The following columns make derisive mention of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The columnist (guilty) assumed (guilty again) that her readers, like many good libertarians (namely, natural-rights libertarians), would identify Bentham’s name as a synonym for statism and collectivism, to distinguish from liberty and individualism.
Libertarian legal scholar Randy Barnett, I recall, particularly enjoyed this from “A Romp Down Memory Lane With Justice Roberts” (7/6/2012):
“Why would George Bush care whether a judicial nominee can tell Blackstone from Bentham, when he can’t?”
Remember Reno!” (9/8/2006) equated Benthamism with legal excesses, whereby the law, “intended as a bulwark against government abuses,” had become “an implement of government, to be utilized by all-knowing rulers for the ‘greater good’—the founders’ Blackstonian view of the law” having “been supplanted by a Benthamism that encourages ambitious prosecutors to discard a defendant’s rights.”
“‘Mad Dog’ Sneddon Vs. Michael Jackson” (7/5/2005) mentions once again the Benthamite notion of “the law as an implement of government, to be utilized by all-knowing rulers for the ‘greater good.’”
The Library of Economics and Liberty expounds a little more about Bentham the utilitarian, whose “publications were few,” and whose foundational belief was “that all social actions should be evaluated by the axiom, ‘It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.’”
In a word, utilitarianism, and by extension, statism and collectivism.
Counter to Adam Smith’s vision of “natural rights,” Bentham believed that there were no natural rights to be interfered with.
Trained in law, Bentham never practiced, choosing instead to focus on judicial and legal reforms. His reform plans went beyond rewriting legislative acts to include detailed administrative plans to implement his proposals. In his plan for prisons, workhouses, and other institutions, Bentham devised compensation schemes, building designs, worker timetables, and even new accounting systems. A guiding principle of Bentham’s schemes was that incentives should be designed “to make it each man’s interest to observe on every occasion that conduct which it is his duty to observe.” Interestingly, Bentham’s thinking led him to the conclusion, which he shared with Smith, that professors should not be salaried.
In his early years Bentham professed a free-market approach. He argued, for example, that interest rates should be free from government control (see Defence of Usury). By the end of his life he had shifted to a more interventionist stance. He predated Keynes in his advocacy of expansionist monetary policies to achieve full employment and advocated a range of interventions, including the minimum wage and guaranteed employment.
Jeremy Bentham was a thoroughbred statist; the quintessential bureaucrat and social engineer, who devised ways to tinker in oder to optimize the individual pawn’s common-good conduct.