Rights, Representation, and Reform - Nonsense upon Stilts and Other Writings on the French Revolution
eds. Philip Schofield, Catherine Pease-Watkin and Cyprian Blamires (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002) pp. lxviii, 486.
This volume consists of writings inspired, like Political Tactics, by events in France. Two long essays and two shorter ones, in French, were written in the early days of the Revolution. `France', written before the opening of the Estates-General, deals, among other things, with the relation between the King and the Estates-General, the freedom of the press, and certain rules of procedure to be observed at the opening of a session of the Estates.
In November 1788 Jacques Necker presented a series of questions, concerning the forthcoming elections to the Estates-General, to the Assembly of the Notables. For the most part Necker's questions dealt with the qualifications to be required of both elector and elected in each of the three orders. Bentham's essay 'Considérations d'un Anglois sur la composition des États-Généraux' consists of his own detailed answers to almost all of these questions.
Of the two shorter French essays, one is Bentham's response, entitled `Observations d'un Anglois sur un écrit intitulé Arrêté de la Noblesse de Bretagne', to a statement issued by the Breton nobility in November 1788 in support of the 1614 constitution of the Estates-General. The other is a brief commentary on a document published in July 1789 by Clermont-Tonnerre, containing a list of constitutional principles which had been extracted from the cahiers de doléance submitted to the Estates-General.
The volume contains a number of previously unpublished essays in English. Amongst these are 'On the necessity of an omnipotent legislature', which criticises the provision inserted in the French Constitution of 1791 prohibiting any changes in the constitution for ten years, and Bentham's own proposals for a new constitution entitled 'Projet for a French Constitutional Code'.
The volume is completed by one of Bentham's earliest anti-colonial essays, Emancipate Your Colonies!, and the famous attack on the French Declaration of Rights, hitherto known as 'Anarchical Fallacies', but to be published here under Bentham's own title 'Nonsense upon Stilts'.
Catherine Pease-Watkin and Philip Schofield
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