The liberal project
Benjamin Constant (1767-1830)
Swiss, French intellectual
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"
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-
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
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 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
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)
Moderns care more about "freedom from"
o We prefer 'representatives' to 'direct governments'
"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