Kopstein 9/23/2013 8:06:00 AM
Constant and the Rise of Liberalism
o Benjamin Constant is an important thinker of the 19 thcentury
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