Research Article

Benthamite Radicalism and its Scots Presbyterian Contexts


a1 Harvard University vwallace@wcfia.harvard.edu


This article argues that James Mill's immersion in Presbyterianism inspired an aversion to hierarchical government and a bias in favour of the Church of Scotland. These views are discernible in Bentham's Church-of-Englandism. Bentham argued for disestablishment on principle but, praising the Scottish Church as a ‘model of perfection’, omitted the Kirk from his church reform manifesto. His position on disestablishment, however, and his endorsement of Presbyterianism were aligned with a voluntaryist strain of Presbyterian ecclesiological theory; Presbyterian dissenters and Benthamite Radicals began to protest against the Kirk's established status. Underpinned significantly by Presbyterian tradition and laced with Benthamic influence, a radical voluntary campaign emerged in Scotland which sought to dismantle the old order and usher in a new era of political democracy and religious voluntaryism. Radicalism in Scotland was not solely characterized by the ‘programmatic atheism’ which J. C. D. Clark believes defined Benthamite ideology; Benthamism, it transpires, was not straightforwardly secularist.