Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments / Edition 1

Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments / Edition 1

by Constant

Principles of Politics, first published in 1815, is a “microcosm of [Constant’s] whole political philosophy and an expression of his political experience,” says Nicholas Capaldi in his Introduction. In Principles, Constant “explores many subjects: law, sovereignty, and representation; power and accountability;

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Principles of Politics, first published in 1815, is a “microcosm of [Constant’s] whole political philosophy and an expression of his political experience,” says Nicholas Capaldi in his Introduction. In Principles, Constant “explores many subjects: law, sovereignty, and representation; power and accountability; government, property and taxation; wealth and poverty; war, peace, and the maintenance of public order; and above all freedom, of the individual, of the press, and of religion. . . . Constant saw freedom as an organic phenomenon: to attack it in any particular way was to attack it generally.”

Benjamin Constant (1767–1830) was born in Switzerland and became one of France’s leading writers, as well as a journalist, philosopher, and politician. His colorful life included a formative stay at the University of Edinburgh; service at the court of Brunswick, Germany; election to the French Tribunate; and initial opposition and subsequent support for Napoleon, even the drafting of a constitution for the Hundred Days.

Constant wrote many books, essays, and pamphlets. His deepest conviction was that reform is hugely superior to revolution, both morally and politically. While Constant’s fluid, dynamic style and lofty eloquence do not always make for easy reading, his text forms a coherent whole, and in his translation Dennis O’Keeffe has focused on retaining the “general elegance and subtle rhetoric” of the original.

Sir Isaiah Berlin called Constant “the most eloquent of all defenders of freedom and privacy” and believed to him we owe the notion of “negative liberty,” that is, what Biancamaria Fontana describes as “the protection of individual experience and choices from external interferences and constraints.” To Constant it was relatively unimportant whether liberty was ultimately grounded in religion or metaphysics—what mattered were the practical guarantees of practical freedom—“autonomy in all those aspects of life that could cause no harm to others or to society as a whole.”

This translation is based on Etienne Hofmann’s critical edition of Principes de politique (1980), complete with Constant’s additions to the original work.

Dennis O’Keeffe is Professor of Social Science at the University of Buckingham and Senior Research Fellow in Education at the Institute of Economic Affairs. He has published widely in the area of education and the social sciences. His books include The Wayward Elite (1990) and Political Correctness and Public Finance (1999). His previous translations include Alain Finkielkraut’s The Undoing of Thought (La Défaite de la Pensée) (1988).

Etienne Hofmann is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Social and Political Science at the University of Lausanne and also teaches in the Faculty of Arts where he directs L’Institut Benjamin Constant. He specializes in critical editions of texts and correspondence and is working on the edition of Constant’s complete works.

Nicholas Capaldi is the Legendre-Soule Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University, New Orleans, and was Professor at the University of Tulsa and Queens College, City University of New York. Among his books are Out of Order: Affirmative Action and the Crisis of Doctrinaire Liberalism; Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Unfair Preference?; and Immigration: Debating the Issues.

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Product Details

Liberty Fund, Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Translator's Note
Bk. IOn Received Ideas About the Scope of Political Authority1
1The purpose of this work3
2Rousseau's first principle on the origin of political authority6
3Rousseau's second principle on the scope of political authority8
4Rousseau's arguments for boundless political authority15
5That Rousseau's error comes from his wanting to distinguish the prerogatives of society from those of the government17
6The consequences of Rousseau's theory19
7On Hobbes21
8Hobbes's opinion reproduced23
9On the inconsistency with which Rousseau has been reproached24
Bk. IIOn the Principles to Replace Received Ideas on the Extent of Political Authority29
1On the limitation of political authority31
2On the rights of the majority32
3On the organization of government when political power is not limited35
4Objection to the possibility of limiting political authority36
5On the limits of political authority restricted to a minimum38
6On individual rights when political authority is thus restricted39
7On the principle of utility substituted for the idea of individual rights39
Bk. IIIOn Arguments and Hypotheses in Favor of the Extension of Political Authority45
1On the extension of political authority beyond its necessary minimum, on the grounds of utility47
2On the hypotheses without which extension of political authority is illegitimate49
3Are governors necessarily less liable to error than the governed?50
4Are governmental mistakes less dangerous than those of individuals?55
5On the nature of the means political authority can use on the grounds of utility57
Bk. IVOn the Proliferation of the Laws61
1Natural causes of the proliferation of the laws63
2The idea which usually develops about the effects which the proliferation of the laws has and the falsity of that idea63
3That the principal benefit which supporters of democratic government are looking for in the proliferation of the laws does not exist65
4On the corruption which the proliferation of the laws causes among the agents of the government66
5Another drawback of the proliferation of the laws67
Bk. VOn Arbitrary Measures71
1On arbitrary measures and why people have always protested less about them than about attacks on property73
2On the grounds for arbitrary measures and the prerogative of preventing crimes74
3Specious argument in support of arbitrary government77
4On the effect of arbitrary measures in terms of moral life, industry, and the duration of governments78
5On the influence of arbitrary rule on the governors themselves80
Bk. VIOn Coups d'Etat83
1On the admiration for coups d'Etat85
2On coups d'Etat in countries with written constitutions89
3The condition necessary to stop constitutional violations93
Bk. VIIOn Freedom of Thought101
1The object of the following three books103
2On freedom of thought103
3On the expression of thought105
4Continuation of the same subject112
5Continuation of the same subject117
6Some necessary explication123
7Final observations124
Bk. VIIIOn Religious Freedom129
1Why religion was so often attacked by the men of the Enlightenment131
2On civil intolerance135
3On the proliferation of sects137
4On the maintenance of religion by government against the spirit of inquiry139
5On the reestablishment of religion by government140
6On the axiom that the people must have a religion141
7On the utilitarian case for religion142
8Another effect of the axiom that the people must have a religion143
9On tolerance when government gets involved144
10On the persecution of a religious belief144
Bk. IXOn Legal Safeguards149
1On the independence of the courts151
2On the abridgment of due process153
3On punishments157
4On the prerogative of exercising mercy160
Bk. XOn the Action of Government with Regard to Property163
1The purpose of this book165
2The natural division of the inhabitants of the same territory into two classes165
3On property167
4On the status property should occupy in political institutions168
5On examples drawn from antiquity171
6On the proprietorial spirit173
7That territorial property alone brings together all the advantages of property174
8On property in public funds179
9On the amount of landed property which society has the right to insist upon for the exercise of political rights182
10That owners have no interest in abusing power vis-a-vis nonowners183
11On hereditary privileges compared to property185
12Necessary comment186
13On the best way of giving proprietors a large political influence190
14On the action of government on property192
15On laws which favor the accumulation of property in the same hands193
16On laws which enforce the wider spreading of property196
Bk. XIOn Taxation203
1The object of this book205
2The first right of the governed with regard to taxation205
3The second right of the governed with regard to taxation207
4On various types of taxes207
5How taxation becomes contrary to individual rights212
6That taxes bearing on capital are contrary to individual rights214
7That the interest of the state in matters of taxation is consistent with individual rights215
8An incontestable axiom219
9The drawback of excessive taxation220
10A further drawback of excessive taxation221
Bk. XIIOn government jurisdiction over economic activity and population225
1Preliminary observation227
2On legitimate political jurisdiction vis-a-vis economic activity228
3That there are two branches of government intervention with regard to economic activity228
4On privileges and prohibitions229
5On the general effect of prohibitions247
6On things which push governments in this mistaken direction248
7On the supports offered by government251
8On the equilibrium of production255
9A final example of the adverse effects of government intervention258
10Conclusions from the above reflections259
11On government measures in relation to population260
Bk. XIIIOn War275
1From what point of view war can be considered as having advantages277
2On the pretexts for war279
3The effect of the politics of war on the domestic condition of nations282
4On safeguards against the war mania of governments286
5On the mode of forming and maintaining armies289
Bk. XIVOn Government Action on Enlightenment295
1Questions to be dealt with in this book297
2On the value attributed to errors298
3On government in support of truth301
4On government protection of enlightenment304
5On the upholding of morality307
6On the contribution of government to education308
7On government duties vis-a-vis enlightenment315
Bk. XVThe Outcome of Preceding Discussion Relative to the Action of Government319
1The outcome of the preceding discussion321
2On three pernicious ideas322
3On ideas of uniformity322
4Application of this principle to the composition of representative assemblies326
5Further thoughts on the preceding chapter328
6On ideas of stability338
7On premature ameliorations340
8On a false way of reasoning345
Bk. XVIOn Political Authority in the Ancient World349
1Why among the ancients political authority could be more extensive than in modern times351
2The first difference between the social State of the ancients and that of modern times352
3The second difference353
4The third difference355
5The fourth difference358
6The fifth difference359
7The result of these differences between the ancients and the moderns361
8Modern imitators of the republics of antiquity365
Bk. XVIIOn the True Principles of Freedom381
1On the inviolability of the true principles of freedom383
2That the circumscription of political authority, within its precise limits, does not tend at all to weaken the necessary action of the government385
3Final thoughts on civil freedom and political freedom386
4Apologia for despotism by Louis XIV392
Bk. XVIIIOn the Duties of Individuals to Political Authority395
1Difficulties with regard to the question of resistance397
2On obedience to the law398
3On revolutions405
4On the duties of enlightened men during revolutions407
5Continuation of the same subject413
6On the duties of enlightened men after violent revolutions419
Additions to the Work Entitled Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments425

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