Principles of the Civil Code

Jeremy Bentham

Part 1

Objects of the Civil Law.

Chapter 5

Of Laws Relative to Abundance.

Shall laws be made, directing individuals not to be contented with subsistence alone, but to seek abundance? No: this would be a superfluous employment of artificial means, when the natural means are sufficient. The attractions of pleasure, the succession of wants, the active desire of adding to our happiness, will, under the safeguard of security, incessantly produce new efforts after new acquisitions. Wants and enjoyments, these universal agents in society, after having raised the first ears of corn, will by degrees erect the granaries of abundance, always increasing and always fall. Desires extend themselves with the means of gratification; the horizon is enlarged in proportion as we advance; and each new want, equally accompanied by its pleasure and its pain, becomes a new principle of action. Opulence, which is only a comparative term, does not arrest this movement when once it is begun: on the contrary, the greater the means, the greater the field of operations, the greater the reward, and, consequently, the greater the force of the motive which actuates the mind. But in what does the wealth of society consist, if not in the total of the wealth Of the individuals composing it? And what more is required than the force of these natural motives for carrying the increase of wealth to the highest possible degree?

We have seen that abundance is produced by degrees, by the continued operation of the same causes which bad provided for subsistence: there is no opposition between these two objects. On the other hand, the greater the abundance, the more secure is subsistence. Those who have condemned abundance, under the name of luxury, have never understood this connexion.

Famines, wars, accidents of every kind, so often attack the resources of subsistence, that a society which has no superfluity would often be exposed to want necessaries. This is seen among savage nations: it is what has often been witnessed among all nations in the time of their ancient poverty; it is what has happened in our own days, in countries but little favoured by nature, such as Sweden, and in those countries in which the government has opposed the operations of commerce instead of protecting them;---whilst those countries in which luxury abounds, and where the governments are enlightened, are beyond the reach of famine. Such is the happy situation of England, where commerce is free. The gewgaw, useless in itself, obtains a value in exchange for necessaries; the manufactories of luxury are offices of insurance against want: the materials used in a brewery or a manufactory of starch, may be converted into a source of subsistence. How often has the keeping of dogs and horses been decried, as destroying the food of men! The profound politicians who would put down these expenses, do not rise one degree above those apostles of disinterestedness, who, for the purpose of producing abundance of corn, set fire to the granaries,

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