Benthamism, Laissez-faire and Interventionism
BENTHAM and his Utilitarian disciples are close to the centre of much of the current controversy about laissez-faire and state intervention in nineteenth-century England. To the economic historian this preoccupation with Bentham may seem somewhat excessive. It derives in part from the influential writing of A. V. Dicey, who identified Benthamism firmly with individualism and therefore was led to refer to the period of so-called Benthamite dominance between 1825 and 1875 as the age of laissez- faire.40 For the economic historian, however, the idea of an age of laissez-faire does not finally rest upon a judgement of the validity of Dicey’s analysis, nor upon an assessment of Bentham himself and of the contribution which he and his followers made to the development of economic and social policy in mid-nineteenthcentury England.
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