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Lecture 3: Benjamin Constant

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Political Science
Jeffrey Kopstein

Benjamin Constant • Swiss born, French intellectual and politician • Fervent liberal • Context: French Revolution and its aftermath • Question: How should free people govern themselves • Liberal: Freedom • French Revolution was a social revolution Model Rejected • Liberty of ancients: ◦ Participatory ◦ Freedom consisted in the act of governing and being governed ◦ Direct: Everyone would participate ◦ They believed in public freedom, not private liberty ◦ Collective freedom, not individual ◦ Freedom of the community, self government ◦ Not ruled by foreigners ◦ Dependent upon a class of people who didn't engage in commerce o even work ◦ True freedom does not come in the household: Realm of women and slaves ◦ Tiny minority of greek polity were citizens ◦ Big decisions were decisions on war ◦ Biggest danger was the domination by the outsider Liberty of Moderns • Not so much as "freedom to" as "freedom from" • Legal protections • Limited government • Freedom is individual rather than communal • All driven by commerce and private property instead of war Contradictions of Constant • Modern liberty is better both than ancient liberty and pre-modern "despotism" (French Kings) • Moderns care more about freedom from • We prefer 'representative" to "direct government" that just leaves us alone to be happy and get rich "The danger for modern liberty… • Liberty of ancients creeps back in through modern notions of citizenship and virtue. Ancient Liberty and Plato • Plato in his last dialogue, "Laws" offers a grim prophesy to which constant and perhaps all moderns seem liable • Government is everyone's selfish n
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