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The Liberal Project

Political Science
Course Code
Jeffrey Kopstein

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Political Science September 20th, 2010.
Constant and the Rise of Liberalism
Reading: Benjamin constant,The Liberty of Ancients compared with that of Moderns
Benjamin Constant (1767-1830):
Swiss born, French intellectual and politician
Fervent liberal
Context: French Revolution and its aftermath
People wanted democracy (never existed before) = classical antiquity by reason
Constant rejects it (the model of Greek democracy/politics)—is not applicable to
the circumstances under which we are living
Believed that they had a conception of freedom in ancient Greece, but their
conception was particular to it
Question: how should free people govern themselves?
Model Rejected
No form of government to turn to after French Revolution
They have a conception of freedom in ancient Greece
Liberty of Ancients:
Greek democracy is highly participatory, meaning on all important decisions, the
entire citizenry took part—direct
Today we elect representatives, however Greeks point of democracy is not through
elections; you directly partook, you directly discussed the existing legislation
Politics viewed as something which you wanted to do; wanted to govern yourself
The Greek conception of liberty was public (freedom of the collective, freedom of
the community, freedom to govern themselves)
Did not include private freedoms
Greek conception of liberty: They themselves as a community would make
decisions for themselves, no dictator, no leader, etc
Freedom of the community – self government
Freedom is collective
Dependent upon a class of people who didnt engage in commerce or even work
Big decisions were decisions on war
Liberty of Moderns:
Liberty – public rights, not private rights (not rights of a person, e.g. to dress in
certain ways)
Not so much “freedom to” asfreedom from (Isiah Berlin)
Legal protections (protected from not your arbitory attacks, physical and also
legal, and intrusions by the state)—Limited government
Freedom is collective not individual
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