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Constant and the Rise of Liberalism-Sept.19.11.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Political Science
Jeffrey Kopstein

Constant and the Rise of Liberalism Benjamin Constant (1767-1830)  Swiss born, French intellectual and politician  Fervent liberal  Question: how should free people govern themselves? o i.e if not by king, queen, ruler etc.  Context: French Revolution and its aftermath  Modern conception of freedom: o Freed from being told WHAT to do; ESSENTIALLY to do as we please Model Rejected Liberty of ancients:  Participatory o Conception of what it meant to participate in public life, citizens wanted to be part of a GREATER public o Those who did not participate were not participating in ACTIVE citizenship  Direct o Did not have people representing you, you represented yourself DIRECTLY  ―Public‖ not ―Private liberty‖ o Freedom was a collective, NOT an individual notion o Connected to DIRECT participation in public life  Freedom of the community self-government  Freedom is COLLECTIVE o Dependent upon a class of people who didn’t engage in commerce or even work  Slaves were employed to take care of ―trivial‖ day to day chores that allowed the Greeks to actively participate in the government and be involved in commerce BIG DECISIONS were those that involved WAR 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 metaphor.” (Isaiah Berlin)  Not so much ―freedom to‖ as ―freedom from‖ (Isaiah Berlin).  Legal protections  LIMITED government  Freedom is INDIVIDUAL rather than COMMUNAL  All driven by ―commerce‖ and PRIVATE property instead of war o Everything is cast in terms of ECONOMICS **Freedom does not imply a better standing of living or escape from tyranny 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  BUT he hedges his bets at the end of the lecture—(refer back to reading)  Liberty of ancients creeps back in through modern notions of citizenship and virtue! But all great thinkers are contradictory! o People vote not only for own benefit but for greater majority o For bigger ideals that go beyond our own lives however in the end what we care about most is what benefits our lives the most ex. War we have an opinion about the war in Iraq, but does it really affect us?
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