Portrait of Jeremy Bentham

Bentham on the proper role of government: “Be Quiet” and “Stand out of my sunshine” (1843)

Found in: The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) inspired James and John Stuart Mill with his theory of utilitarianism. His formulation of what the government should do is similar to that of the 18th century French Physiocrats, “laissez-faire”. In an uncharacteristically brief statement he urged the government to “be quiet”, or to “get out of my sunlight”:


We have seen above the grounds on which the general rule in this behalf—Be quiet—rests. Whatever measures, therefore, cannot be justified as exceptions to that rule, may be considered as non agenda on the part of government. The art, therefore, is reduced within a small compass: security and freedom are all that industry requires. The request which agriculture, manufactures, and commerce present to governments, is modest and reasonable as that which Diogenes made to Alexander: “Stand out of my sunshine.” We have no need of favour—we require only a secure and open path.