Will Russia Bury Vladimir Lenin? Time to Bury Dead Troublemakers
I say bury Lenin. I also say bury Bentham. Time to bury their ideological errors with them
Lenin thought the natural law was nothing but the prejudice of the bourgeoisie. Bentham thought it was nothing but nonsense and nonsense on stilts. Whatever the reason, it's still the same: no natural moral law. That sort of thinking leads to moral and political mischief. For Lenin and Bentham, it was not God that was the measure of all things. It was man that was the measure of all things.
The embalmed body of Lenin lies in state
This political heresiarch has been placed in a glass coffin in a mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square since 1924 after his body was embalmed. He has not survived entirely unscathed, as portions of his buttocks were blown off by a bomb set off by some anti-Lenin vandals in 2009. So if Lenin gets put into the ground, it will be sans a portion of his buttocks.
While we are thinking of burying embalming political mischiefmakers, then we ought to look at one of our own, or one almost our own. In the University College in London there can be found a polished wood-and-glass cabinet within which one can find the sitting body of the political philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham. The embalmed corpse is fully clothed, with grey breeches, black overcoat, walking stick, and straw hat. The school apparently wheels him out to board meetings-a condition of Mr. Bentham's will and his bequest.
Alas, however, the head is apparently a wax effigy, as his real head did not do well during the embalming process, and it is stored elsewhere, safe from the pranks of students.
This philosopher-jurist, brilliant as he was, was brilliantly wrong. Bentham was a strong advocate of moral utilitarianism, a doctrine which holds that there are no absolute moral laws; rather, everything is negotiable. Right and wrong are not based upon right and wrong, but upon weighing the relative costs and benefits of an act. As he famously put it in the preface to his A Fragment on Government, right-that is the measure of morals, law, politics, society, even religion-was based simply on "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
With respect to human law, Bentham was an advocate of legal positivism, which meant that the sphere of morals and the sphere of human positive laws were as far as East was to West and never the twain should meet. Moreover, all law was a creature of the State, and there was no such thing as a higher law, including any notion of a natural law. The State was the giver of rights.
Not only was Bentham a proponent of legal positivism and an enemy of the natural moral law, he was absolutely full of vitriol in his attacks. His invective against the natural law was (and is) notorious. We might call him the natural law's Voltaire. It is not an exaggeration to say that with respect to the natural law, Bentham's motto was écrasez l'infâme, wipe out the infamy!
Bentham called the natural law a product of fancy, indeed "nonsense," and the suggestion that there were natural rights that might be built on the natural law he called "nonsense on stilts." For Bentham, the natural law reasoning was but a "labyrinth of confusion." It was not really thought at all, but simply prejudice or metaphysical speculation, pipe dreams parading as reason. Such nice things did Bentham have to say about natural law and natural right in his A Comment on the Commentaries and a Fragment on Government.
He also referred to the natural law and natural right--especially as contained in the French Declaration of Rights--as nothing but "bawling on paper." (And here he may have been accidentally right, since the concept of right underlying this document is nothing close to the classical and Catholic notion.)
But he went further than just criticizing the French Revolution and its philosophy. He declaimed any theory of natural law and any theory of natural right. Bentham's animosity towards the natural law obviously included the Catholic Church's notion of the natural law, which is central to its moral teachings.
In his Anarchical Fantasies (originally entitled "Pestilential Nonsense Unmasked") he again insisted that natural law and natural right are nothing but a human fabrication. Natural rights are but "imaginary rights," "simple nonsense." To suggest, moreover, that there were such things as "imprescriptable rights," or unalienable rights (such as the Declaration of Independence held), was "nonsense on stilts."
Those who go about talking about such things "know not of what they are talking," Bentham pontificated. Presumably, that included the Pope and all of Christ's faithful.
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