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E. M. S. Anno II n. 3 Settembre-Dicembre 2010 Ricerche/Articles

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Anno II, n. 3 – 2010

Storia e Politica

Rivista quadrimestrale

Università degli Studi di Palermo

Dipartimento di Studi Europei (D.E.M.S.)

Anno II n. 3 Settembre-Dicembre 2010

Marco E. L. Guidi

‘Public Respect’ vs. ‘Factitious Dignity’.

Emulation and Reputation

in Bentham’s Theory of Bureaucracy 481

Andrea Catanzaro

Metafore bizantine del tiranno:

Niceta Coniata e la "bestia" Andronico I Comneno 502
Arap El Ma’ani

Note su un manoscritto inedito

di Raphaël Zakhur (1759-1831).

Contributo alla storia della fortuna

del Principe di Machiavelli nel mondo arabo 525
Biagio Spoto

Clausewitz e la guerra contemporanea 542

Jesús Astigarraga

Hacienda pública y opinión pública:

La reforma fiscal de 1785,

sus publicistas y sus críticos 563

Studi e Interpretazioni/Studies and Interpretations
Manuela Girgenti

La società dell’incertezza:

la crisi della famiglia italiana

nell’era della globalizzazione 592

Note e discussioni/Notes and Discussions
Piero Barucci

La storia del liberismo italiano

di Antonio Cardini 620
Giuseppe Sciara

Recenti studi sul pensiero politico

di Benjamin Constant 630
Andrea Pitzalis

On the brink: between science and humanities.

considerations on

Richard Bronk’s The Romantic Economist 654

Rosanna Marsala

Luigi Sturzo: un uomo, un sacerdote, un politico

Riflessioni sul libro di Eugenio Guccione 660

G. Fiume, Schiavitù mediterranee (A. Raspanti); M. R. De Pol, The First Translations of Machiavelli’s Prince (C. Guccione); F. Proietti, Louis Blanc nel dibattito politico inglese (C.Giurintano); N. Dell’Erba, Giuseppe Mazzini (S. Berardi); U. Muratore, Rosmini per il Risorgimento (N. Carozza); AA. VV, Alcide De Gasperi (E. Guccione); R. De Monticelli, La questione morale (P. Russo); F. Sciacca (a cura di), La dimensione istituzionale europea (P. Russo); H. Wieshuber, Die Leitidee der Subsidiarität im europäischen Einigungswerk (M. Krienke) 666
Quarta di copertina/Back cover 684


Marco E. L. Guidi*

‘Public Respect’ vs. ‘Factitious Dignity’.

Emulation and Reputation in Bentham’s Theory of Bureaucracy

  1. 1. Introduction

The fact that people care about their relative position in society and the social rewards deriving from status is known since the Antiquity. The ancient moral and political literature is rich of discussions about the virtuous and vicious ways of pursuing status, honour or dignity, a discourse that mirrored the typical concerns of people living in hierarchical societies.

One of the rules of action that individuals could adopt to obtain these goals was known as ‘emulation’. The meaning of this term is still captured by the Oxford Dictionary’s definition (‘the desire or endeavour to equal or surpass others in some achievement or quality’), provided that we attribute to this endeavour a specific social meaning; the goal of emulation is to obtain some kind of social reward, to be admired, respected, honoured by others, and above all to ascend in the social hierarchy. In Aristotle’s own words, ‘emulation’ is ‘a feeling of pain at the evident presence of highly valued goods, which are possible for us to obtain, in the possession of those who naturally resemble us’. The latter remark was unambiguous in Aristotle’s conception of society, since it implied that this ‘rat race’ (Cole et al. 1992: 1116) should be limited to people of the same rank, and should not threaten the social order. With this limitation, Aristotle pointed out that ‘emulation [...] is virtuous and characteristic of virtuous men’, since a man ‘owing to emulation, fits himself to obtain such goods’ (Aristotle 1991: 1388a and 1388b). This activating effect of emulation had been noticed, before Aristotle, by Hesiod, who in Works and Days saw in it a direct cause of the welfare of a well-ordered community:
She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbour, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbour vies with his neighbour as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men’ (Hesiod 1978: 11-24).
It was this mixture of positional goals, activating effect, and socially beneficial consequences that attracted the attention of the founder of modern political economy. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith argued that it is social status that we pursue when we accumulate wealth:
It is because mankind are disposed to sympathize more entirely with our joy than with our sorrow, that we make parade of our riches, and conceal our poverty […]. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty (Smith 1759: 50).
And he went on:
From whence, then, arises that emulation which runs through all the different ranks of men, and what are the advantages which we propose by that great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition? To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which we can propose to derive from it. It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us (ibid.: 50).
More than a century later, Thorstein Veblen (1899) critically analysed modern capitalistic society, highlighting the role played in it by emulation among the members of the upper classes.

In recent years some economists have rediscovered the economic consequences of nonmarket decisions aiming at social rewards and emulation, highlighting the function of concerns about social status in prompting effort, saving, investment and innovation, research, choices concerning educational standards, etc. Through its influence on these variables, emulation has a strong impact on growth, and the comparative intensity of social rewards can explain different rates of development in different areas of the world (Cole et al. 1992; Fershtman et al. 1996; Weiss and Fershtman 1998; Corneo and Jeanne 1999a; 1999b; 2001).

Among the quasi-contemporaries of Smith, Jeremy Bentham examined the mechanism of emulation from a different perspective, that of the management of hierarchical organisations, and especially of public institutions. In his early works on punishment and reward, Bentham suggested the use of social rewards and emulation as means to encourage the productivity of civil service members1.

This study of emulation is part and parcel of a broader framework of analysis developed by Bentham in his early legal works. As I have shown in other papers (Guidi 2002, 2004, 2008, 2010) many arguments contained in these works amount to what can be described as an utilitarian political economy of the legislator, aiming at maximising the social efficiency of laws, political and administrative institutions. This economic analysis is based on the principle of union of interest and duty, a principle that examines political relationships and political decision as cases of a principal-agent logic, and suggests the use of punishment and reward as means to minimise the effects of adverse selection and adverse incentive and increase the productivity of civil servants.

The aim of this paper is to explore Bentham’s ‘economic’ analysis of emulation as an instrument of public economy and public management. This exploration promises to provide useful insights into the problems of constitutional and administrative reform by showing on the one hand the method that utilitarianism suggests for action in this area, and, on the other hand, the usefulness of leveraging social rewards in order to produce efficiency.

The case of Bentham’s analysis of emulation is interesting for a further reason. In the course of years, Bentham became increasingly sceptical about the use of emulation. In his late moral and political works he saw in the contest for honour, dignity and status a dangerous mechanism that could generate abuses, mismanagement and corruption. However, he still admitted that the pleasures and pains of the ‘popular or moral sanction’ were a structural and indispensable element of human motivation. In his theory of representative democracy Bentham suggested to replace competition for ‘factitious dignity’ with the love of reputation (or ‘general respect’) as a motive that should animate the representatives of the people and civil servants. The search for reputation could stimulate their efficiency and strengthen their ‘moral aptitude’, avoiding corruption and preventing aristocracies. A second aim of this paper is to study this revision that can be interpreted as a key historical turn from a focus on hierarchical social rewards to another on more horizontal and democratic ones.

As to the division of the paper, section 2 examines Bentham’s analysis of emulation in his early legal writings, and section 3 studies Bentham’s revision of his earlier views in the political and legal writings of his maturity. The conclusions are quite unconventional: while briefly indicating the perspectives disclosed by Bentham’s analysis of the role of social rewards in public management, they expand the reflexion by suggesting a comparison between Bentham’s and Mill’s views of democracy that may reveal some limits of the arguments advanced by the founder of classical utilitarianism.

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