Bentham on how “the ins” and “the outs” lie to the people in order to get into power (1843)

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) created a Handbook of Political Fallacies in which he painstakingly categorized the different types of “fallacies” politicians used to deceive the public. He did this in order to show how those in government deceived the people in order to win office or get favours from those in office:

By the name of fallacy, it is common to designate any argument employed, or topic suggested, for the purpose, or with a probability, of producing the effect of deception,—of causing some erroneous opinion to be entertained by any person to whose mind such argument may have been presented….

Parliament (is) a sort of gaming-house; members on the two sides of each house the players; the property of the people—such portion of it as on any pretence may be found capable of being extracted from them—the stakes played for. Insincerity in all its shapes, disingenuousness, lying, hypocrisy, fallacy, the instruments employed by the players on both sides for obtaining advantages in the game: on each occasion—in respect of the side on which he ranks himself—what course will be most for the advantage of the universal interest, a question never looked at, never taken into account: on which side is the prospect of personal advantage in its several shapes—this the only question really taken into consideration…

The first version of Bentham’s Handbook of Political Fallacies appeared in French early in the 19th century and it had a important impact on the thinking of Frédéric Bastiat who produced his own examination of “economic fallacies” in the mid and late 1840s (mainly to do with tariffs and government subsidies). Bentham thought that the British Parliament was so corrupt that he could fill an entire book with carefully articulated definitions and categories of lying, deception, intimidation, and obfuscation used by politicians and bureaucrats to hoodwink the public into accepting taxes, regulations, and payments to favoured groups. In this marvelous passage he compares the Parliament to a casino, where the politicians were the gamblers, and the property of the citizens was the stakes being played for. “Disingenuousness, lying, hypocrisy, (and) fallacy” were the tactics used by the players in order to win each round of the game. Those who were “the ins” (in office) had a temporary advantage in the game; those who were “the outs” (those aspiring to be in office next) could only hope their turn would soon come. In Bentham’s cynical though realistic view, “the universal interest (was) a question never looked at, never taken into account” by the players.