of the useful things done by the late Michel Foucault
was to remind us of what a looney Jeremy Bentham was.
He did this by setting up Bentham's screwball plans
for a "panopticon" prison, as a central
metaphor in his Birth
of the Prison. This pretty much exhausts my
interest in Foucault, and we may proceed now to Bentham.
Bentham (1748-1832) is remembered as a founder of
utilitarianism, as an economist of some note, and
as a would-be social reformer. The two most scathing
essays on Bentham and his work are by Gertrude Himmelfarb
and the late Murray Rothbard.(1)
There is not much to be said in Bentham's favor, once
you have read these two pieces.
staying focused I zero in on Bentham's
projected reforms in British prison and pauper management.
Briefly, Bentham wanted Parliament to entrust the
care of felons, the poor, and the idle to a state-chartered,
profit-making mercantilist company to be run
by Jeremy Bentham. Leaving the poor to one side, it
is the proposed prison, or Panopticon, which seems
most pertinent today.
model was to consist of cells ranged along the perimeter
of a circle. Each inmate was isolated from the others
and could see nothing which the warders did not want
him to see. The warders could see every prisoner at
all times from their position in the center. Even
church services were to be conducted from the center
by means of speaking tubes.
modified his plan from time to time, but never could
convince Parliament to approve it. Edmund Burke, no
friend of radical, rationalistic innovations, referred
to Bentham as "the spider in the web." Like
Bentham, he saw that the point of the whole thing
was total surveillance. Unlike Bentham, Burke
believed in some of the traditional protections of
English law, which however much they might inconvenience
spies, warders, and jailers, existed for very good
correspondent in Australia tells me that a Panopticon-style
prison was actually set up at Port Arthur in Tasmania.
Naturally, it was called The Model Prison. The prisoners
all went mad. Go figure.
GANG RETURNS TO WATCH OVER US
we find ourselves subject to rule by people who
have as little interest in the protections of English
law as did Jeremy Bentham. Many details are found
in a very good book by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence
M. Stratton.(2) In the present crisis,
emergency, barbecue, whatever it is, we see the Godzilla
of the perfected liberal-democratic soft police state
rising from the ocean and striding up the beach.
is a lot scarier, in the end, than a few bedouins
who have taken courses in chemistry, pyrotechnics,
and ballistics. They may be a problem, to be sure,
but they don't live here yet
and they are in no position to shred the first ten
amendments to that laughable old document from time
out of mind. The people who are in such a position
do live here and they have very big plans.
shall not go over those plans in detail. We have heard
quite enough about the Homeland Sicherheits-Office
and good old DARPA, with its panoptical eye-in-the-pyramid
emblem, which looks as if it were deliberately designed
to push conspiracy theorists over the edge.
have characterized the rising Godzilla as a liberal-democratic
soft police state. How can that be? Well, lip-service
is still paid to equality, social justice, and other
modern liberal concerns, and as long as elections
are still held, the system is by definition democratic.
So there they are: welfare and meaningless elections
the great pillars of our freedom and independence.
such a happy democracy, what could it matter that
everyone and everything will be brought under constant
and thorough surveillance?
NICEST PEOPLE DO IT
interesting essay by Peter Holquist sketches out the
Bolsheviks' philosophy of surveillance.(3)
I know there are not any Bolsheviks in the
present administration, yet, but bear with
me. Anyway, the original Bolshies wanted to have lots
and lots of bits of information about everything.
They were especially interested in finding out what
with total information, they could build "a better,
purer society." The "whole purpose was to
act on people, to change them." The Bolsheviks
did more of this than some other regimes, and with
characteristic brutality (as needed), but the main
reason for that, Holquist believes, is that they were
committed to "the modern if surreal project of
realizing socialism in practice."(4)
was, however, little that was unique about the Soviets'
interest in surveillance as such. Surveillance, and
as much of it as possible, reflects instead "a
shift from a territorial concept to a governmental
one. A governmental state seeks to manage populations,
not just to rule territories."(5)
longer were there countries with people living in
them. Peoples were now "populations" and,
therefore, objects to be studied, manipulated,
and remolded to fit various high ideals although
a cynic would say it was to suit the purposes of particularly
ambitious ruling classes. Of course we are not cynics
fulfill the promise of all this good work, the state
needed censuses, statistics, and monthly reports from
every district on what people were thinking. The old
regimes in Europe had been happy to "police"
society, that is, to keep order. Under the new regimes,
"surveillance, as part of the governmental project,
sought to transform it."(6)
AND REMODELING THE SOVEREIGN STOOGES
when, exactly, did states feel the need to do so much
good, and when did they develop the tools wherewith
to do it? Not too suprisingly, Holquist refers us
to a bottomless source of evil: "The First World
War was the matrix within which states nurtured their
own particular aspirations and developed the mechanisms
to realize them."(7)
claiming justification in the operationally idle notion
of popular sovereignty, states determined to reinvent
peoples so as to make them worthy of their appointed
role in the farce. Like Rousseau, states would "force
people to be free," while reserving the right
to define freedom, along with the individual character
traits it entailed.
aspirations progressive bureaucrats and neurasthenic
dreamers had about social reconstruction, it was the
First European Suicide Attempt, 1914-1918, which made
the project feasible. Holquist writes that the war
brought into being "a particular type of modern
governmental politics in the form of the national
security state." Worse luck, the new-model states
"did not pass from war to peace, but from war
to preparation for future wars." Someone should
mention this to Jay Winik, the next time he tells
us that the present emergency measures will wither
away, as soon as the present emergency is over.
states began using wartime controls and methods of
surveillance as means of peacetime governing. The
overpraised and sainted Weimar Republic, for example,
was one such state. Over here, we got our first real
taste of peacetime war-government after 1932; it was
called the New Deal.
course it may be that there is nothing wrong with
governments that want to remold their peoples through
total surveillance and other modern notions. After
all, forty some percent of us elect five hundred rascals
and one Supreme Generalissimo, every so often. They
then pass our deepest desires along to several million
unelected functionaries and subaltern clerks, who
provide for the general happiness in complex and unfathomable
ways. How could you improve on such a perfected system?
is, I suppose, the minor problem that the unelected
functionaries, military and civil, share an ideology
according to which we do indeed require a great deal
of reconstructing and new-modeling to make us fit
to live in their country. There is the further problem
that if they are allowed to seize even more irresponsible
power than they had before, including total surveillance
of the worldwide, spherical globe and everything contained
therein, they might use that power.
mustn't worry about such things: the heroically anti-government
Republicans are in power! An English Liberal once
wrote a book called The
Good Want Power. I never got past the title;
I got stuck on whether the good lacked power or just
plain wanted power. Professor Paul Gottfried's
books go a long way toward answering such questions.
folks don't mind being spied on, I guess. They have
nothing to hide. Hence the following dialogue:
Hey, what're you doin' there, boy? You an evil-doer?
I'm just standing.
You better come with us. Standin' fits the profile.
Good always want power. Best not to give it to them.
We gave them World War I. We can't possibly owe them
anything after that.
Minds (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968),
Chap. 2, "The Haunted House of Jeremy Bentham,"
pp. 32-81; Murray N. Rothbard, Classical
Economics (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar,
1995), pp. 49-68.
Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton, The
Tyranny of Good Intentions (Roseville, CA:
Holquist, "'Information Is the Alpha and Omega
of Our Work': Bolshevik Surveillance in Its Pan-European
Context," Journal of Modern History,
69: 3 (September 1997), pp. 415-450.
pp. 417, 426.