Principles of the Civil Code

Jeremy Bentham

Part 1

Objects of the Civil Law.

Chapter 3

Relation Between these Objects.

These four objects of the law appear very distinct to the mind, but they are much less so in practice. The same law may serve for several of them, because they are often united. What is done, for example, for the sake of security, may be done also for the sake of subsistence and abundance.

But there are circumstances in which it is not possible to reconcile these objects: hence a measure suggested by one of them will be condemned by another. Equality, for example, would require a certain distribution of property, which is incompatible with security.

When this contradiction exists between these objects, it is necessary to find some means of deciding which ought to have the pre-eminence; otherwise, instead of guiding us in our researches, their consideration will serve only to augment our confusion.

At the first glance it is perceived, that subsistence and security rise together to the same height: abundance and equality are manifestly of an inferior order. Indeed, without security, equality itself could not endure a single day. Without subsistence, abundance cannot exist. The two first ends are like life itself: the two last are the ornaments of life.

In legislation, the most important object is security. If no direct laws are made respecting subsistence, this object will be neglected by no one. But if there are no laws respecting security, it will be useless to have made laws respecting subsistence: command production---command cultivation; you will have done nothing: but secure to the cultivator the fruits of his labour, and you most probably have done enough.

Security, we have observed, has many branches: it is necessary that one branch of security should give way to another. For example, liberty, which is one branch of security, ought to yield to general security, since it is not possible to make any laws but at the expense of liberty.

It is not possible, then, to obtain the greatest good, but by the sacrifice of some subordinate good. In distinguishing among these objects, which, on each occasion, deserves the pre-eminence, consists the difficulty of the legislative art. Each one claims pre-eminence in turn, and it sometimes requires a complex calculation to determine to which the preference is due.

Equality ought not to be favoured, except in cases in which it does not injure security; where it does not disturb the expectations to which the laws have given birth; where it does not derange the actually established distribution.

If all property were to be equally divided, the certain and immediate consequence would be, that there would soon be nothing more to divide. Every thing would be speedily destroyed. Those who had hoped to be favoured by the division, would not suffer less than those at Whose expense it would be made. If the condition of the industrious were not better than the condition of the idle, there would be no reason for being industrious.

If the principle were established, that all men should possess equal rights, by a necessary train of consequences, all legislation would be rendered impossible. The laws never cease establishing inequalities, since they cannot bestow rights upon any, without imposing obligations upon others.

Declare that all men, that is, all the human race, have equal rights: there is an end of all subordination. The son has equal rights with his father; he has the same right to direct and to punish him; he has as much right in his father's house, as his father himself. The maniac has the same right to shut up others, as they have to shut up him. The idiot has the same right to govern his family, as his family have to govern him. All this is included in the equality of rights: it means all this, or it means nothing at all. It is true, those who have maintained this doctrine of the equality of rights, have neither been fools nor idiots. They had no intention of establishing this absolute equality: they had in their minds some restrictions, some modifications, some explanations. But if they knew not how to speak in a sensible and intelligible manner, was it possible that the blind and ignorant multitude should better understand what they did not understand themselves? And if they proclaimed independence, was it not too certain that they would be listened to?

[Back to:] [Forward to:] [Up to:]