Jeremy Bentham’s democratic liberal constitutionalism

Originally published in Metascience

Despite decades of revisionist scholarship, Jeremy Bentham continues to suffer from a bad reputation. Philip Schofield and Xiaobo Zhai, editors of the new collected volume Bentham on Democracy, Courts, and Codification, aptly trace Bentham’s illiberal reputation to historian Élie Halévy’s account of an authoritarian Bentham (2). The fourteen essays in the volume—helpfully organized into three sections, democracy, law and the courts, and codification—refute this characterization, retrieving the liberal features of Bentham’s constitutional thought, including his critiques of the English judicial system and arguments for representative democracy. To illustrate the relevance of this collection to Bentham specialists as well as any scholars interested in becoming reacquainted with what Schofield and Zhai call Bentham’s “democratic liberalism” (3), I first reflect on the complexities of Bentham’s long writing career, which have been misunderstood by past interpreters. Then I examine some of the key democratic qualities of Bentham’s liberalism, focusing on how he reconceptualized the people’s presence in politics, including the judicial system.

Find the full article here.