Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART II.—: DEFERENCE FROM THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE CASE. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3
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PART II.—: DEFERENCE FROM THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE CASE. - 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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DEFERENCE FROM THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE CASE.
CONDITIONS NECESSARY TO A MAN’S EMBARKING IN SUCH A DESIGN.
The task here undertaken is—to show that the sort of design imputed is in its nature an impossible one. No such design could have been formed: therefore no such design has ever been formed—such in this part is the argument. The accomplishment of a design is one thing: the formation of it is another. Of the impossibility of a design being accomplished, the impossibility of its being formed by a number capable of making any advance towards the accomplishment of it, is not a necessary consequence in every case; but it will be seen to be so in this. On the other hand, be the design what it may, that if it cannot be formed, it cannot be accomplished, will surely not be disputed.
For the formation of a design of the sort in question, certain points must in the nature of the case have been agreed upon. Upon these several points no agreement can have had place: therefore no such agreement has ever taken place. He who admits the antecedent, will admit the consequent.
Among these points are the following: namely—
1. Subject-matters of the partition, what? (1.) Immoveable subjects of the rights of property; (2.) Moveable subjects of the rights of property (both these are real); (3.) Fictitious subjects of the rights of property: for example, annuities and offices, in regard to which a further explanation will be given. These different subject-matters of the rights of property,—shall they be all of them taken for the subjects of the partition, or only two of them, and what two? or only one of them, and what one?
2. Sharers, who? the radicalists alone, or the existing proprietors with them?—among the radicalists, males alone, or males and females together? and in both cases, adults alone, or adults and non-adults together? The difficulties which would in practice attach upon any choice that could be made in answer to these questions, will be more particularly brought to view.
3. Proportion as between the sharers of the several shares: equal or unequal?
4. Mode of operation, i. e. partition; and operating hands to be employed in it.
Among these must be the constituted and established authorities of the country for the time being, whatsoever they may be. If it were nothing more than the moveable plunder of a camp or town, no: no such permanent power might be regarded as necessary. But according to the spirit as well as the LETTER of the charge, those rights of property, the subject-matter of which exists in the immoveable shape, constitute the principal part, if not the whole of the mass of rights, the subversion of which is alleged to be aimed at.
The consequence is—that of the design as charged, one part is, either the continuance of the existing constituted authorities, under their present names, and charged with their present functions, or the establishment of a new set of constituted authorities, with correspondent names and functions. Here then will have been another choice to be made.
Sect. II. In equal shares, partition of Immoveables impossible.
Sect. III. In equal shares, partition of Moveables impossible.
Sect. IV. Partition of Property in other shapes impossible.
Sect. V. Determination of the Sharers impossible.
Sect. VI. In shares other than equal, partition impossible.
[As the matter which constitutes the above five sections is to be found with little variation in the Tract on the Levelling System (in Vol. I. p. 358,) it has been considered unnecessary to repeat it here.—Ed.]
CONCURRENCE IN ANY OTHER EXTENSIVE PLAN OF SPOLIATION IMPOSSIBLE.
Nay but (says somebody) no such regular and generally-agreed plan of partition and plunder will perhaps be fixed upon. But, under the guidance of these leaders, the multitude may proceed in the work of insurrection, depredation, and destruction, without any plan at all: trusting to their leaders for their having already framed an apposite plan, or at any rate for their framing one before the time for action comes. All this while, the leaders may have been acting on a secret plan of their own—a plan having for its object the acquisition of opulence, in some shape or other, for each, the condition of the multitude being left to chance.
Answer. For the purpose of the argument, let a secret plan have been formed by the leaders, and that secret plan as dishonest and mischievous as any one pleases. But still, in front of this secret plan, must have stood an avowed plan—an openly avowed plan—a plan which, to the great majority of the supposed insurrectionists and would-be depredators, must afford a promise more or less plausible—plausible, howsoever hollow, of probable good to each of them.
As to any such blind confidence of this or of anything else, the existence may be asserted and even supposed. But of any such thing not any the smallest symptom or probability in any shape can be indicated. On the contrary, not the abundance of confidence, but the absence of it, is the state of things which the multitude of evidences that have at different times met the public eye have rendered remarkable and notorious.
Let us see, then, whether to the multitude, judging each for himself, it be possible that any other imaginable plan should afford any better promise than those which have been brought to view and disposed of: this being at the same time understood, that there remains not any other, the effect of which would not be the narrowing the number of the sharers. In the case where all individuals without exception are proposed to be sharers—sharers to an amount, more determinate conceivable and clearly expressible than any other—we have seen what the bars are that oppose themselves. But to any plan, from the benefit of which individuals of any description should stand excluded, the exclusion would be opposing an additional obstacle. In any view which could be taken of the case, by any the most sanguine imagination, the obstacles that could not but be opposed to the plan by all constituted authorities with their adherents, could not but present themselves as sufficiently formidable. But on this supposition, of a scheme narrowed by exclusion, every individual excluded would add to the strength of the obstacles that oppose themselves as above to the scheme of all-comprehensive benefit. Here, then, comes a dilemma. Let the excluded be few, the saving by the exclusion will be so much the less: let the excluded be many, the force of resistance, added to that of the constituted authorities, will be so much the greater.
Every conceivable plan, by the accomplishment of which the alleged mischief in question, or the subversion of the rights of property, would be effected, being thus disposed of, and the accomplishment of it being over and over again shown to be impossible, it is not too soon, it is hoped, to declare it so to be. I accordingly challenge all anti-radicalists to bring to view any other plan which, having that subversion for its object, shall now, upon the face of it, be seen by everybody to be impossible; and if, being unable to bring to view any such plan, a man will notwithstanding persevere in the assertion that there may be, and eventually will be proposed such a plan, and that men will act upon it, I must leave any one to say whether it be in the nature of the case that he who says this should believe his own assertion to be true.
At every step the discussion has taken, anti-radicalist readers, if any such it should have, will of course have been turning aside from it with disgust, and exclaiming—“We did not mean this, we did not mean that, we did not mean anything of all this—can it ever have been your belief that anything so palpably absurd would have been meant by anybody?”
Well then, if you did not mean this, what did you mean? Do you know what it is you mean? You, by whom, in every the most offensive shape you could find, opprobrium has for so many years been poured forth—poured forth, not only upon such multitudes, which to you is nothing—not only upon such moral worth, which to you is again as nothing,—but upon much pecuniary worth and even high rank, which to you is everything.
Say then at length, what it is you mean! Speak out, or, by that sort of evidence which even from men whose declaration is worth nothing, is more conclusive than it is in the power of any declaration from any man ever to be—prove in a word, by silence or evasion, that in thus dealing by us, you have all along been talking without meaning, and acting as accuser without ground.
CONCURRENCE OF ANY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITIES IMPOSSIBLE.
Be the plan of partition what it may, if the effect and benefit of it is to be more than momentary, the necessity of a concurrence, and that a persevering one, of the constituted authorities for the time being, has been already brought to view—(Section I.) Here, if the pile of impossibilities is not yet high enough, here then is another stage to add to it. The constituted authorities, by which the scheme will be carried into effect, will either be the existing set as they stand at present, or a new set. As to the existing set, the least objectionable plan being what it has been shown to be, a concurrence on their part would scarcely be expected. Sooner than concur in any such work of certain self-destruction, they would of course all of them fly the country, or die with arms in their hands, in their endeavours to resist it. But, how certainly soever, in the eyes of the now existing constituted authorities, supposing any advance made in such a scheme, their own destruction would be among the results of it, it could not be more so in their eyes than it would be in the eyes of any person whatsoever, into whose hands the immediately operative power of government could come to be transferred.
A design of this sort agreed upon, and nobody to put the question—by what hands the business would be to be done? A design of this sort thus blindly agreed upon—agreed upon by numbers competent to make serious advances toward the execution of it? If any such supposition can be made, it must be by some orator, by whom a correspondent conception has been formed of the state of the understanding on the part of the swinish multitude: my powers are unequal to it.
ACCOMPLISHMENT IMPOSSIBLE—DESIGN IMPOSSIBLE.
If that which a man would be glad to do, is in his eyes impossible to be done—so long as it is so, he will neither attempt to do it, nor design to attempt it. A position to this effect may, it is hoped, without much fear of contradiction, be advanced.
One position remains, which for the completion of the proof of not guilty it will be necessary to advance, but to which the assent may not be quite so sure. This is—that supposing any such desires to have had place, a persuasion of the impossibility of success has, on the part of those whose concurrence would be necessary, all along accompanied it.
To this position no probable cause of dissent, on the part of any person whose situation in respect of private interest and interest-begotten prejudice admits of the giving reception to truth, presents itself.
Not so on the part of those by whom the speeches in question were penned and put into the Royal mouth. By them the persons accused, having to the amount of so many millions been pronounced guilty—guilty of the design of accomplishing that, the impossibility of which has so repeatedly been shown and proved—the accused pronounced guilty, and execution taken out, not against them alone, but against all the other members of the community along with them, they stand engaged not merely to deny the impossibility of such a design, but to maintain—to maintain for ever, and without flinching, its existence.
In so far as sincerity, if supposable, has had place, imagination—imagination alone—having been the hand by which the plan ascribed to the supposed levellers has been drawn, such according to this plan has been their desperation, such their rage, that how perfectly well soever assured of their own ultimate destruction—still, under the assurance, or though it were but the hope, of seeing it preceded by the destruction of their adversaries, even the prospect of self-destruction has been an inviting one to them.
But not even by this supposition, extravagant as it is, could any tolerably substantial ground be made for the imputation. For supposing destruction to come, they and not their adversaries, would be the first to be involved in it; and this priority is too manifest to have ever been unobserved by themselves.
Yes, if they were all agriculturists, on that supposition, with a spade in hand, ground to turn up with it, and potatoe cuttings to put into it, if a man could live for a time without fuel or fresh clothing, he might keep himself alive, provided always that he could wait till the potatoe germs had grown into potatoes.
Such is the condition in which, on the receipt of the supposed benefit, the labourers in husbandry would find themselves placed: such the prospect which it would hold out to them. The labourers in manufactures, and other labourers other than those in husbandry,—what is the prospect it would hold out to them? In comparison with their lot, the lot of the man bred up in husbandry labour—ruinous as we have seen it—would be an enviable one. The period arrived, the husbandman would have nothing to learn; the non-husbandman would have everything to learn—digging, manuring, sowing, weeding, reaping, everything: all this he would have to learn, and in the meantime he would have to starve.
Meantime the supposed objects of this desperate rage—the owners of property—how would it be with them? They would be the last to suffer: all of them together the last; and among them, the richer a man were, and thence by the supposition the more obnoxious, the longer it would be before his time of suffering came. With more or less disadvantage, he who had property would, by exporting it along with himself, retain a part of it, or get something for it in the way of exchange. But the supposed intended plunderers, no property could they export, any more than their own persons, the land they could not export, and that, with or without buildings on it, is all—so it has been shown over and over again—that would be left in their hands. Yes: it is upon their heads that the calamity would fall in the first instance. Never, anywhere, but in the wages of labour can they have beholden the source of their subsistence. As to the manufacturers in particular, in no small proportion have they had for their sole purchasers the opulent class, as rising one above another throughout the whole scale of opulence.
Long before the time when the power of commencing the partition had got into any of the hands charged with being disposed to use it, the proprietors, instead of continuing to employ any of their money, as usual, in the purchase of the manufactures they had been accustomed to consume, would cease from all such purchases altogether. With everything they had or could get, that is exportable, they would take their flight from the country, as above.
Before this topic is closed, one other circumstance must be brought to view, and that is, the smallness of the lot by which, in the character of a motive, the determination to embark in an enterprise so full of personal hazard as well as difficulty, must have been produced.
Note, that by this one circumstance stand excluded from the number of the possible associates, all those who, in possession or expectancy, beheld within their grasp any mass of property not much below the value of the equal lot. Instead of supporters, all such persons the scheme would have for its inflexible opponents. But at the command of their opponents are all the possible means of support to the scheme on one hand, of opposition to it on the other. At the command of the supposed associates, what are the means? The hands they were born with—these and nothing else. Such are the hands, of which the Monarch of this country, with his Lords and Commons, have been stricken with that fear, the expression of which is contained in the two late speeches which have above so often been brought to view: in these speeches—in the consequent addition of the 10,000 men and upwards to the standing army of 100,000 and upwards, and in that real subversion by which, in virtue of the new laws, the constitution has been secured against the imaginary one.
THE TALKED-OF SPUNGE NO PROOF OF THE DESIGN.
But by Radicalists (says somebody) a wish to see a national bankruptcy effected—or, as the phrase is, a spunge applied to the debt, has at radical reform meetings been openly and uncontradictedly spoken of in the character of a desirable result: and here would unquestionably be subversion of “rights of property.”
To this come the following short answers:
1. Spoken of in such meetings—yes. But how? Rather as an expected cause of reform than as an intended effect. No otherwise than in so far as it has been declared to be an intended effect, does it apply to the present purpose.
2. Even supposing it intended to be produced, and produced accordingly, it would not amount to the design insinuated in the speech. True it is, that to the amount of this debt, so much of the rights of property in that shape would be subverted: but property in all other shapes would, for anything that this would do, remain untouched. Note well, that subversion—not of “rights of property,” i. e. some rights of property—but of “the rights of property,” i. e. all the rights of property, is the object charged to be aimed at. Every time a handkerchief is picked out of a pocket, subversion of rights of property takes place. Note likewise, that from the aggregate mass of property in the country, though no addition would be made to it, no defalcation would be made. I do not say that no preponderant evil would be produced. But that is another consideration, which will meet us presently.
3. The very design, whether in itself it be useful or pernicious, proves even a respect for property in all other shapes. For what would be the effect, or supposed use of it? Only to take off so much burden—so much of deduction—from property in all other shapes: deduction, namely that made by taxes. Suppose property, in all other shapes, dealt by according to that design, the existence of which was in the speech declared to be believed, it has been seen what would have become of it, and whether, by the very partition, the impossibility of paying the debt, and thereby the virtual abolition of it, would not have been effected. But that no such design of universal partition can possibly have been entertained, has, it is believed, been sufficiently shown.
4. To no one of the supposed plotters in question would or could any immediate benefit be produced by this spunge. Ceasing to pay dividends to the present annuitants would not put money into the pocket of any reformist, or any one else. Suppose the dividend divided amongst the reformists instead of the present annuitants,—is that what is meant? But on this supposition the debt would not be abolished; it would be kept up.
5. It is not by all radicalists, nor by more than a very small part of the whole number of radicalists, that so much as a wish to see this state of things take effect has been expressed: take effect in any character—either as a fruit and consequence, or as a cause.
Thus much as to ineligible reform in that particular shape. But amongst the plans of reform, or expected fruits of reform held up to view, suppose in any number, schemes ever so extravagant. By any such extravagance could any just cause of objection be formed against any that were free from the extravagance? If yes, nothing could be more easy than for men in power to manufacture in this way a bar to all reform, and that an insuperable one. To employ a number of men to propose and advocate each of them “an absurd, visionary, and senseless” plan of reform (to use Earl Gray’s phrase,) or “a wild and visionary plan” (to use Lord John Russell’s phrase,) would be quite as easy as, and somewhat less odious and nefarious than, to give birth to crimes by employing instigators for the purpose of their becoming informers.
That, without any exception, all who call for radical reform should be uniformly well informed and wise, is an expectation which it will be time enough to regard as a reasonable one, when wisdom in that same degree has manifested itself on the part of their rulers.
The supposition on which acts of government and speeches made in houses, seem uniformly to be grounded, is that of consummate excellence on the part of those who have any share in the powers of government, coupled with consummate depravity on the part of those who have none: the supremely ruling one, sharing with the Almighty in his attributes, as Blackstone, who enumerates them expressly, assures us he does; those in authority under him a little lower than the angels; the subject-many devoid of reason, and in shape alone differing from beasts: hence it is that they are unfit to be, and incapable of being, reasoned with—fit only to be crushed and slaughtered.
That by the persons in question any such design should ever have been harboured as that of endeavouring at the subversion of the rights of property in other shapes, has, it is hoped, been sufficiently proved to be impossible. That by those same persons, in a number more or less considerable, the design may have been harboured of endeavouring at “the subversion of the rights of property” in this particular shape, seems neither impossible nor improbable. But, against a mere design, supposing it to have no chance of producing either the effect aimed at, or any bad effect in any other shape, not only would “subversion of the constitution,” but even reason and argument, be so much words and paper thrown away. He in whose eyes the catastrophe is not regarded as capable of being produced otherwise than by the political ascendency of those whom he regards as labouring to produce it, will see no cause for apprehending evil in that shape, unless in so far as the existence of such ascendency should in his eyes be more or less probable. Still, however, as from that endeavour preponderant evil could not fail to take place, might not such a demonstration be in their eyes at least productive of good effect? Evil in that particular shape has not any probability, yet from those same endeavours, evil in this or that other shape, may in those same eyes or in other eyes be more or less apprehended. On this supposition, if to their own satisfaction it were demonstrated, that by any endeavours made or declared to be made by them towards “the subversion or extinction of the rights of property” in this shape, no good—preponderant good to themselves—could take place, but that on the contrary much preponderant evil could not fail to take place, might not such a demonstration be, in their eyes, at least productive of good effect?
From any declared or known anti-radicalist, any such statement would have to encounter the force of adverse prepossession. From a known radicalist it many stand a better chance of being regarded with whatever attention may be due to it.
These things considered, it has been thought that the following suggestions in proof of the ineligibity of this supposed remedy, in respect of the interests of any persons who in the character of radicalist may have been occupied in the endeavour to apply it, might not be without their use.
If it should appear, that while the extinction of the debt without equivalent would be productive of preponderant evil to a very great amount, the abolition of it by means of an equivalent would still be productive of preponderant evil, though to a less amount, the result will be a practical conclusion, such as under existing circumstances may not be without its use.
Reasons against a national spunge,—i. e. complete insolvency on the part of government:—
1. Upon the face of it, it presents not any national advantage in any shape. Yes: if the creditors were all of them or the greater proportion of them foreigners; for here would be pecuniary advantage for a motive: counter-motive none, but the dishonesty, and the attendant consequences of it. Setting foreigners out of the question, on setting money against money, all that were in the character of debtors would gain: all that were in the character of creditors would lose. Taking into the account the whole of the community together, here, then, in money there would be no gain. But money is of no value, otherwise than as a means of happiness. Now in happiness there would be great loss: for, quantity and quality being equal, and all other circumstances the same, suffering from loss is always greater than enjoyment from gain; otherwise there would be no preponderant evil produced by depredation in any shape, nor reasonable cause for punishing it.
2. Among those who would suffer soonest and most, would be all those by whom a change of this sort has been considered or spoken of as desirable. Among them, in an indefinitely large proportion perhaps, the greatest portion are those by whose labour such goods are manufactured as have for their consumers and purchasers, persons whose property is in this shape. From this defalcation, though all labourers would suffer, labourers in manufactures would suffer in the greatest degree: for among their productions are those which can best be spared. Among the productions of husbandry alone are those which consistently with life cannot be spared.
3. It has never yet been shown, nor, it is believed, can it be shown, in what particular shape any preponderant good from any such forcible and unlooked-for transfer of property should come—should come at any time how widely soever distant. That in the first instance, and for an indefinite length of time, distress, to an incalculable but at the least a prodigiously vast amount, would be produced, cannot be matter of doubt to anybody. If at the end of the account, preponderant good in any shape were to be enjoyed, it would only be by such persons as, in respect of fixed property, or means of subsistence in other shapes, should have been enabled to weather the storm. And among these scarcely would any person of the class now in question be to be found.
In a word, the distress produced would be certain and immediate: the looked-for equivalent—the alleviation, would be uncertain and remote.
When the advantages from extinction in any way are brought to view, first comes the taking off of the taxes, then the lowering of prices to the pitch from which they were raised by the taxes. Unfortunately, the first result is not by a great deal so speedy as imagination is wont to paint it. When taxes are taken off, there remain the tax-gatherer and the clerks to be provided for; and thus it is that it is only as a tontine annuity increases, that that part of the burthen of taxation which is composed of the expense of collection can be diminished. The tax-gatherers and clerks may indeed be turned out to starve; and for a warrant for so dealing with them, some bad name or other may be attached to them. But by this bad name, neither will the sensibility of the individuals to suffering be diminished, nor the part which their happiness constitutes of the universal happiness, nor their right to have as much regard shown to their happiness as to that of an equal number of other persons.
Look the whole community over, scarcely will you find that description of persons for whom some bad name or other has not been found: none whatever, for which a name of that sort might not be found. But to make any such pretence for evil doing requires no more ingenuity than, nor so much time as, the tying a canister to the tail of a dog for the purpose of tormenting him.
Such is the sad effect of profusion—that evil, of which with so many others the essence of monarchy is composed. This expenditure with its burthen is the work of an instant: suppose relief to come, half a century may have elapsed, and still the exoneration is not complete.
Just so or worse it is with armies. Raise them you may in a few months: disband them you may in the compass of a day. But as to exoneration from the expense—Oh no: half a century may have elapsed, and still the relief remain incomplete. Here too comes in another feature: tax-gatherer and office-clerk should not be turned out to starve;—soldiers will not be.
4. The burthen in this shape being already in existence, and not to be got rid of but by preponderant burthen in other shapes, the continuance of it in this shape seems productive of a distinct and peculiar advantage;—namely, the opposing a proportionable difficulty to war. The power which has most effectually at command a greater body of the necessary and effectual means of war than any other has—not to say than all others put together have—such a power is surely in less danger than any other can be, of being forced by aggression into a war of mere defence: and as to offensive wars—wars for conquest, or for the pleasure of being insolent, whatsoever may be the real propensity, scarcely of any such propensity will the existence in their own instance be avowed, at least in direct terms, by any men in the situation of rulers.
Now, under a constitution or form of government such as ours, the profit, real or apparent, to the ruling few, and thence the propensity to engage in needless and useless and unjust wars, is so strong, and all other counteracting causes so completely wanting, that the difficulty opposed by the burthen in question to such wars seem to me a blessing beyond all price.
4 continued, or 5. If this country were more likely to be engaged in a war of necessity, and mere defence—in a necessary and defensive war, than in an unnecessary and offensive war,—on that supposition, the effect of the extinction or diminution of the debt might upon the whole be advantageous. But to advance any such position shall be left to those, if any such there be, who either believe the truth of it themselves, or can make sure of persuading others so to do.*
Now by war, whenever there is one, men of the class of the radicalists—in a word, of the unopulent many—will be greater sufferers than any that stand above them in the scale of opulence. For, in the case of war, let it come when it will, money must be found. It must be taken from all classes; and the less a man has of it, the less he can spare for this or any other purpose.
But (says somebody,) by the reformists, supposing them to have the ascendency, war, except in the case of its being necessary war, will not be engaged in. Easy enough this to say—not quite so easy to be assured of. Under democratic ascendency there would still remain—besides the people’s Commons—the monarch with his Lords, all of them with their inbred appetite hungering and thirsting after war, instead of righteousness. Power, money, plunder, honour and glory, additional distant dependencies—more and more offices and honours—depredation in all its shapes—in all of them applicable to the purposes of corruption: honour, and glory—pleasure of insulting and oppressing foreign nations. Upon the functionaries in office, high and low, all these incentives will be operating with unabated force; and for producing a correspondent inflammation in the breasts of the people in their character of electors, no power would be spared.
Not that, merely for this purpose, any one could seriously maintain that the accumulation of a national debt—especially a national debt heavy enough to prevent war, would be an eligible measure. All that is meant is—that when the community has been subjected to a public burthen in this shape, this is the shape in which for that purpose it were desirable that it should exist, so long and in so far as it exists in any shape; that in particular no such thing as a sinking fund should ever be established: and that accordingly, should any permanent surplus be found to have existence in the produce of the existing taxes, the result should be the abolition of a correspondent quantity of the produce of those, of which the continuance was found, in all respects taken together, the most pernicious.
[* ]In this country, under the existing state of the government, excitements to unjust and pernicious wars have place to a deplorable degree—to a degree greater than under any other form of government, either despotic or democratic.