By Tim Causer, on 29 April 2015
My esteemed special constables,
I am delighted to report that we now have a corrected transcript of the complete text of Bentham’s Police Bill, and that work on editing it has commenced. Between ourselves, it’s not JB at his most fluent, but, given his laceration of the drafting of legislation previous to his entry upon the task, it is fascinating to see him attempting to instill the virtues of cognoscibility and clarity without making such revolutionary changes to the rules of Parliamentary draughtsmanship that the people he needs to convince will simply not recognize it as a draft Bill.
Even when limited by these constraints, Bentham reveals some aspects of his thought which are currently causing some ripple in the Bentham studies pond. Thus, one interesting question concerns the degree to which Bentham seeks to manipulate public opinion rather than convince it by strict rational argumentation. Here he is at UC cl. 279v (or JB/150/279/002 as is on TB) transcribed by volunteer Mary Foutz, musing on the possibility that the Police Gazette envisaged by the Bill, a government publication disseminating information on the incidence of crime and the pursuit of offenders, a sort of ‘Crime Watch monthly’, might also help with the unconscious formation of opinion. The emphasis is added:
‘But the sort of Sermon which might be practised, and practised without ceasing in the Police Gazette, this unannounced and unsuspected Sermon, cautiously, sparingly, and in a manner imperceptibly though at the same time unremittingly insinuated into a publication composed principally and to appearance exclusively of that sort of matter which, so long as man is man, can never lose or so much as relax its hold upon the affections—especially of those otherwise untutored minds, for whose direction it is more especially designed—there would be neither end nor limit to its influence.’
‘Unannounced and unsuspected’, ‘imperceptibly’, ‘insinuated’? Definitely issues for ‘Transparency Bentham’ there.
I have now begun checking the transcripts for Bentham’s ‘Observations’ on the Bill, in which I hope the lifting of the stylistic constraints mentioned above will liberate his pen. The signs are encouraging: already (UC cl. 434, or JB/150/434/001 as is on TB , transcribed by volunteer Keith Thompson) Bentham has contrasted ‘abstract utility’ with ‘precedent’, which got me quite excited (sad, I know!). Keep up the good work!