Jeremy Bentham on how the interests of the many (the people) are always sacrificed to the interests of the few (the sinister interests) (1823)

Jeremy Bentham

The English lawyer and utilitarian political philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) scathingly denounces the English political system which had emerged during the 18th century. A trinity of statesmen, lawyers, and priests had gathered around the monarch forming a “sinister interest” of privilege which exploited the ordinary people:

Sinister interests, two in the same breast—lawyer’s interest and ruling statesman’s interest: lawyer’s interest, hostile to that of all suitors, and of all those who may have need to be so, that is to say—of all who are not lawyers. Ruling statesman’s interest, hostile to all subjects’ interest, in a form of government, which, to the inclination common to all breasts, adds in the ruling hands adequate power: power, to an amount sufficient for winding up to the pitch of perfection the system of depredation and oppression: power, by means of the corruption and delusion, which are the essence of this form of government, in addition to that physical force and those means of intimidation and remuneration, which belong of necessity to every form of government.

When he came to write an Introduction to the second edition of A Fragment of Government (1776) in 1823 Bentham’s views about the English government had become quite jaundiced, but perhaps more realistic following the expansion of the powers of the British state during the Napoleonic wars. His view now was that a “conclave” of powerful political groups had formed around the monarch in order to better extract “the industry of the people … out of their pockets.” He called this conclave or “rulers in chief” the “sinister interest” in order to distinguish it from the “universal interest” which was that of the majority of the ordinary working people of England. The members of the sinister interest included the ruling monarch and his supporters, such as the aristocrats, the statesmen, the “fee-fed lawyers”, the “tax-fed priests”, and the myriad of other hangers-on who made up what he called “the keepers and workers of the state engines.” Together they made up a “system of depredation and oppression' which exploited the wealth and income of ordinary workers. His ideas known as "Benthamism” were very influential on James Mill and John Stuart Mill, especially the former who continued Bentham’s exploration the impact “the sinister interests” were having on British society in the 1820s and 1830s.