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PART I.—: INTRODUCTION. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3.
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RADICAL REFORM BILL RECAPITULATED.
On the 6th of December last (1819,) was submitted to the consideration of the public, a tract entitled “Bentham’s Radical Reform Bill, with extracts from the reasons.” The tenor of this proposed Bill was preceded and introduced by “Preliminary Explanations,” in which the several features of Radical Reform were brought to view, with the uses and advantages which presented themselves as attached to each. Secrecy of suffrage—virtual universality of suffrage—practical equality of effect and value as between right and right of suffrage—with annuality of suffrage, are there given as the four elements of which the aggregate called Radical Reform is in my view of it composed.
Secrecy, as being the only security for genuineness of suffrage, is there stated as being of more importance than all the other elements put together.
Virtual universality was there proposed as being the only degree of extent which seemed either defensible on principle, or capable of affording any assured promise of giving universal satisfaction, or any near approach to it. In regard to extent, I for my part, if it depended on me, would gladly compound for householder suffrage; but I do not see how those who on this plan would be excluded from the right of suffrage, and also would perhaps constitute a majority of male adults, should be satisfied with such exclusion; and being myself unable to find what appears to me a reason in favour of it, I must leave the task to those who consider themselves able to accomplish it.
Absolute equality being physically impossible, if equality be at all regarded, practical equality must of necessity be substituted. Local convenience cannot but prescribe—and that through the whole country—a degree of departure more or less considerable. But to say that in any instance such departure should be prescribed by it as shall render the votes in the most populous district more than four times more numerous than the votes in the most thinly peopled district, seems altogether beyond the bounds of probability.
As compared with trienniality of suffrage, annuality did not present itself to me as being of that importance that should prevent me, on the supposition of its depending upon myself, from surrendering it, on condition of obtaining trienniality—with secrecy of suffrage, equality of suffrage, and householder suffrage; but if asked for a reason, I am no more able to give what appears to me a reason in favour of it in preference to annuality, than I am to give what appears to me a reason in favour of householder suffrage in preference to virtually universal suffrage.
On the ground of precedent and experience:—In favour of annuality, I see the ancient parliamentary practice in England, the existing practice in the governing body of the metropolis of the empire, and the practice in every one of the American United States: in every instance without alleged inconvenience in any shape. In support of trienniality, I see nothing but the epithet “moderate,” which those who adhere to it insist on bestowing on it. When proposed, it seems commonly to be proposed without the addition of either secrecy of suffrage, virtual universality of suffrage, or so much as practical equality of sufrage; and on these terms I see not any effect good or bad that can be produced by it, except the giving additional frequency to a contest of which the evils are undeniable—and which,—abstraction made of a faint chance of ulterior change,—produces not any the smallest change on the state of the representation, leaving uncorrected and unpalliated all the abuses and evils, the hope of eradicating which, presents the only possible use and demand for the system which it professes to give.
Against Radical Reform as above explained, unless the above-mentioned word moderate be regarded as a reason, I had for a long time been unable to discover any nearer approach to a reason, than a sort of language which in writing is to written reason, what bellowing or barking, or an inarticulate yell, is to reason in the form of spoken language.
On the Tory side of Honourable and Right Honourable House, and other honourable places, “subversion of all order,” and “subversion of the Constitution:” on the Whig side, “absurd, visionary, and senseless; wild and impracticable,” and so forth: and in the principal Whig newspapers, such is every now and then the agreement with the Tories, as to produce passages such as these:—“Senseless schemes of reform, which if realized, would plunge us into anarchy and confusion.”*
When from such pens as Earl Grey’s and Lord John Russell’s not in addition to argument, but in lieu of all argument—of all attempt at argument—nothing is to be found but a set of words in which, in addition to the assumption of the thing in dispute, nothing but an expression of passion is to be found, what inference more natural, not to say conclusive, than this, namely, that it was by the experienced inability of finding anything in the way of argument to adduce on that side, that that uneasiness had been produced which gave itself vent, and sought relief in words such as these? The pen, I say, and this not only in speaking of Lord John Russell, but of Earl Grey: the reasons which I have in view are those of his Lordship’s speech in 1810,† and his Fox-Dinner Newcastle speech, [19th September] 1817. For nothing can be more evident than that, before or after the lips, it was from the pen of the noble Earl that the discourses which in these instances bear his name proceeded.
If it were required of me to give a model of inanity, I know not where a more finished model of that sort of composition, among so many as the public is daily favoured with, could be referred to. If intellectual could like physical gas be compressed within a given space, it should have had a place at length: but as this cannot be done, all that can be done here is to give reference to the place where it may be seen at full length, coupled with the intimation of the observations which the reader should have in view in reading it.
Thus much as to the footing on which the question of the usefulness of radical reform appears to have stood till lately. But of late the aversion to the proposed change in question has given itself vent in objections of a more determinate shape. In radical reform is viewed as an effect, of which with greater or less certainty it is viewed as pregnant,—a general destruction of property,—whether from a proposed scheme of equal division, supposed to be in the contemplation of reformists, or from, it is not exactly said what, other cause.
In this instance, it is true, as in every other, what is asserted is taken for granted,—assumed as certain without so much as an attempt to give a reason why it should be regarded in that light. Here, however, though without proof or attempt at proof, we have something determinate in the shape of an assertion. Here, for the first time, is a something presenting itself in what is called a tangible shape. Here is a something which in its nature is capable of being taken hold of, and taken hold of it shall accordingly be, that by its being sifted to the bottom the impartial reader, if peradventure any such person is to be found, may see what it is worth.
But (says somebody) a question that will naturally be presenting itself to the mind of a reader is, for whose use is it that this disquisition of yours is intended? To this question I will give a plain answer. The aggregate mass of hostile readers I divide for the purpose into the sincere and the insincere. By the sincere I mean all such persons as either by such reflection as they themselves have bestowed on the subject,—i. e. by a self-formed judgment, or by the assertion made by others, sincere or insincere,—i. e. by a derivative judgment derived from the authority of the opinion or supposed opinion of those others,—have been led to adopt the alarming apprehension. If there were not persons in no small number, to whom in my own opinion this description is truly applicable, these pages would not—could not—have had existence. The labour being on that supposition without hope, would on that same supposition have been without a motive—an effect without a cause.
As to the insincere, these are the opponents from adverse interest. These, the more perfectly they are in their own minds convinced that no answer capable of lessening the effect of it on the minds of the sincere can be given to it, the more thoroughly they will be confirmed in the determination to maintain the most perfect silence in relation to it—the most perfect silence—and when it is forced by accident upon their notice, to put it under, by some general expression of scorn and contempt, such as they are so perfectly in the habit of employing, and accordingly seeing accepted at the hands of those who by the same interest stand engaged to bestow on it the same reception.
PERSUASION OF THE DANGEROUSNESS OF RADICALISM—CAUSE OF IT, AND OF THE VITUPERATIVE EXPRESSION GIVEN TO IT.
That in a point of such vital importance,—a point in comparison with which all that are to be found in the whole field of politics are, separately taken, as nothing—because collectively they are all comprehended in it—the question in dispute should on one side, without any exception, be taken for granted—that in this case a proceeding which in every other case would be universally acknowledged to be contrary to reason, should have been so universally prosecuted, has at times struck me as perhaps the most extraordinary phenomenon that has ever yet presented itself to the intellectual world.
Be it more or less extraordinary, the solution of it may, I think, be found in the following considerations:—
Whatsoever be the subject to which it has ever happened to them to apply themselves, the weakest and the strongest are upon a par. If they take upon themselves to decide, their decisions are equally liable to be erroneous—erroneous to any degree of absurdity. Interest, with or without internal consciousness on the part of the individual, is in every case capable of producing this state of vacuity. When, the instant he veers to put his mind in such a direction as to view the object in question in a point of view in which it would produce in his mind an unpleasant sensation,—in such case, unless he finds himself under the pressure of an irresistible obligation, he turns from it of course.
Thus it is with thousands upon thousands in the present case. Looking at radical reform, a man sees nothing for himself or his friends to gain by it. On the contrary, he sees more or less that it seems to him he and they would lose by it. Why then should he give himself the trouble of fixing his eyes on that side? A mode much less unpleasant, and as it appears to him a sufficiently safe one, is to hear what his friends say on the subject, and to take his opinion on it from them. It is sufficiently safe; for among them he beholds those whose capacity of forming a right judgment on a question of this sort occupies the highest place in his eyes. It is not only a pleasant course, but it is the only one which he would not find intolerably irksome. By adopting the other course, he would not only have the pain of receiving disagreeable truths—truths, to himself—abstraction made of all other persons—personally disagreeable, but by doing so he would render himself disagreeable to his friends; he would perhaps lose the only society he has immediate access to—the society in which he beholds whatsoever he most values—the principal, if not the only object of his affection and respect.
As to inconvenience, either in entertaining or in deducing the opinion in question—of no such inconvenience does he expose himself to the smallest risk. No concern need he give himself on the subject: the opinion is ready found to his hands—the opinion and the sort of language—the only sort of language, that need be employed in the support of it. Wild and visionary—absurd, visionary, senseless, mischievous, destructive; by the leading hound in the pack the cry is commenced: the others have nothing to do but join in it. The principal singer has sung the solo part: the others in chorus have but to repeat it.
The course of a man’s conduct having been determined by his private interest, or at least by his opinion of his private interest, the language he employs is that which presents itself to him as best suited to the support of that private interest. If he can find nothing more promising, in speaking of any measure by which he regards his interest as being opposed, he deals with it like Earl Grey, and says it is absurd, visionary, and senseless—or like Lord John, and says it is wild and visionary. This done, other men on the same side, thinking that a man who speaks so well as Earl Grey does, would not, in a matter of such vital importance, speak so decidedly without due consideration, join with him and cry, “absurd, visionary, and senseless;” whereas, all the consideration ever bestowed upon the matter by the noble leader, was, how to excuse himself from adopting a measure, which, while it agreed so well with the public interest, agreed so ill with his private interest, and what form of words afforded the fairest promise of answering that purpose: and these were the words that happened to present themselves.
Not that, even if it were fit to be employed in other respects, I could, consistently with perfect truth, think myself warranted in retorting upon Earl Grey his word senseless, or deny that by Lord John the object of his vituperation was really regarded as impracticable.
Visionary indeed the plan would be, if in it were regarded the assumption that by a man situated as Earl Grey is, a plan so nearly in unison with the sentiments formerly professed by him could find support—could find anything better than the most strenuous opposition. Visionary indeed would be any expectation that could be entertained of its finding favour in his sight. Impracticable there need be no doubt of its being regarded by Lord John, since it was not natural that he should regard it as capable of being carried against that opposition, in his concurrence with which he was so fully determined.
TERMS OF THE ACCUSATION,—SPEECHES FROM THE THRONE, 16th JULY AND 21st NOVEMBER 1819.
Thus stands the accusation, as far as could be collected from those vague generalities which have been so abundant, and in which alone the adversaries of radical reform have ever ventured to express themselves.
Looking with persevering anxiety for something in a tangible shape from some persons of the one party or the other who had a name, it was with no small satisfaction in this respect, with how much dismay soever on other accounts, that I found at last what I wanted, and in the place to which I should from the first have looked for it.
The charge, such as it is, will be found collected from two speeches from the throne: the one that of 13th July 1819; the other, that of 23d November 1819.
“Those whose projects, if successful,” says the July speech, “could only aggravate the evils which it is professed to remedy: and who, under pretence of reform, have really no other object than the subversion of our happy constitution.” To these persons “machinations” are imputed, and these machinations Lords and Gentlemen are immediately called upon, “in co-operation with the magistracy, to use their utmost endeavours, on return to their several counties, to defeat.”
On this occasion, by Lords and Gentlemen in their aggregate character, nothing is as yet called upon to be done—so far, so good. For, how great soever the evil, by the mere aim at producing it, unaccompanied with any probability of its being produced, no sufficient warrant for any coercive or otherwise burthensome measure could assuredly be afforded. Unhappily, this reserve did not long continue.
Here, as yet, on reform itself, neither in the radical shape, nor in any other, is any determinate imputation directly cast. It is only “on pretence of reform” that the “machinations” are alleged to have been carried on.
Is it then that by radical reform, supposing the “machinations” in question “successful,” the “subversion” in question would be produced? This is not directly said. But this is what is at any rate insinuated: and it is in the view of causing everybody to believe it, that this language is employed.
The object declared to be aimed at is—“the subversion of our happy constitution.” Of the evil in question, the alleged cause cannot therefore but be a design by which the constitution would be affected: and that by parliamentary reform in any shape, the constitution would in a certain way be affected, cannot be denied: and this was the only design on foot by which any such effect could be produced. By depredation and violent destruction of property, let evil to ever so vast an amount have been produced, the constitution would remain untouched.
Now as to the November speech:—and there, though never otherwise than in the way of allusion and insinuation, reform, radical reform, may be seen but too sufficiently designated. A ground is premised for the “measures” about to be proposed: “measures requisite for the counteraction and suppression of the system” alluded to. This ground is stated as constituted by “a spirit utterly hostile to the constitution of this kingdom, and aiming,* not only at the change† of those political institutions which have hitherto constituted the pride and security of this country, but at the subversion of the rights of property,‡ and of all order in society.”
Taking the two speeches together:—here then are two evil designs charged—charged on the same class of persons, namely all reformists—meaning, or at the least including, all radical reformists.
In the July speech, the design is the subversion of the constitution,—that design, and no other. In the November speech, it is “the subversion of the rights of property.” Of the design first charged, the description given has no determinate meaning. Accordingly, no mention would have been made of it, but for the intimate connexion between the speech by which this accusation is conveyed, and the other speech by which the other accusation is conveyed.
In defending the design of the radicals against the imputation that has been cast upon it, it seemed not sufficient to defend it against the imputation of a tendency to produce evil in the particular shape designated by the words, “the subversion of the rights of property.” For supposing that, although it were clear of that imputation, it were not clear of the imputation of preponderant evil in some other shape or shapes—on this supposition it would still remain indefensible.
To the denial of its tendency to produce evil in that particular shape, it therefore seemed necessary to prefix a denial of its tendency to produce preponderant evil in any shape. It has become necessary to add to the more particular counter-averment a more general one. But a counter-averment implies a correspondent original averment, to which it stands opposed. The original averment, then—where in this case shall we find it?—Answer: If anywhere, it must be in the abovequoted words—“aiming at the subversion of the constitution.”
Now this subversion, either it means nothing at all, or what it means amounts to this, namely, a preponderant mass of evil—a mass of evil presenting a net amount over and above whatsoever good in any shape will have been produced by the same cause. Yes, preponderant evil; for as to the being simply productive of evil, that cannot be matter of charge against any political measure whatsoever. Taken by itself, coercion in any shape, by whatsoever hand applied—whether any private hand, or the hand of Government itself—is evil. Government the most perfect that imagination itself could frame, would still be but a choice of evils.
If, then, the effect of the imputed design, supposing it carried into effect, were anything less than the production of preponderant evil, it would not constitute the matter of a charge. But this supposed preponderant evil, in what determinate shape are we to look for it? To this question, the charge has not furnished an answer. Yet in this charge, and in the other (that about property,) to which, it being less indeterminate, a determinate answer will be given—will be seen the sole ground of those disastrous laws, by which disaffection has been more abundantly propagated than by any of the writings which they are employed to repress.
Thus it is, that to do anything they please—to destroy any man, or any number of men they please, and in any manner they please—it costs those under whom we yet live, no more than a phrase with half-a-dozen words in it: and that this phrase should have anything belonging to it that can be called a meaning, is not necessary. In the present instance, so empty of meaning is the phrase, that with all the hapless labour, the bitter fruits of which have been seen, I have been reduced to find one for it—to make one for it in the way of inference.
Note—that for the general counter-averment there will be found more use than what might readily have been imagined. In the course of this defence, one argument will be seen by which the state of things aimed at by radical reform is cleared of the more particular charge of a tendency to produce preponderant evil, in the shape of the subversion of the rights of property; it will be seen cleared of the charge of a tendency to produce preponderant evil in any shape; and not only so, but it will be shown by experience to have been productive of effects, which the most determined opponents of radical reform will not deny to have been replete with preponderant good. This refers to the case of Ireland, of which mention will presently be made.
THE ACCUSATION IN GENERAL TERMS—COUNTER-AVERMENT.
In regard to the present liberticide measures,* and their bearings upon radical parliamentary reform, the case stands thus: In justification of them, and as proof of the necessity, what is alleged is—that by or by means of the supporters of radical reform, whether with or without direct correspondent intention, some great evil, unless prevented by these measures, will be produced: and it is for the prevention of this evil, that not only these reformists, but all the other members of this whole community, are deprived of so large a part of their securities against misrule, which the state of its laws, establishments, customs, and modes of thinking, has till now afforded.
In particular, as and for the shape, or one of the shapes, in which the evil in question has been said to be apprehended, is that which has been designated by the phrase, “subversion of the rights of property.”
Was ever allegation of apprehended evil more perfectly destitute of support?
In a country said to be the seat of political liberty, were measures pregnant with more serious and undeniable evil ever adopted and employed?
On the second of these topics I propose not to touch at present: it is with the first alone that what remains of these pages will be occupied.
By this measure I feel myself injured and oppressed in my general capacity of a member of this great community.*
By the imputation on which they have been grounded, I feel an additional injury cast upon me, in the character of a radical reformist. Had they been peculiar to myself, my own injuries would not have been worth mentioning; nor accordingly would they have been mentioned: but I have millions to share with me even in that injury which is the least extensive.
On these topics my own persuasions are as follows:—
1. That radical reform, if carried into effect, would not be productive of any preponderant evil, but, on the contrary, of preponderant good.
2. That in particular, the “subversion of the rights of property” would not be among the effects of it.
3. That no design of any active measures, tending to any subversion of the rights of property, has ever been entertained by any number of reformists: at any rate, not by any number competent to prosecute any such design with mischievous effect.
PLAN OF THIS DEFENCE.
On the present occasion, all endeavours to find so much as an attempt at proof having been fruitless, whoever he be to whom the affirmation presents itself as erroneous or untenable, either he must remain silent, suffering to go abroad, as if it were true and unanswerable, an opinion which to him appears in the highest degree pernicious, as well as erroneous and untenable, or he must engage in a task so pregnant with difficulty and embarrassment, as the proving of the negative. This course, there being no other, must here be mine.†
Under the pressure of this untoward necessity, the course I shall take is this:—
i. To show in the first place, from the consideration of the general nature of the case, that neither the accomplishment of any subversive partition, nor therefore the formation of any such correspondent design, is, or was, or ever will be, possible. This will be the business of Part II. of this short work.
ii. In the second place I shall show, that in the information afforded in relation to this subject may be seen a sufficient security against preponderant evil, not only in this shape, but in every other shape.
If from the power which radical reform would place in the hands of men of the class of universal-suffrage men, or at any rate in those of all householders, preponderant evil in any other shape were justly and reasonably to be apprehended, the improbability of its taking place would be no sufficient defence. But as a ground for any such supposition, neither argument deduced from the general nature of the case, nor experience in any particular instances, have ever been adduced. In proof of the opposite assurance, I shall adduce, in the first place, the case of the United States. Under that head I shall call to mind, that so far from anarchy, government better in every respect than in England is in that country the result, not merely of democratic ascendency in a monarchy, but of actual democracy, and that those under whose influence in the character of electors, the business of that really matchless government is carried on, are persons whose condition is not substantially different from that of universal-suffrage men here. This will form the business of Part III.
iii. In farther proof of this same assurance I shall adduce, in the last place, the case of Ireland, in the years from 1778 to 1783 inclusive. Under that head I shall in this instance likewise call to mind and show that instead of anarchy, under democratic ascendency maintained by a class of men not substantially distinguishable from universal suffrage men, the business of government was carried on in a manner confessedly superior in every respect to any in which in that same country it ever had been carried on before, or ever has been since. This topic will furnish the matter of Part IV.
In the Part next ensuing, it may afford some assistance to conception, if the reader is put personally in possession of the course taken to show, from the very nature of the case, the impossibility of the evil apprehended by some, pretended to be apprehended by others,—and thereby of every such design as that of giving birth to it. This course will be shown by the following topics, which will be seen forming the heads of so many sections:—
[* ]Morning Chronicle, 22d November 1819.
[† ]See Cobbett’s Parl. Debates, XVII. 559 et seq.
[* ]Aiming.] In this word may be seen the temper and disposition of the men by whom the means were proposed and concurred in. Except in so far as success is more or less probable, what need is there, and thence what ground is there, for new coercive laws, or so much as for punishment under the old? But vengeance was at heart, and discernment was blinded by it.
[† ]Change.] The political institutions, good and bad together, being like the laws of the Medes and Persians declared immutable, for the purpose of perpetuating the bad, and the imperfection of the good—hence the mere act of aiming at a change, be it ever so good, is denounced as a crime—as the crime of some, for which, lest vengeance should remain unsatiated, all are to be punished.
[‡ ]Aiming at the subversion of all order in society, being a phrase utterly void of meaning—a phrase designative of nothing but the state of the understanding and the passions, on the part of those by whom it is employed, is, in its nature, incapable of an answer, other than what is given by the mention thus made of it.
[* ]The Statutes of 60 Geo. III., commonly known by the designation of “The Six Acts.”—Ed.
[* ]I would describe myself by my country. How can I? The Irish Union Act has left me no means. As an Englishman, shall I say? But if there be any injury, Englishmen have not any greater part in it than Scotchmen. As a Briton, shall I say? Britons have not any greater part in it than Irishmen. As a Briton and Irishman, shall I say? Language will not suffer it. Yet I am just as truly an Irishman as I am a Briton, in so far as Briton includes Scotchman.
[† ]The affirmative, not the negative, is the side in which proof should in the first place be adduced. Such is the acknowledged rule, not only in the field of local law, but in the field of universal law—in a word, over the whole field of reason. If to this canon there be any exceptions, small indeed is their extent, nor will the present case be found to be in the number of them.