Many historians of Australian political thought have attributed its pragmatic and anti-speculative tendencies to a Benthamite influence. Without denying the influence of Bentham and Benthamism on Australian thought and institutional development, this article challenges the assumption that the abovementioned tendencies necessarily betray a Benthamite heritage. By analysing the theoretical justifications for pragmatic, anti-speculative approaches to institutional design in the Federation debates (1890–1898), this article shows that there was a very strong Burkean impulse behind the sort of pragmatism that is usually attributed to Bentham. If the argument of this article is correct, then it is an invitation for historians and political scientists to reconsider significantly the nature of Australian political thought.
- Edmund Burke