POL101Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: French Revolution, Nuclear Family, Territorial Authorities Of New Zealand
Kopstein 9/23/2013 8:06:00 AM
Constant and the Rise of Liberalism
o Benjamin Constant is an important thinker of the 19th century
Swiss born, French intellectual and politician
Fervent liberal; he believed in freedom.
Context: French revolution and its aftermath
Question: How should free people govern themselves? There are no
models to work from.
Constant is a classic liberal who believes in individual freedom
o Is my freedom to do whatever I want free from your interference?
o Constant had nothing to go by he was working fro scratch. The notion of
self-government was what Constant looked at first. He looked at Ancient
Greece (that was the first to be self-governed)
o What the ancients meant by liberty was that:
Participation- all citizens participated in government.
Direct- you were directly involved in the deliberation of the
“Public” not “private liberty”- what they meant was that your
deliberations were not controlled by a higher party. You were not
dominated by someone else.
It was a public freedom that stated that you would not participate
in politics for your own private benefits, but for collective benefits
Self-government- freedom of the community
Freedom for the ancients was a collective concept, rather than an
Dependent upon a class of people who didn’t engage in commerce
or even work
Big decision were decisions on war
In the ancients the really big debates are all about war and peace
Liberty of the Moderns
o Isaiah Berlin argued that ancient Greece’s liberty of freedom was the
freedom to do stuff.
o Modern freedom is largely “freedom from” not “freedom to”
o Legal protection
o We think of governments, but we think of limited governments
o There were no limits in the ancient time
o Modern world associates freedom with government of limits
o Freedom is individual rather than communal
o While individuals have individual freedoms, society can’t exist that way. It
needs to be exist as a community
o All driven by “commerce” and private property instead of war
o It’s not all about war. It’s about structuring a society towards commerce,
trade, business, markets
o We live in a commercial society; in which everything, your education, the
structure of the family, etc. is all structured around commerce
o The kind of government that we have is really all designed
Contradictions of Constant
o Modern liberty is better than both ancient liberty and pre-modern
“despotism” (French kings) that’s what Constant believes
o Moderns care more about “freedom from”
o We prefer “representative” to “direct government” that just leaves us
alone to be happy and get rich
o We do not directly participate in government. We have people that make
decisions for us
o But Constant hedges his bets at the end of the lecture
That’s the world we want; representative government, rights,
He’s saying all we really need is a society that protects individuals
and lets us be happy and get rich. And then he says what about
virtue. Can the society just operate by us caring about ourselves
and no virtue and glory?
He worries that we’ll be so absorbed in our enjoyment that we will
give up our right to participate in political power. By concentrating
so much on the private, we’ll lose public interest
o Liberty of ancients creeps back in through modern notions of citizenship
and virtue. But all great thinkers are contradictory!
Ancient Liberty and Plato
o Plato predicted 2500 years before Constant wrote about this
o Thucydides the first historian, wrote about the Peloponnesian War 2500
years before Constant wrote about this
o Things that we define today as being necessities, are all luxury items
o Traditional societies were non-market societies; there was no generalized
money. There were different forms of money. Most people didn’t have
anything to trade. There was nothing to buy and sell.
o Family life- the notion of the nuclear family (mother, father, and 2 kids)
today didn’t really exist back then. It was extended families, even clans.
o Affective orientation (Athenians’s response to loss in Sicily- they cried for
three days). Affective orientation has been systematically drained by
modernity. We talk through lawyers in a judiciary manner.
o Ascriptive Roles (versus achievement); back in the day you died in the
role you were born. If you were a peasant, you died a peasant. Roles
were not achieved they were prescribed.
Political Authority and the State
o The world in which your rights are protected by the state (modern world)
o What is a state?
A state is the organization, which controls a monopoly of the use of
force within a given territory.
o But in traditional society there was no distinction between public and
o Authority relations used to be based on personal dependence and love
o No clear lines of territorial authority
o Public administration