Radical Heroes

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy BenthamJeremy Bentham (1748-1842) was the father of the philosophy of “utilitarianism” that sought to orient policy towards achieving the “greatest good for the greatest number”. To reform British thought, he created the “Philosophical Radicals”, a group of influential intellectuals who shaped political economy and philosophy for generations. Yet Bentham was as much a practical man as a philosopher and he also helped create a parliamentary “Radical” party that, while small, became the most important force for reform in British politics in the early twentieth century. With his fellow Radicals, he was a leading figure in the expansion of the franchise and the repeal of the “Corn Laws” that protected domestic landlords from foreign competition in food. He helped build the political power of Britain’s growing middle class that eventually allowed his radical ideas to take over the British Whig party and form the Liberal party that ruled Britain for much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and is the origin of the modern Liberal Democrats.