Jeremy Bentham and Australia – A Speech to the NSW Humanists

Chrys SpeechOn Friday, 20 June, I had the great privilege of speaking at the Humanist Society of NSW symposium on the Enlightenment and the Roots of Humanism. The event was hosted by Greens MP Adam Bandt in the Macquarie Room at Parliament House, Sydney.

Also on the program were president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, well known humanist author, David Tribe, , Emeritus Professor Frank Stillwell, Unitarian Minister, Ian Ellis-Jones and treasurer of the Humanist Society of NSW, Dr Victor Bien.

My speech focused on 18th century Enlightenment philosopher and law reformer, Jeremy Bentham and his influence on Australia’s government, law, public institutions, history and national identity.

Although Jeremy Bentham never set foot in Australia his influence suffuses almost every aspect of Australian public life. In the speech I argue that far from Christianity being the dominant influence in the development of Australia, it is Jeremy Bentham who has most shaped our history, our constitution, our government, public institutions, even the way we shop! We are not a Christian nation, we are a Benthamite society.

The speech was recorded and you can watch it here.  Later, when I have more time I will finish hyperlinking the transcript of the speech and have it published.

A fully referenced transcript of the speech is online here.

If you are fascinated by Jeremy Bentham, you might also enjoy this song:  Jeremy Bentham’s Head

Jeremy Bentham Auto Icon

Jeremy Bentham

 Chrys Stevenson

6 thoughts on “Jeremy Bentham and Australia – A Speech to the NSW Humanists

  1. Susan

    No hyperlink to your transcript but I did enjoy the song, it intrigued me and I have read Jeremy’s wiki page but must get off to work now. I had never heard of him before today. The auto-icon is a fascinating idea and the virtual one makes Jeremy accessible to all. I think he may go on my wall of legends, that I have in my loo.

  2. Glen Mcbride

    Perhaps we can enrol you as a Humanist instead of an atheist- Humanists are a positive force – or can be – atheists are fighting last year’s battles that will always need fighting until the losers lie down as they should Cheerily Glen ________________________________________

  3. Babette Smith

    I agree that Australia is not a Christian country. Nothing to do with Jeremy Bentham however. The origins lie earlier in the convict era whose people had no illusions about religion – many had been committed for trial by clergymen. They were frequent victims of hypocrisy from those who called themselves Christian. Others, who were Irish Catholics, had been forced to pay tithes to Church of English clergymen. Governor Bourke’s Church Act 1836 successfully established equality of religion in Australia which was reinforced by the Constitution at the turn of the century (see s.116). Although an influx of Christian migrants AFTER 1850 did create a Christian community which lasted a century, it was shallow and never took root because of what had preceded it. When researching, it pays to examine what happened BEFORE 1850.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Babette – the Bentham speech explains why we are a Benthamite society. Australian history is comprised of many strands. The historian Paul Carter encourages us to think of it as a matrix – with each individual’s and individual group’s interpretation layered one on top of the other to provide a three-dimensional whole. If you read my chapter on the history of atheism in Australia in Warren Bonnett’s (2010) The Australian Book of Atheism you will see I have covered much of the territory you accuse me of neglecting there. You can only do so much in a 20 minute speech!


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