Jeremy Bentham: Pauperism, Colonialism, and Imperialism

Jeremy Bentham: Pauperism, Colonialism, and Imperialism

By Barbara Arneil, University of British Columbia

Using two recently published folios by Jeremy Bentham, I draw out a fundamental but little-analyzed connection between pauperism and both domestic and settler colonialism in opposition to imperialism in his thought. The core theoretical contribution of this article is to draw a distinction between a colonial, internal, and productive form of power that claims to improve people and land from within, which Bentham defends, and an imperial, external, and repressive form of power that dominates or rules over people from above and afar, that he rejects. Inherent in colonialism and the power unleashed by it are specific and profoundly negative implications in practice for the poor and disabled of Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries subject to domestic colonialism and indigenous peoples subject to settler colonialism from first contact until today. I conclude Bentham is best understood as a pro-colonialist and anti-imperialist thinker.