Jeremy Bentham Proposing A Whipping Machine

This is proof that economists and utilitarians have kinky fantasies also. Here is Jeremy Bentham’s justification and idea for mass public mechanized whippings, courtesy of the industrial revolution, as described in his The Rationale Of Punishment:

Of all these different modes of punishment, whipping is the most frequently in use; but in whipping not even the qualities of the instrument are ascertained by written law: while the quantity of force to be employed in its application is altogether intrusted to the caprice of the executioner. He may make the punishment as trifling or as severe as he pleases.

The following contrivance would, in a measure, obviate this inconvenience:—A machine might be made, which should put in motion certain elastic rods of cane or whalebone, the number and size of which might be determined by the law: the body of the delinquent might be subjected to the strokes of these rods, and the force and rapidity with which they should be applied, might be prescribed by the Judge: thus everything which is arbitrary might be removed.

A public officer, of more responsible character than the common executioner, might preside over the infliction of the punishment; and when there were many delinquents to be punished, his time might be saved, and the terror of the scene heightened, without increasing the actual suffering, by increasing the number of the machines, and subjecting all the offenders to punishment at the same time .

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  1. janeyruth commented on February 24th, 2008:

    It’s fun to think of them as kinky, but they weren’t.

    Back then, not so very long ago, most people didn’t see the point of prison. Why pay for prisons? Makes no sense.

    They either executed you or flogged you. And the floggings hurtttttttttttt. Really hurt.

    Don’t believe me? Read about the public floggings in Saudi Arabia. Trust me. They aren’t kinky in the least.

  2. SpankBoss commented on February 24th, 2008:

    Janeyruth, I do believe you are responding to something I never said.

    This blog is subtitled “Adult Erotic Spanking At It’s Best.” Do you see pictures of Saudi Arabian floggings here? It would be easy, they are all over the web. Answer: No, you do not.

    My view is that there’s little eroticism to be found in real (as opposed to fantasy) judicial corporal punishment, whether modern or ancient. (There’s room for disagreement, but that’s my view and it’s my blog.) So, you don’t see much of it here. When you do see it here, there’s usually a point I’m trying to make.

    And in this case, that would be the point that you missed. I wasn’t saying Bentham’s whipping machine would have been erotic, had it been constructed and used; I wasn’t even saying that it would have been kinky, though that would be a much easier proposition to defend. (What happened at Abu Ghraib was deeply kinky, even if it was also the sort of crimes against humanity for which we used to hang Japanese and German officers.)

    No, what I said was that Bentham’s lovingly detailed, almost obsessive, prose on the construction and use of his whipping machine was “proof” (of course I was being facetious) that he had kinky fantasies, or was himself kinky. And that, actually, I think is a good argument and a point worth making. We see many examples in modern public life of pious discussion of vice, coming from secret practicioners of that same vice. (Gay U.S. Senators railing against homosexuals is the most common recent manifestation.)

    So, yeah, when we see a few paragraphs from an astonishingly famous utilitarian economist going into great detail about the virtues of a scientific spanking machine, I don’t think it’s absurd to wonder whether the device played a role in his erotic imagination, even if we could all agree (as, I suspect, Bentham himself would have) that there’d be nothing erotic about its deployment as an instrument of judicial punishment.

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