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POL101Y1 Lecture Notes - French Revolution, Classical Liberalism, Limited Government

Political Science
Course Code
Jeffrey Kopstein

of 4
The liberal project
9:13 PM
Benjamin Constant (1767-1830)
Swiss, French intellectual
Fervent liberal
French revolution and its aftermath
Question: How should free people govern themselves?
Liberalism meant freedom of men
Rule used mean the rule of kings
o You knew who was king by known if his father was king
o Modern rule : one who rules through winning most votes
French revolution - killed the monarchy, gained their freedom, had to
devise a system of self-rule.
Basis of classical liberalism = "Freedom from tyranny"
o Not freedom to do anything, but from something
o i.e. the US constitution.
o Meant to insure that elected representatives did not become de-
facto kings
Model Rejected
o Liberty of ancients
Participatory - "freedom consisted in governing and being
Direct - Everyone participated in solving/answering questions
'public not private' liberty
Not "as long as one's action does not interfere with
another individuals rights it is okay"
Rather freedom of the community - self government
Free of foreigner rule
Dependent on a class of people who didn't engage in
commerce or even work
Free from the concerns of daily life
Big/collective decisions were mostly about war
Liberty of moderns
o Isaiah Berlin - two concept of liberty
"The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains,
from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is
extension of this sense, or else metaphor. "
o Not so much "freedom to" as "freedom from"
o Legal protections
o Limited government
No hierarchy of private and citizen rights
o Freedom is individual rather than communal
o All driven by 'commerce' and private property, rather than war
o "constitutions"
Not a written document
Government as it is practised
Contract that sets out and limits government power
Basic principles/institutions to conform to modern views of
Contradictions of constant
o Modern liberty is better both than ancient liberty and pre-modern
despotism (French Kings)
o Moderns care more about "freedom from"
o We prefer 'representatives' to 'direct governments'
o But...
"The danger for modern liberty is that we, absorbed in the
enjoyment of our private independence and the pursuit of our
particular interests, might surrender too easily our right to share in
political power. The holders of authority encourage us to do just
that. They are so ready to spare us every sort of trouble except the
trouble of obeying and paying! They will say to us: ‘What, basically,
is the aim of your efforts, the motive
of your labors, the object of all your hopes? Isn’t it happiness? Well,
leave this happiness to us and we’ll give it to you.’ No, we must not
leave it to them. Their tender concern to make us happy is
touching, perhaps, but we should ask the authorities to stay within
their limits: let them confine themselves to being just, and we’ll
take care of happiness"
o Liberty of ancients creeps back through modern notions of citizenship
and virtue
o All great thinkers are contradictory
o Plato - Government is everyone's selfish needs and demands
Traditional societies
o "They were beaten at all points and altogether; all that they suffered
was great; they were destroyed, as the saying is, with a total
destruction, their fleet, their armyeverything was destroyed, and few
out of many returned home” (Blc. VIII)
o Scarcity - Subsistence farmers was the norm, little to no savings
o Non-market societies- No currencies or multiple currencies
o Family life - Instead it was extended family living together
o Affective orientation - The degree we are aware and use our
emotions to make decisions.
o Ascriptive roles
Versus achievement
Roles were assigned from birth, extremely difficult to break
Political Authority and the sate
o What is a state?
State = 17th century onwards
A monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory
In traditional societies there was no distinction between
private and public authority
Authority relations based on personal dependence & love &
o No clear lines for territorial authority (feudal society)
o Public administration
Growth of bureaucracy to enable fairness
o Creation of modern state i.e. Louis XIV
o Taxations and systems of political retainers of 'Kings' who competed
with local lords for power