James Mill the Lenin to Bentham's Marx?

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    Dr Murphy,

    In the lesson on Malthus and James Mill, you said that Mill was a more systematic thinker than Bentham and did a lot to clarify and put into order the thought of Bentham, while taking very little credit for himself. You then summarise that as Mill being like the Lenin to Bentham’s Marx.

    I don’t understand where you’re going with that analogy. At first I thought you had misspoken and meant Engels instead of Lenin, but then you repeated this comparison later in that same lecture.


    Hi Jon,

    I’d like to review exactly what I said before answering you. If you can easily find them, can you give me the time stamps when I said this? But if it would be a pain, don’t worry about it, I can find them too.

    (Either way, I’m about to go to Europe for a week; I can give you an answer when I get back.)


    Starts at around 15:30.


    Hi Jon,

    Sorry for the delay…have been traveling a lot.

    Rothbard in his history of economic thought (Part II) refers to James Mill as a Lenin in search of his Marx; he picks both Bentham and Ricardo for this role. Starts at page 71 here: https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Austrian%20Perspective%20on%20the%20History%20of%20Economic%20Thought_Vol_2_2.pdf

    3.1 James Mill, the radicals’ Lenin
    James Mill (1771-1836) was surely one of the most fascinating figures in the
    history of economic thought. And yet he is among the most neglected. Mill was
    perhaps one of the first persons in modern times who might be considered a
    true ‘cadre man’, someone who in the Leninist movement of the next century
    would have been hailed as a ‘real Bolshevik’. Indeed, he was the Lenin of the
    radicals, creating and forging philosophical radical theory and the entire philosophical radical movement. A brilliant and creative but an insistently Number 2
    man, Mill began as a Lenin seeking his Marx. In fact, he simultaneously found
    two ‘Marxes’, Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo. He met both at about the
    same time, at the age of 35, Bentham in 1808 and Ricardo around the same
    date. Bentham became Mill’s philosophic Marx, from whom Mill acquired his
    utilitarian philosophy and passed it on to Ricardo and to economics generally.
    But it has been largely overlooked that Mill functioned creatively in his relationship
    with Bentham, persuading the older man, formerly a Tory, that
    Benthamite utilitarianism implied a political system of radical democracy.
    David Ricardo (1772-1823) was an unsophisticated, young, but retired wealthy
    stockbroker (actually bond dealer) with a keen interest in monetary matters; but
    Mill perceived and developed Ricardo as his ‘Marx’ in economics.

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