Critical Assessment

In an essay titled Anarchical fallacies, Bentham philosophically and politically attacked the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen that was adopted by the French National Assembly in 1789. He criticized the natural human rights and termed them as imagery fictions. He claimed that natural rights never existed and were just a fallacy. His frame of argument implied that rights never just existed unless otherwise proven. One of the positions of the declaration that implied that men were born free, was termed as absurd and miserable nonsense. Instead, he believed that men were born with several responsibilities such as family, social position and bonds to slavery.

According to Bentham, the rich and the poor were never the same and did not have equal rights. In his arguments, Bentham went ahead to claim that without law and government, there would be no rights because there would be much insecurity.

Finally, Bentham argued that the concept of a social contract was nothing but a fallacy. According to him, all societies were created and managed through force. Apart from the contents of the Declaration, Bentham went ahead to criticize even the drafting itself. He termed the declaration as an abuse of words that led to confusion due to the ambiguities and contradictions it contained.

According to Twining, Bentham pointed out that rights were anarchical owing to the reason that they favored resistance to oppression by the people. It could be argued that he was right because shortly after the declaration, a massive revolution was witnessed in France.

Bentham may have appeared hard in his criticism of the Declaration, however, there are some fundamental issues that he raised. His claim that there could never be rights without the law has been supported by some of his attackers such as Bedau. Bedau reformulated some of the clauses of the declaration to the effect that a person had a given right in the society only if there was a particular law that assured him/her of that right.

The utilitarian stand that was taken by Bentham does not work in the modern society in that it does not express the value of human and hence cannot safeguard humanity. The utilitarian view of human in terms of the society does not give value to individuals as separate beings. If people are seen as separate beings, then it could be necessary infringe one person’s right for the well-being of the other people. Bentham played a crucial role in creating a fresh perspective through his attack on the natural sources of rights, even though he neglected the human sources of rights.