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The Liberal Project

Political Science
Course Code
Jeffrey Kopstein

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September 20
The liberal project
Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns”
Constant and the Rise of Liberalism
Bemjamin Constant (1767-1830)
-swiss born, French intellectual and politician
-fervent liberal
-context; French Revolution and its aftermath
-Question: how should free people govern themselves
Model Rejected (Athenian Democracy)
Liberty of ancients:
-Participatory (time intensive)
-Direct (non-representative governments)
-“public” not “private liberty”
-Freedom of the community- self government Freedom is collective
-Dependent upon a class of people who didn’t engage in commerce of even work
Liberty of Moderns
“The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from
enslavement by others. THe rest is extension of the sense or else a metaphor”
Issaiah Berlin “Two Concepts of Liberty”
“... be very wary of any decree claiming to achieve the reconciliation of liberty and equality: it is
either a lie or tyranny.”
Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox
-Not so much “freedom to” as “freedom from” (Berlin)
-Legal protections
-limited government
-Freedom is individual rather than communal
-All driven by “commerce” and private property instead of war
Contradictions of Constant
-Modern liberty is better both than ancient liberty and pre-modern “despotism” (French Kings)
-Moderns care more about “freedom from”
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