POL101Y1: Lecture Two.
Constant and the Rise of Liberalism.
- Portraying the theorist at his or her best.
- Constant articulates a view that most of us are brought up, are familiar with.
Not everything is applicable, but most of it is – most things are brought
forward that we can identify with.
- About Constant: intellectual, feverent liberal.
- Context: Mainly French revolution (1789-1792/early 1800s) and it’s aftermath.
- Questions how people should govern themselves.
- If you are to be ruled by yourselves – what does that mean, how should free
people govern themselves? A key question of political modernity?
Provoked Constant: stocktaking. Of how we lived, the conceptions we were living by,
before the event. And how does that compare with the way we think we should live
today and how politics is defined arguably for the next two centuries.
What Constant tells us: The modern conception of liberty is the freedom from
tyranny. Our notion of freedom is: essentially to be left alone, to be not told what to
Model Rejected: The model of the Ancients.
- 2500 years ago. Liberty of the Ancients:
- Participatory, in ruling and being ruled. To participate in legislation and in
public life. The need to be involved in the greater public, what it meant to be
a citizen. And those who did not participate were not citizens.
- As a citizen you did not have people representing you- and they were directly
involved in public life.
- “Public” not “Private” Liberty: Ancients viewed it as the freedom of the
collective, the freedom of Athens (even mentioned Sparta), not allowing the
community to be dominated.
- Direct participatory citizenship in public life.
- View the collective as having a personality independent of the individual, as
- Freedom of the community – means self-government. Questioning if they
- Freedom is collective and direct – in particular many parts of the functioning
- Dependence upon a class of people who did not work or were involved in
commerce – essentially slaves. - They talk about making war.
- The aim of the ancients was to share the social power present amongst the
citizens of the country – this was known as ‘liberty’
- Constant says the government has rejected all of this. This is no longer the
case for modern governments.
- French Revolution 1789; political freedom was only there during the Greeks.
- Exclusion of the Middle Ages in Ancient Liberty.
- Monastic Aristocracy – Characteristic of Spartan government, in no way a
representative style. Limited power of the kings, in particular by the
- Authority was limited to not just political terms but also religious – in terms
of actual administration within the government i.e. executive power.
- Ancients considered the idea of forming new alliances, discussing ideas of
war and peace, pronounce judgments, examine the accounts and acts of the
magistrates, call the magistrates concerned to the forefront of the assembly
and conclude with either condemning or acquitting them: contributed to
their idea of ‘liberty’
- However visualized no inconsistency between this concept of liberty and
collective freedom along with the subjection of the freedom of the individual
to the authority group concerned.
- Individual is sovereign in his public affairs but a slave in his private relations.
- Commerce then was considered a lucky accident; a mere calculation as
compared to war, which was an impulse.
- The subjection of the individual, which was characteristic of the centuries of
the Roman Empire, the individual was lost in the Empire whilst the citizen
was lost in the city.
Liberty of Moderns.
“The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment,
from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense or else a metaphor.”
– Isaiah Berlin. “Two Concepts of Liberty”
“… Be very wary of any decree claiming to achieve the reconciliation of livery and
quality. It is either a lie or a tyranny.” – Berlin. The Hedgehog and the Fox.
- Not so much “freedom to” as “Freedom from”
- Legal protection.
- Limited government
- Freedom is individual rather than communal aka individualism.
- Driven by commerce and private property – regulated by legislation
- Freedom does not guarantee you a standard of living.
- They mean a society based on markets, on limited governments. - Representative government is a modern discovery, where the prior condition
of the human race and its antiquity made it impossible for the establishment
and implementation of such an institution.
The basis of liberalism for Constant was minimalist, rather than complex.
(Following the simplification of concepts d