Front Page Titles (by Subject) 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. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
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. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
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.
[* ]Take a man who has hitherto belonged to the class of dupes: if, in his body, he has a mind capable of reflection, and will allow himself a little time for making use of it, the following considerations may serve him for a clue. By words such as state of things, event, things immoveable, things moveable, action, forbearance, misdeed, obligation, command, prohibition, permission, condition, right, punishment, reward—by these, with the addition of a few others, not only has the whole field of legislation, but the whole field of possible thought and action, been covered. Well then, if by these, why not by others of less extensive imports?—of imports included in the imports of these several words respectively? by others of this or that less extensive import, according as the occasion serves?