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Commemorating PeterlooViolence, Resilience, and Claim-making during the Romantic Era$
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Michael Demson and Regina Hewitt

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474428569

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474428569.001.0001

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‘Reform or Convulsion’: Jeremy Bentham and the Peterloo Massacre

‘Reform or Convulsion’: Jeremy Bentham and the Peterloo Massacre

(p.229) Chapter 10 ‘Reform or Convulsion’: Jeremy Bentham and the Peterloo Massacre
Commemorating Peterloo

Victoria Myers

Edinburgh University Press

By 1819, Jeremy Bentham was fully aware that the law courts' entrenched practices, perverting and denying justice, were countenanced by parliamentary inaction and required not only law reform but reform of parliament itself - pushing the nation's choice to one between 'reform or convulsion'. This chapter demonstrates Bentham's understanding that, despite all the attention given to popular resistance and uprising, several sorts of violence dominated the British judicial and parliamentary system: violence-promoting language such as legal fictions, 'sinister interest' motivating corruption, as well as legalized violence through punishment. Bentham showed that, those with authority pursued sinister interests by taking the opportunities afforded by natural desires and the situations created by the system. The chapter argues that, through application of his utility principle and through ridicule (his rhetorical counter-violence), Bentham revealed systemic violence, undercut the fallacious and fiction-dependent arguments upholding the system, and challenged legal and parliamentary authority.

Keywords:   Bentham, Jeremy, violence, law reform, parliamentary reform, Peterloo, legal fictions, sinister interest, violence, authority, utility

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