The Ghost of Bentham: Needs of the many do not outweigh the few

Bill O’Reilly history will remember as one of the most influential people of the 21st Century.  His news show on Fox is an unmitigated success attracting millions of viewers every night Monday through Friday, but that is not the most beneficial aspect of O’Reilly.  O’Reilly will go down in history as one of the most prolific authors of all time as his Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, and now Killing Jesus will sell more books than any handful of top 20 New York Times authors.  His lasting memory will be in his literary legacy, not his television show.  O’Reilly is a “down the middle” kind of guy, and represents well the kind of mind that assisted in voting favorably many of the modern troubles plaguing our nation, such as debt management, welfare support, and public education statism.  That is why it was so remarkable that O’Reilly in the wake of the many debates on Obamacare finally asked the very important question on his show, “does the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

The answer of course is that it doesn’t, no mob of collective rule has the right over individual citizens.  The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few, and that premise destroys the basic premise of democracy—which causes considerable problems.  This is why O’Reilly finally asked the unsaid question on his show.

Any needs that the many may have over the few which is articulated with such questions are driven straight out of communist text.  It was philosophers like Jeremy Bentham who helped inspire Karl Marx to write The Communist Manifesto which would bring to the world the idea of communism directly attacking capitalism as an economic concept.  Jeremy Bentham (/ˈbɛnθəm/; 15 February 1748 OS – 6 June 1832) was a British philosopher, jurist, and social reformer. He is regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism.

Bentham became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts.[1] He called for the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the death penalty, and the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.[2] He has also become known in recent years as an early advocate of animal rights.[3] Though strongly in favour of the extension of individual legal rights, he opposed the idea of natural law and natural rights, calling them “nonsense upon stilts”.[4]

Bentham’s students included his secretary and collaborator James Mill, the latter’s son, John Stuart Mill, the legal philosopher John Austin, as well as Robert Owen, one of the founders of utopian socialism. Bentham has been described as the “spiritual founder” of University College London, though he played little direct part in its foundation.[5]

Karl Marx’s criticisms of Bentham[edit]

Karl Marx, in Das Kapital, writes:[104]

Not even excepting our philosopher, Christian Wolff, in no time and in no country has the most homespun commonplace ever strutted about in so self-satisfied a way. The principle of utility was no discovery of Bentham. He simply reproduced in his dull way what Helvétius and other Frenchmen had said with esprit in the 18th century. To know what is useful for a dog, one must study dog-nature. This nature itself is not to be deduced from the principle of utility. Applying this to man, he who would criticise all human acts, movements, relations, etc., by the principle of utility, must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch. Bentham makes short work of it. With the driest naiveté he takes the modern shopkeeper, especially the English shopkeeper, as the normal man. Whatever is useful to this queer normal man, and to his world, is absolutely useful. This yard-measure, then, he applies to past, present, and future. The Christian religion, e.g., is “useful,” “because it forbids in the name of religion the same faults that the penal code condemns in the name of the law.” Artistic criticism is “harmful,” because it disturbs worthy people in their enjoyment of Martin Tupper, etc. With such rubbish has the brave fellow, with his motto, “nulla dies sine linea”, piled up mountains of books.

Marx’s accusation is twofold. In the first place, he says that the theory of utility is true by definition and thus does not really add anything meaningful. For Marx, a productive inquiry had to investigate what sorts of things are good for people—that is, what our nature, alienated under capitalism, really is. Second, he says that Bentham fails to take account of the changing character of people, and hence the changing character of what is good for them. This criticism is especially important for Marx, because he believed that all important statements were contingent upon particular historical conditions.

Marx argues that human nature is dynamic, so the concept of a single utility for all humans is one-dimensional and not useful. When he decries Bentham’s application of the ‘yard measure’ of now to ‘the past, present and future’, he decries the implication that society, and people, have always been, and will always be, as they are now; that is, he criticizes essentialism. As he sees it, this implication is conservatively used to reinforce institutions he regarded as reactionary. Just because in this moment religion has some positive consequences, says Marx, doesn’t mean that viewed historically it isn’t a regressive institution that should be abolished.

Bentham was creating the foundations of utopian socialism at a time when America was fighting for its independence from the same imperial forces that created the left leaning philosopher.  Today, because of Star Trek using the character of Spock to utter the sensibilities of Bentham the entire world has come to believe that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, which is a communist foundation concept.  While Marx was critical of the looseness of Bentham’s definitions, he used the direction to shape his own philosophy of Marxism.

It is to support this foundation of collectivism that public education institutions have been targeted as factories of making students ignorant instead of brilliant, because the goal is to train the masses to be unchallenging servants to the political rulers of the current age.  By “dumbing down” the masses through the education process, modern statists do not have to concern themselves with being smarter than their potential rivals for power, and seek to keep the masses at their back with stupidity—which is the ultimate failure of Bentham’s philosophic premise.  The needs of the many simply become a mob of ignorant souls under any political system—and nothing good comes of it in the long run.  Man-kind simply regresses.

So the answer to Bill’s question is that, YES, it is morally wrong to enforce the needs of the many at the expense of the few—because often it is the few, the exceptional, and the driven that create everything that the many enjoy.  When the few are penalized, tortured, and ran into the ground—sacrificed like offerings to the Mayan gods of the Yucatan Peninsula, then society will crumble completely and the needs of the many will grow as there will be nobody to provide substance to them—since they pillaged all value from society with their unchecked demands.

Rich Hoffman

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