sábado, 11 de setembro de 2004

Benjamin Constant: Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments

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.

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.”

Uma pequena citação bem actual: (Via MisesBlog):

"During the French Revolution a pretext for war hitherto unknown was invented, that of delivering nations from the yoke of their governments, which we took to be illegitimate and tyrannical. Under this pretext death and devastation were brought into places where men either lived peacefully under faulty institutions, ones nevertheless softened by time and habit, or had enjoyed for several centuries all the benefits of freedom.

A period forever shameful, in which we saw a perfidious government inscribe sacred words on its guilty standards, to trouble the peace, violate the independence, destroy the prosperity of its innocent neighbors, adding to the scandal of Europe by lying protestations of respect for the rights of man and of zeal for humanity.

The worst conquest is the hypocritical type, says Machiavelli, as if he had predicted our history.... To give a people freedom in spite of itself is only to give it slavery. Conquered nations can contract neither free spirits nor habits. Every society must repossess for itself rights which have been invaded, if it is worthy of owning them. Masters cannot impose freedom."

Citation: Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments, by Benjamin Constant, trans. Dennis O'Keefe (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2003), pp. 281.

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