and corruptees: at the best, they are at all times exposed to the temptation of being so, and in a greater or less degree are sure to be made to yield to that temptation. In a republic the sinister effect of that temptation is capable of being confined within bounds—within such bounds as will exclude all practical evil. Under that form of government the constitutive authority is placed over the supreme operative, with dislocative power with relation to it, as well as locative.

Between the corruptors and the corruptees, the distinction is not very easy to trace out and delineate. In an absolute monarchy, the corruptor and corruptee may be said to be one. For the monarch or corruptor-general has in one hand the whole mass of the instruments of felicity; and in the other, he lodges them all for his own use: sacrificing to his own expectation of happiness, the happiness of the people at large. But, as by his own hand alone no such sinister sacrifice could be made, hence the necessity he is under of applying more or less of the matter of good in his hands to the making of corruptees.

In the case of a mixed monarchy, the distinction shows itself most clearly.

6. The immediately corrupting hand:—the hand by which, without the intervention of any other, the sinister benefit is applied to the receiving hand. This may be the hand of him, by whom, on the particular occasion in question, the sinister benefit is received, or any other. With relation to the sinister effect, whether it be the one or the other, will of course make no difference.

7. The relative time at which the sinister benefit is received: namely, before or after the production of the sinister effect,—the rendering of the sinister service on the part of the corruptee.

Relation had to this point, the receipt of the matter of corruption may be said to be antecedential or consequential.

According as it belongs to the one or to the other of these two descriptions, the inducement, or say, the motive by which, on the part of the corruptee, the sinister service, the sinister effect is produced, is, it will be seen, of a very different description.

8. The inducement, or say, the motive or motives by which, on the mind of the corruptee, the sinister service and with it the sinister effect, is produced.

This will be altogether different, according as the receipt of the sinister benefit, in respect of relative time, is antecedential or consequential as above.

Of the two cases, the simplest is that where the receipt is consequential: in this case, the determining motive is expectation, or hope of the benefit in question. Where the receipt is precedential, the determining motive will generally be gratitude, and sometimes the fear of the reproach of ingratitude, or of perfidy.

If the views of the legislator do not comprehend corruption in all its possible shapes, as well or better might he leave it untouched altogether: for, whatsoever be the shapes to which the arrangements made by him do so extend, to those will it betake itself and operate with effect.

The two shapes or forms—the consequential and the antecedential, are apt to have place and operate together in the same case: indeed it is not often that they are found separate. In so far as they are separate, of that in which the remuneration is regarded as consequent to the corrupt service rendered, the efficiency is obviously much more assured and discernible. In this surest case, it is altogether by expectation that it is produced. From this one circumstance flow several important results.

To produce every bad effect of corruption, there needs not any special act of corruption. There sits a person who has good things in abundance at his disposal, and who has an interest in disposing of them in a certain way, namely, in favour of such persons as, by their agency, contribute to the accomplishment of a certain end. An individual observes what passes and acts accordingly. By his agency he contributes to that end: why? because in consequence and consideration of the doing so, he expects to receive some good thing or other, in the character of a reward. Whether at the hands of the person in question, he actually receives any such good thing, makes not to this purpose any difference.

In a certain state of things, to produce the effect of corruption, no corruptor, other than the corrupted person himself, is necessary. In virtue of a pre-established state or order of things, a sinister effect to the community at large, and a beneficial one to himself, follows from an act, the performance of which lies within his own competence. Thus in the case of the war, commenced by the monarch without any previous declaration, he, by a pre-established arrangement, and by means of his legal instruments, received the net amount of the depredation.

This is the simplest case, where the expectation or hope of the benefit in question is the determining motive, or say, inducement. The moving pleasure, is the pleasure produced by the contemplation of the pleasures which the possession will, it is expected, afford: accompanied as the contemplation is, with the belief more or less intense, of their future existence.

Suppose a functionary who has an office at his disposal. He locates in it an indisputably unapt individual, from whom, however, a bribe is expected: and afterwards in consideration of, and recompense for, the benefit thus conferred, the functionary receives a sum of money, which is, in this case, called a bribe; or suppose a legislator, meaning a person having a share in the legislative power, in the expectation of receiving for himself or friend a lucrative office at the hands of a minister, who (for the purpose of adding to the number of good things at his disposal) is bringing about an unjust war, gives his vote in favour of the war, and receives the office accordingly; or suppose an elector in the expectation of receiving a certain sum of money at the hands of a candidate for a seat in the legislature, delivers his vote for that same candidate, and thereupon afterwards receives the money.

In all these cases, the cause by which the sinister effect is produced, is the pleasure of expectation, by the contemplation of the good eventually expected,—the desire of that same good—the good itself not being yet in possession—in a word, by hope.

In the case where the receipt is precedential, the motive or inducement must be of quite a different stamp. With relation to the individual benefit in question, hope it cannot be: for, by possession, expectation has been crowned and terminated.

Suppose the sinister service rendered: the act must have had for its cause one of the following, namely:—

1. Gratitude, meaning the sentiment of gratude: sympathy for the corruptor,—the benefactor,—sympathy produced by the contemplation of the enjoyment received from his benevolent, effective, and beneficent hands.

2. Fear of the reproach of ingratitude, namely, in the event of the non-rendering the sinister service, for the obtainment of which, the sinister benefit has been conferred on the one part, received on the other. If, in so far as in a case of this sort, that which is called ingratitude is the subject of reproach, it is because this is one of the points on which the force of the public-opinion tribunal has been made to operate in a direction unfavourable to the greatest happiness of the greatest number: namely, by a judgment, which has for its cause sinister interest on the part of the aristocratical section of that tribunal, and relative ignorance on the part of the more numerous or democratical section. Gratitude at large, is a sentiment which, in every other breast, (not to speak of his own,) every individual, in proportion as he understands his interest, sees it to be his interest to cherish: in gratitude for past kindnesses, he will see the source of future ones. But for a misdeed, to the prejudice of the whole community, service rendered to an individual is no justification.

3. Fear of the reproach of perfidy. In so far as the acting in the way in question, towards the production of the sinister effect, is regarded as matter of moral obligation, in requital for the sinister benefit, the whole transaction on both sides being considered as forming the subject-matter of a contract, superadded to the reproach of ingratitude, will on this same occasion, be the reproach of perfidy. Men ought to requite services, is a general rule. Men ought still more punctually to requite services, when engaged for by contract, is another general rule. Unbounded in its extent is the benefit derived from the observance of both these general rules. Either of them would suffice for the destruction of society, were it not narrowed by certain exceptions. But the good from the observance of the general rule, meets the eye much oftener than does the evil from the non-observance of the exceptions. In whatsoever shape or degree an act is mischievous, an engagement to bear a part in the commission of it, does not do away the mischievousness of it.*

Great and nearly irresistible has been, and is but just ceasing to be, the influence of the members of the aristrocatical section of the public-opinion tribunal, over the minds of the members of the democratical section: not only the influence derived from power—the influence of will on will; but the influence derived from knowledge, the influence of understanding on understanding. On every part of the field of action, have the subject many found themselves under the necessity of deriving their conceptions and their judgments, from the reports made to them, by the ruling and influential few: and with no exception, capable as yet of operating with any considerable influence, have these reports contained anything but what was false, and in effect, if not in intention, delusive, causing the people to regard as conducive to their interests, those practices which were most adverse to those same interests: practices having for their effect the establishment of misrule, and of corruption as an efficient cause of it.

As in the case of mutually beneficial and innoxious engagements, mischief and vice consists in the breach of them, so in the case of those so extensively noxious engagements, does mischief and vice consist in their observance. Of the non-observance of a class of engagements, the ultimate effect is—that the practice of entering into such engagements is at an end. This is exactly the result conducive to human happiness—the result desirable in the case of all preponderantly noxious engagements. If, for example, notwithstanding all engagements, no favours were by any possessor of patronage ever obtained at the hands of any member of the legislative body, nor therefore at the hands of a majority of that body, no part of his patronage would ever be made to take that direction: it would be applied, the whole of it, to his own particular purposes, good or bad, whichever they happened to be: but, at any rate, it would not be applied to that worst of bad purposes, causing the legislative to add depredation to depredation, and oppression to oppression, by giving constantly increasing patronage, and undisturbed impunity, to the executive.

Of all the members of the community, taken in the aggregate, it is therefore no less decidedly their interest, that in regard to all such noxious engagements, unfaithfulness should be entire, than it is, that in regard to all preponderantly beneficial ones, observance and faithfulness should be entire.

From sense of interest come all notions of honour. There are, says a common observation, notions of honour among thieves. How should it be otherwise? Gangs of robbers could not have existence unless engagements between member and member, for the purpose of the common pursuit, had existence.

But if by fidelity to honest engagements between man and man, entered into for an innoxious purpose, the happiness of mankind is promoted,—so by fidelity to engagements between thief and thief, entered into for the purpose of thieving, the happiness of mankind is diminished.

Of the matter of corruption, the elements may be distinguished into the immediately applying and the unimmediately applying. By those which are immediately applying, understand those which are themselves among the objects of general desire, or to which some of those same objects are attached: those the application of which is unimmediate, are those in which the immediate objects have their source.

Of those which are unimmediate, the most fruitful by far are, wars and distant dependencies. Wars and distant dependencies beget offices: offices, corrupt obsequiousness: corrupt obsequiousness on the part of all who seek them, as towards all who give them.

Wars are alike employable in all monarchies. Distant dependencies are peculiar to those which are in possession of a quantity more or less considerable of naval force.

Where, as in the latter case, situation is favourable, these sources of corruptive influence are necessarily productive of each other. Never can war take place, but the quantity of the matter of corruption must increase: successful or unsuccessful, this is among the number of the effects of it. Be it ever so unsuccessful, it makes addition to the number of offices: of military offices, obviously: and in the train of military offices, come civil ones. In so far as credit has place, it adds to the quantity of public debt, and of the taxes imposed for the payment of the interest of it. Public debt requires offices for the payment of it: taxes require offices for the extraction of them. In a monarchy possessing distant dependencies, if a war in which it is engaged, proves successful, an addition to the extent or number of those dependencies, is a natural and frequent consequence of the success. To every other such government, each such dependency is an object of envy, and among all together a bone of contention: hence it is, that as war begets distant dependencies, so do distant dependencies beget wars.

In both these instances, diametrically opposite to the universal interest, is that particular interest by which in every monarchy the rulers are so uniformly governed. No war has there ever been by which the citizen subjects have not been losers: no war has there ever been by which their rulers have not been gainers. No distant dependency, by the possession of which the people at whose expense it has been acquired, are not losers: no such possession by which the rulers, by whom whether acquired or no it is retained, are not gainers.

In the literature of most states may be seen a sort of periodical work, in which is represented the state of the official establishment: the offices that have place in the state, being designated by their respective titles, with or without a designation, complete or incomplete, of the masses of emolument and other objects of desire respectively attached to them, and the individuals by whom, at the time of the publication in question, these offices are respectively possessed. In these books may be seen the matter, the maximization of which has in every government but one, been hitherto the primary, not to say the sole end of government, in the breasts of the respective rulers.

For bringing to view the influence of the matter of corruption upon public functionaries, the shortest course that can be pursued is to commence with that mass which, in a mixed and limited monarchy, is in the hands of the monarch: from thence a conception of the extent and operation of it, in inferior hands, may be formed without difficulty.

In its composition it includes all those external instruments of felicity which constitute the necessary instruments of government, together with those which not being needed nor capable of having place but under a bad government, are exclusively the produce of a bad government. In addition to power and money, it accordingly includes factitious honour and dignity, vengeance and official ease.

These objects, not only does the monarch possess and employ for his own gratification, but he possesses the faculty of making communication of them to all those who occupy in relation to him, the situation either of instruments or favourites.

Prodigious is the quantity of public money a man may receive—receive and, in a certain sense, convert to his own use, if he can but content himself with receiving it by any hand other than his own: prodigious in proportion, the power he may thus exercise: prodigious the degree of servility and baseness he may thus surround himself with: prodigious the contribution he may be able to make to the treasury of public mischief and misrule. No part of the money thus received being seen to go, nor perhaps actually going, into his own purse, the consequence is—that to any amount the praise of disinterestedness may be attached to the career of rapacity thus run, the praise of independence to a course the most abject and dependent.

The influence exercised over those who are actually partakers in the good things conferred by it, is inconsiderable, in comparison with that exercised over those who never receive any share in it. In the train of one single possessor there is no saying how many expectants are attached.

Numerous, in many cases, are the links, one beneath another, in what may be termed the chain of patronage or dependence. By the monarch an office is conferred, to which is attached the power of placing, with reference to, suppose twenty offices: to each of which such offices, is attached the power of placing, with relation to twenty more offices, and so on: and to the possessor of every office in each such rank, is attached a swarm of expectants, as above.

Of these good things, so great is the variety, that there is something capable of suiting every taste, and among them are those with which a man may suit himself, and at the same time be receiving the praise of disinterestedness. Those whom no lucrative places may gain over, a ribbon may subdue.

If with relation to the individuals, on whom it operates, the power in question were confined to the placing of them in the several desirable situations, vast would be the influence exercised by it. But in relation to no small portion of the aggregate (probably the largest proportion) is annexed the power of displacing. But in comparison with the power of displacing, the power of placing is comparatively trifling. In the mere power of placing, no power of punishment is included. In the power of displacing, with reference to a situation of the kind in question, is included a power of punishment far superior in its effect, to any power commonly exercised under that name. Excessive would be deemed (and on that account interdicted by the bill of rights) a pecuniary punishment, by which a man in England should be deprived of a situation equal in value to the least valuable situation in any of the government boards.

Not till after trial, nor without conviction, can any punishment which is called punishment be inflicted. No conviction, no trial is requisite in the other case: without opportunity of defence, without exposure to the eye of the public-opinion tribunal, without a moment’s warning, it may be inflicted at any time.

It enjoys to a prodigious degree an exemption from the controlling power of the public-opinion tribunal: that power to the operation of which, the exercise of coercive power is in a much greater degree subjected.

For the production of any corruption aimed at, no act on the part of the corrupter-general is necessary, Therefore no act is there, to which disapprobation can attach itself.

This unofficial judicatory is scarcely less subject to his corruptive influence than are the official judicatories. Nothing can he ever do, or abstain from doing,—no course, on any occasion, can his actions take, but laudation and admiration follow it, and attach upon it. Laud is bestowed upon him, for everything he parts with, and for everything he keeps in his own hands, especially if and in so far as, others are let in to a participation of the benefit of it. Not an article can he consume or use for his own personal gratification, but from various quarters, praise follows him for what is done. In the first place come all those who derive a profit from the supplying him with it, or hope to do so with similar articles. To act thus, is called conferring a benefit on trade, and in the pleasure of conferring this public benefit, he is said to find his only motive. By every such act, he moreover adds to the splendour and lustre of the crown and the throne: and by all to whom the constitution is an object of attachment, the necessity of this splendour and this lustre is a fundamental and unquestionable article.

If, and as often as, money or money’s worth to any amount is parted with by him, without any immediate receipt or expectation of an equivalent in any determinate shape, or at any determinate time, the field of praise receives another great enlargement. Then in full chorus may be heard joining, all those to whom munificence generosity and liberality, are objects of sympathy and admiration. Not a particle of money can he thus give, which has not been extorted from unwilling contributors, not a particle can he give, which will not be reimbursed to him in the same manner. In his situation, not a particle can he ever give, which is not given at the expense of others. But his case is confounded with that of those benefactors, who have no means of giving but at their own expense. Of a half-starved beggar, who should share a penny just received from the hand of casual charity, with another in the same condition, the so dearly exercised beneficence would remain unknown and unapplauded: and even though it were universally known, faint is the applause that would be vouchsafed to self-denying liberality when exercised on so minute a scale. To help to gain a million sterling for paying debts already contracted, and make way for contracting more, suppose a monarch promising to the public a collection of books,* purchased at the public expense, of no use to the purchaser, and of no determinate and assignable use to anybody else—the praises of royal munificence will be sounded in the assembly of the legislature, and echoed wherever the fame of the virtue reaches.

As to the prevention or even diminution of corruption, nothing in a government so constituted can be more plainly or everlastingly impossible. Of all arrangements employed for the professed purpose of excluding it, or diminishing it, by means of punishment, the effect, if any, is to give increase to it, or to increase the mischievousness of it.

The only case to which punishment can attach to it, is that where a direct bargain is made. But in the case of any such bargain, the quantity of mischief will have its express limits: put out of the case the bargain, the quantity will be unlimited. The greater the service I render to the giver of good gifts, the greater is the value of the good gifts which I may reasonably expect to receive. Such is the reasoning which, in a breast so situated, can never fail to be made.

At the same time by the profession and apparent endeavours thus made to put an end to a practice, to the increase of which, or at least the maintenance, all real endeavours are directed, the effect if any, is to give strength to the delusion employed, to secure submission to the misrule. By no man can support have been given to any such pretended or supposed remedy, without proof made of inaptitude opposite to one or other branch of appropriate aptitude: in case of insincerity, of the branch opposite to moral aptitude: in case of sincerity, of the branch opposite to intellectual aptitude.

In a pure monarchy, (it has been already stated,) the operation of corruption has little place, in comparison with what it has in a mixed and limited monarchy.

There is no subject-matter for it to work upon. In a mixed and limited monarchy, this subject-matter is essentially present. This subject-matter is the body which represents, or is dealt with as if it represented, the people, and which as such is let in for a share in the exercise of the sovereign power of legislation. Without the concurrence of this body, the sinister desires of the monarch cannot receive their gratification: with that concurrence they may do so to an unlimited extent. But in an unmixed and unlimited monarchy, they may and do receive their gratification to an unlimited extent, without the concurrence of any such body: for no such body has place in it.

Not that even in the most unlimited monarchy, corruption is without its influence, nor therefore altogether without its use. It contributes to the mass of that sinister influence, but for which many, whom it has the effect of preventing, might otherwise embrace the cause of the universal interest.

In England, in virtue of the pre-established harmony, so long as the Constitution stands, corruption with its etceteras is predestinated to go on in a state of perpetual advance: never to be stationary, much less retrograde.

In this or that department an enormous abuse is brought to light. A member in opposition moves for papers to serve as documents with a view to the moving for a committee to inquire and report. On this occasion, till of late years, the practice was to resist the inquiry in limine—to refuse the papers. This practice continues at present; but upon the whole, such a facility in the granting them has place as forms a striking contrast with the ultimate result.

The case is, and so it has been found, that on this ground, in relation to their own sinister interest, the government cannot do wrong. If the papers are refused all subsequent trouble is saved: though they gain nothing, yet nothing do they lose: for as to reputation of probity for this long time none have they had to lose. If the papers are granted, then instead of loss comes positive gain of abuse. Of the mass of abuse a portion more or less considerable is brought to light: placed in so strong a glare as to be wholly uncontrovertible. Now comes the season of candour. The seat of the abuse being in the misconduct of the subordinates of government, it belongs to government to rectify what is amiss in the conduct of those its subordinates. A commission is now wanted: a commission, i.e. a set of commissioners, all of them of course named in one or other of two ways, by government. But this being a public service—a service of considerable labour—a labour too, the quantity of which will naturally be apt to increase with the quantity of abuse, remuneration becomes necessary: it being without example that, in some shape or other, it should not be given, it is given as of course, no argument being regarded as necessary to be produced in support of it: the only argument, if any, regards the quantum and the shape.

As to the modes of nominating these commissioners, there are two; by the Crown, or by Parliament: by the Crown, is by the Ministry in their closet; by the Parliament, is by the Ministry in the House of Commons; the result being equally at command in both instances, a question that naturally occurs is, wherein can consist the difference? what is it that should render it an object to either party, that either course should be chosen in preference to the other?

To give the answer, another distinction must be brought to view. In the number of these commissioners it is thought or not thought advisable by government to place a member of Parliament: a member of Parliament, i. e. one who is already of the number of their own adherents, or one who by this means is to be made so. If there be no member of Parliament, all they get by the business is the confirmation of the abuse, the impunity of those concerned in it, and the increase given to the quantity of the matter of corruption employed as such: if a member of Parliament, who was not before of the number of their adherents, is put into the commission; in that case, they get the additional advantage of this addition to their list.

In every political state, in which there exists a legislative body with an executive authority in other hands, there are two parties in the representative body: one composed of persons by whom the sweets of office are either possessed or expected to be received: call these the Ins. Another composed of those, by whom no expectation of favour in that shape is entertained, and whose whole course is accordingly directed, in the endeavour to gain possession of the aggregate mass of those sweets of office, and to that end, to the putting out of possession, the actual possessors: these are the Outs.

The Outs are not less in an unquestionable state of dependence than the Ins: nor in their case is the dependence less corruptive than in the other. In the state of the dependence, there is indeed some difference in the two cases. In the case of the Ins, the individuals on whom the dependence is, are more determinate: in the case of the Outs, less determinate. Still, however, neither in the nature of the dependence, nor (except in regard to the degree of corruptive efficiency) in its effects, is there in the two cases any difference.

In both situations, the temptation to yield to, and be determined by, the sinister influence, applies to every individual member: nor in the instance of any one such individual, on any occasion, can the probability of his resisting it, and not being determined by it, be asserted.

At the same time, it is on both sides, on all public occasions a universal practice of every individual, not only to deny the actual prevalence of the corruptive influence in question on each particular occasion, but the possibility of its prevalence on any occasion in his instance.

In denying the existence of this prevalence, the sort of phrase commonly employed is that by which purity of motives is professed.

True it is, that on this or that occasion, thus much it may be competent to a man (always on the supposition, that by the nature of the motives by which his conduct is determined, the merits of the question are in some determinate way affected,) to make known and thence to assert, namely,—that on the occasion in question, he does not stand exposed to sinister interest in any shape; or if there be any shape, in which he is exposed to sinister interest, that sinister interest has for its counterpoise, a right and proper interest, by which it is overpowered.

When the phrase corruptive influence is employed, it is by the laws and institutions themselves that the corruptive influence must be said to have been applied: applied to the individual in such manner as to have given birth to the sinister effect.

Dear in this case, it may be imagined how dear, both to corrupters and corrupted, are these same laws and institutions.

In this case it is not common for complaints of corruption to have place to any considerable extent: in general scarcely is it seen, or so much as suspected, that in consequence of this state of things, any considerable mischief has place: every man, as early as he has been taught anything, having been taught to regard as objects of the most prostrate veneration and the most boundless confidence, those same sources and receptacles of corruption—those same instruments of depredation and oppression.

At the same time this is the case in which mischief has place in a quantity, greater by far than in the opposite case. It has place to a greater extent, and throughout the whole of its extent it is effectually out of the reach of all cure, or even of restraint; for no one individual is perceptible on whom it is possible, without the appearance of injustice, to fix in any shape the imputation of blame.

But if neither open accusation, nor so much as secret imputation, can have place, still less can remedy in any shape have place. So far, therefore, as the corruption has place in this shape, the system of misrule by means of corruption may be said to have been raised to the very pinnacle of perfection.

The greater the extent to which corruption in this shape has place, the more conclusively probative is the circumstantial evidence by which it is proved, that on the part of the persons exercising in chief the powers of government, (and by whom, in the whole or in part, the profit from the mass of corruption thus constituted has been reaped,) the corruption that has place, is the fruit of design: that they know what they are about, and are fully conscious of the evil that has place, and that they, by being supporters, are, for the time being, authors of it.

In this case the corruption may be said to be single-seated: or, borrowing an expression from botany, monœcious. The persons thus corrupted, namely the persons reaping the sinister and dishonest profit, may be said to be self-corruptors, self-corrupted: and a species of misdeed styled self-corruption may be said to have place and to be habitually committed.

Where the corruption is double-seated, or say diœcious, the nature of it is more easily conceived. In this case the corruption is reciprocal: by the corruptor and the corruptee a sinister benefit is either reaped or expected to be reaped.

Self-corruption always has place, in the case where the two powers, legislative in chief, and executive in chief, have place in one and the same hand.

This is as truly a case of corruption as that where it is double-seated: by the hand of power a benefit is reaped, and it is at the expense and by the sacrifice of the universal interest that it is reaped. With how much more facility the sinister private benefit, is in this case reaped, than in the other case, and the sinister public effect produced, is sufficiently manifest.

In the present case, there is no room for self-corruption in the highest grades: by the supposition, the legislative power is in one set of hands, the power of patronage in another.

In any one of these two departments, self-corruption may have place. In the executive, a superordinate, to save himself from providing at his own expense for a son of his, places him, though unapt, in a situation under him. This is as truly an instance of corruption, as if to a stranger he had sold the place for what it would bring, and put the money into his own pocket: the prime minister, for example, appoints a coward or drunken son to the command of an army.

Being engaged in the carrying on a manufacture, or having a son or other near relative of his who is so engaged, an influential member induces the Legislature to pass a probative or restrictive law, having for its object, the preventing the rest of the community from being supplied, with the sort of article in question, in better quality, or on cheaper terms. Behold here, an instance of self-corruption in the Legislature.

In the Judiciary department, the whole mass of that spurious sort of law which goes by the name of unwritten or common law, is the product of self-corruption. The judicial power entrusted to the Judges, is employed in lodging legislative power in their own hands. To the field of this power, scarce are there any assignable limits: scarcely is it distinguishable from that of the legislative. By means of it the Parliament of Paris, in the middle of the seventeenth century, contended with the Regent for the Sovereignty.

If power were all, and power had no tendency to beget money, here would be matter of corruption abundantly sufficient to produce the sinister effect. But wherever there is power, money cannot fail to follow it. Under the name of fees, Judges impose taxes on the suitors, denying protection and security against injury to all those who are not able to pay those taxes—that is to say, the vast majority of the inhabitants of the state. Formerly, the head judicatory in France, the Parliament of Paris, set such a price upon their definitive judgments that, for want of customers, they found themselves under the necessity of giving it up in particular instances, by selling a something at much less than an equivalent, as they could make it on cheaper terms. In Scotland, the Court of Session, taking French judicature for their example, have followed in this particular the same course.

By this in England have been produced the enormous emoluments of the higher judges: and thence the denial of what is called justice both in England and Ireland.

By the supreme and acknowledged Legislature, acting and acknowledged in that character, this usurpation is connived at.

Thus much as to the incurable nature of corruption: now as to the extent given to its influence. Observe the several classes which, by the nature of their situations, are subjected to the operation of it:

1. The several members of the legislature: and in the instance of every one of them, every individual who has, or supposes himself to have, any connexion with him, by any adequate tie of self-regarding, or though it be but sympathetic interest.

2. The several connexions, in like manner, of the administrative chief himself.

3. The several ministers, heads of the several departments of the administration, with their several clusters of connexions, as above.

4. All individuals who look either to the prime minister, or to any of the sub-ministers, or to any of their subordinates having locative power, with reference to official situations under them—these and their several connexions.

Let it not be said—this, then, is an objection against a representative democracy. For, suppose any other form of government, the case is beyond comparison worse.

Although the complete exclusion of corruption is too much to hope for, what is not too much to hope for is, the bringing it about to a degree less than it exists at present even in the United States: and though it were never to be reduced to an inferior degree, if it could but be brought down to that degree in every political state, a reduction to that extent might be contemplated with exultation by a lover of mankind.

For reducing its evil effects to a minimum, several arrangements present themselves: one consists in reducing to its minimum the quantity of the matter of good capable of operating in the character of matter of corruption: another, in providing a terminative remedy, by giving, as above, to the constitutive, the power of removing from the establishment unapt members, in any number, as soon as may be after their inaptitude has become, in the judgment of that authority, sufficiently manifest. A third expedient consists in the bringing to bear, in undiminished force, the power of the public-opinion tribunal upon the conduct of the individual by whom, in each instance, the location is performed: vesting the power of location in the hands of a single functionary, and no more than one, much less in any such large number as shall constitute what in England is called a Board.

This last arrangement, if adopted, would put an exclusion upon the administrative, that is to say, upon the locative branch of he power of the senate in the constitution of the United States.

Thus in act, every form of government, except where the only possible antiseptic system is applied, and in tendency, even where it is applied, the whole official establishment is a corruptive establishment. To establish the constitution, is to establish a system of corruption by law. Well, and with strict truth, may it be said to be by law: for by constitutional law it is planted, and by penal law it is supported and maintained; and by law in neither ever has been, nor is, nor ever can be, excluded.



Good and evil being opposites, what is predicated of each may, by an appropriate change in the context, be with equal truth and propriety predicated of the other: and so with regard to reward and punishment.


Another inducement may, it seems, be added to the above; namely, the hope of receiving similar sinister benefits, on other occasions: which of course would not be likely to be the case, if it were known that on a former occasion, the service was not performed, after the benefit had been conferred.—Ed.



In allusion to the library of Geo. III. presented to the nation by his successor in 1823.—Ed.



Jeremy Bentham, Section X.: The Few,—Enemies of the Many,—the Many not of the Few,"Constitutional Code (1827-30)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Chapter XVII. "Supreme Operative. Section X.: The Few,—Enemies of the Many,—the Many not of the Few," in Constitutional Code (1827-30), in Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 9. <>.

Editor's Intro


Section X.: The Few,—Enemies of the Many,—the Many not of the Few.

Everywhere it has been seen, with the single exception of an aptly organized representative democracy, the ruling and influential few are enemies of the subject many: enemies in mind as well as in act,—and by the very nature of man, until the government, whatever it be, has given way to a representative democracy, perpetual and unchangeable enemies.

Not so the subject many, to the ruling and influential few: the enmity is not reciprocal: it is all of it on one side,—on that one side only.

The subject many, have neither expectation nor desire of oppressing or plundering the wealthy. Oppress them, they could not, without plundering them of all they have: for without any factitious power, their wealth cannot but protect them, and protect them most effectually against oppression in every shape.

Plunder the wealthy few, the subject many could not, by any general resumption and new division of property: for by any such attempt, everything valuable, and all property in it, would be destroyed: that of the poorest as well as that of the most wealthy.

As little could they in the way of taxation: taking this or that part instead of the whole. For between wealthy and not wealthy, there being no line of separation actual or practicable, the more rich could not be taxed without taxing the less rich likewise.

In the Anglo-American United States, the class who, with relation to the purpose in question, are without property—that is to say, without property sufficient for their maintenance—have, for upwards of fifty years, by means of the right of electing the possessors of the supreme operative power, had the property of the wealthy within the compass of their legal power: in what instance has any infringement of property ever been made?

The worst that could happen to the ruling and influential few from power, if vested in the hands of the many, or say rather, of all, themselves, the ruling few, included,—is to see themselves brought down to an equality with the many in all things, wealth excepted: in respect of power, to the having no more than an equal chance for power: in respect of factitious honour, to be divested of it, the many being at the same time unpossessed of it.

While the triumvirate of the wealthy, the powerful, and the factitiously dignified, reigns—injustice, to the prejudice of the greatest number, reigns in every part of the field of government: injustice for the benefit of those few, at the expense and to the burthening of the many. Suppose that portion of the aggregate mass of power which they are capable of holding—suppose the constitutive power—in the hands of the greatest number, what in respect of justice and injustice would be the consequence? Not the reverse of the present state of things: not injustice to the benefit of the many at the expense of the few, but justice to all alike.

Take England for example. By the factitious expenses imposed on judicial proceedings, nine-tenths of the population, to say the least, are excluded from the benefit of justice, as well in the situation of defendants as in that of plaintiffs: a line is thus drawn between the wealthy and the non-wealthy: the wealthy, all those who are capable of demanding the assistance of the judicial office, or resisting the demand when made by others; the non-wealthy those who are incapable: all those whose situation is below the line of separation, are at the mercy of all those whose situation is above it. Now, suppose this factitious burthen completely removed, what would be the consequence? That the wealthy would be at the mercy of the non-wealthy? No; only that they would cease to see the many lying absolutely at their mercy: insomuch that the two parties would have to contend upon terms less unequal than at present. I say less unequal: for, as to absolute equality, this is what the very nature of the case completely forbids. For it is upon evidence that the fate of every cause depends, and evidence is not in any case to be had altogether without expense: and to the necessary amount of the expense, even when all factitious expense is struck off, no determinate limits can be assigned.