Principles of the Civil Code

Jeremy Bentham

Part 1

Objects of the Civil Law.

Chapter 12

Security and Equality---Means of Reconciliation.

Must there, therefore, be constant opposition, an eternal war between the two rivals, Security and Equality? Up to a certain point they are incompatible, but with a little patience and skill they may be brought by degrees to coincide.

Time is the only mediator between these contrary interests. Would you follow the counsels of equality without contravening those of security, wait for the natural period which puts an end to hopes and fears---the period of death.

When property is vacated by the death of the proprietors, the law may intervene in the distribution to be made, either by limiting in certain respects the power of disposing of it by will, with the design of preventing too great an accumulation of property in the hands of a single person, or by making the right of succession subservient to the purposes of equality, in case the deceased should not leave a husband, or wife, or relations, in the direct line, and should not have made use of his power of disposing of it by will. It passes then to new possessors, whose expectations are not formed, and equality may produce good to all, without deceiving the expectations of any. The principle only is indicated here: it will be more largely developed in the second Book.

When it regards the correction of a species of civil inequality such as slavery, the same attention ought to be paid to the rights of property; the operation should be gradual, and the subordinate object should be pursued without sacrificing the principal object. The men whom you would render free by these gradations, will be much more fitted for its enjoyment, than if you had led them to trample justice under foot, in order to introduce them to this new social condition.

We may observe, that in a nation which prospers by agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, there is a continual progress towards equality. If the laws do not oppose it---if they do not maintain monopolies---if they do not restrain trade and its exchanges---if they do not permit entails---large properties will be seen, without effort, without revolutions, without shock, to subdivide themselves by little and little, and a much greater number of individuals will participate in the advantage of moderate fortunes. This will be the natural result of the different habits formed by opulence and poverty. The first, prodigal and vain, seeks only to enjoy without creating: the second, accustomed to obscurity and to privations, finds its pleasures in its labours and its economy. From this arises the change which is going on in Europe, from the progress of arts and commerce, notwithstanding the obstacles of the laws. The ages of feudality are not long since passed by, in which the world was divided into two classes---a few great proprietors who were every thing, and a multitude of slaves who were nothing. These lofty pyramids have disappeared or have been lowered, and their debris has been spread abroad: industrious men have formed new establishments, of which the infinite number proves the comparative happiness of modern civilization. Hence we may conclude, that security, by preserving its rank as the supreme principle, indirectly conducts to the establishment of equality; whilst this latter, if taken as the basis of the social arrangement, would destroy security in establishing itself.

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