Jeremy Bentham argued that the ruling elite benefits from corruption, waste, and war (1827)

Jeremy Bentham

Found in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2

According to Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) the “ruling one” (the monarch) along with its companion group, “the sub-ruling few” (the establishment), have an interest in creating or maintaining corruption, waste, and war:

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.

A key insight Bentham had into the operation of politics was the idea of “the sinister interest.” According to Bentham, every individual had both universal interests (a concern for the interests of mankind in general) and sinister interests (or personal and selfish interests which worked against the universal interests of mankind). It was the task of rational bureaucrats who ran the state to ensure that sinister interests did not over-ride the universal interests of mankind. In this passage from his Principles of Judicial Procedure (1827) he argues that when the state is instead run by a few individuals, or what he calls “the ruling one and the sub-ruling few,” they have a vested interest in promoting the corruption from which they derive their livelihoods. This “corruption” is made possible by government waste, war and war contracts, the increase of taxes, and government loans. Although normally a stickler for obeying the law at all times, when corruption is rife in a state he believes upright men and women should evade the revenue laws in order to deprive the corrupt sinister interests of their source of revenue and income, and thus promote “the happiness of the greatest number”.