philosophical radicals

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philosophical radicals is a loose term for the group of reformers in the early 19th cent. who based their approach to government and society largely on the utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham, though they were also influenced by Malthus, Ricardo, and Hartley. The leading proponents were James and John Stuart Mill, George Grote, and John Roebuck, supported by the Morning Chronicle, Westminster Review, and London Review. Their immediate objectives were an extension of the franchise, frequent parliaments, secret ballot, law reform, and the dismantling of the system of aristocratic government. Their efforts to construct a radical party in Parliament after 1832 did not succeed: ‘they did very little to promote any opinions,’ wrote J. S. Mill, ‘they had little enterprise, little activity.’ But the general influence of utilitarian ideas permeated politics and, particularly in the period 1820 to 1850, produced an ‘age of reform’. The term ‘philosophical radicals’ was popularized by J. S. Mill in his Autobiography (1873) and introduced into history by the French historian Halévy in The Growth of Philosophical Radicalism (1904; trans. 1928).

J. A. Cannon