Oeuvres de Benjamin Constant (French Edition)

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Online Library of Liberty

Download Flash Player. Go to the artwork description. Paintings French painting. This portrait, showing her dressed in the "antique style" and surrounded by Pompeian furniture in an otherwise bare picture space, was extremely avant-garde for Exactly why it was never finished is unclear, but its state enables one to study David's technique before his vibrant preliminary brushwork and background rubbings were "glazed over" with translucent colors. The room is empty except for the antique-style sofa, stool and candelabra.

Benjamin Constant

She is seen from some distance, so her face is quite small, but this is less a portrait of a person than of an ideal of feminine elegance. The daughter of a notary, she epitomized the social ascension of the new post-revolutionary elite. Her husband, older than her, had become one of the principal financial backers of the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Permission Reusing this file. Public domain Public domain false false. He stated how the French attempted to apply ancient republic liberties to the modern state. Constant realized that freedom meant drawing a line between the area of a person's private life and that of public authority. The dynamics of the state had changed: the ancient states' population paled in comparison to that of modern countries.

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He even argued that with a large population, man had no role in government regardless of its form or type. Constant emphasized how the citizens of the ancient state found more satisfaction in their public existence and less in their private. However, the satisfaction of modern peoples occurs in their private existence. These writers, influential to the French Revolution, according to Constant mistook authority for liberty and approved any means of extending the action of authority. Reformers used the model of ancient states of public force, and organized the most absolute despotism under the name of the Republic.

He continued to condemn despotism, citing the paradox of liberty derived from recourse to despotism, and the lack of substance in this ideology. Furthermore, he pointed out the detrimental nature of the Reign of Terror ; the inexplicable delirium. Constant understood the revolutionaries' disastrous over-investment in the political.

They promoted constant vigilance and a public emphasis. Constant pointed out how the most obscure life, the quietest existence, the most unknown name, offered no protection during the Reign of Terror. He also stated that each individual added to the number, and took fright in the number that he had helped increase.

This mob mentality deterred many and helped to usher in new despots such as Napoleon. Moreover, Constant believed that, in the modern world, commerce was superior to war.

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He attacked Napoleon 's martial appetite, on the grounds that it was illiberal and no longer suited to modern commercial social organization. Ancient Liberty tended to be warlike, whereas a state organized on the principles of Modern Liberty would be at peace with all peaceful nations. Constant believed that if liberty were to be salvaged from the aftermath of the Revolution, then chimerical Ancient Liberty had to be reconciled with the practical and achievable Modern Liberty.

England, since the Glorious Revolution of , and then the United Kingdom after , had demonstrated the practicality of Modern Liberty and Britain was a constitutional monarchy. Constant concluded that constitutional monarchy was better suited than republicanism to maintaining Modern Liberty. He was instrumental in drafting the "Acte Additional" of , which transformed Napoleon's restored rule into a modern constitutional monarchy. Indeed, the French Constitution or Charter of could be seen as a practical implementation of many of Constant's ideas: a hereditary monarchy existing alongside an elected Chamber of Deputies and a senatorial Chamber of Peers, with the executive power vested in responsible ministers.

Thus, although often ignored in France because of his Anglo-Saxon sympathies, Constant made a profound albeit indirect contribution to French constitutional traditions.

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Secondly, Constant developed a new theory of constitutional monarchy, in which royal power was intended to be a neutral power, protecting, balancing and restraining the excesses of the other, active powers the executive, legislature, and judiciary. This was an advance on the prevailing theory in the English-speaking world, which, following the conventional wisdom of William Blackstone , the 18th-century English jurist , had reckoned the King to be head of the executive branch.

In Constant's scheme, the executive power was entrusted to a Council of Ministers or Cabinet who, although appointed by the King, were ultimately responsible to Parliament. In making this clear theoretical distinction between the powers of the King as head of state and the ministers as Executive Constant was responding to the political reality which had been apparent in Britain for more than a century: that the ministers, and not the King, are responsible, and therefore that the King "reigns but does not rule". This was important for the development of parliamentary government in France and elsewhere.

Benjamin Constant's collaboration with Napoleon · Napoleon's Days

It should be noted, however, that the King was not to be a powerless cipher in Constant's scheme: he would have many powers, including the power to make judicial appointments, to dissolve the Chamber and call new elections, to appoint the peers , and to dismiss ministers — but he would not be able to govern, make policy, or direct the administration, since that would be the task of the responsible ministers. Elsewhere for example, the "Statuto albertino" of the Kingdom of Sardinia , which later became the basis of the Italian constitution from the executive power was notionally vested in the King, but was exercisable only by the responsible ministers.

He defended the separation of powers as basis of a liberal State, but unlike Montesquieu and most of the liberal thinkers, he defended five powers instead of three. Constant's other concerns included a "new type of federalism ": a serious attempt to decentralize French government through the devolution of powers to elected municipal councils.

This proposal reached fruition in , when elected municipal councils albeit on a narrow franchise were created. The importance of Constant's writings on the liberty of the ancients has dominated understanding of his work. His wider literary and cultural writings most importantly the novella Adolphe and his extensive histories of religion emphasized the importance of self-sacrifice and warmth of the human emotions as a basis for social living.

Thus, while he pleaded for individual liberty as vital for individual moral development and appropriate for modernity, he felt that egoism and self-interest were insufficient as part of a true definition of individual liberty.