Benjamin Constant: The Antinomies of Liberty and Popular Sovereignty

Dalia Eidukienė


This article deals with the ideas of Benjamin Constant (French: Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebecque, 1767-1830) about the individual, his liberty and his relationship to society. Constant was a Swiss-born French thinker who is considered to be the creator of the19th-century liberalism in both France and Europe. His works can be called a conceptual rebellion against the liberal doctrine which was based on the idea of the social contract and which mistook authority for liberty. In Constant’s opinion, by clearly demonstrating that the principles of representation and separation of powers may turn into despotism and the nation may lose its sovereignty because of a few extremists, the great French Revolution proved the limitations of such political thought and its threat to liberty, i.e. the central concept of liberalism. By employing the historical comparative method, Constant attempted to liberate pre-revolutionary liberal thought from the elements typical of ancient political thinking and argued that reality must be analysed in its historical context because certain phenomena are possible in one era and are totally impossible in another (Constant 1980: 113). Constant did not proclaim new principles of liberalism; instead, he thought it was more important to understand the elementary conditions of social interaction that already exist and have been tested throughout history. He succeeded in summing up the results of earlier developments and drawing conclusions from them that were useful for the future. In this way, Constant overcame the limitations of the 18th-century proto-liberal thought and contributed to the creation of the modern political theory of liberalism.

Article in: English

Article published: 2012-04-02

Keyword(s): individual freedom; political freedom; national sovereignty; liberalism; social contract; limitation of political power; political communication

DOI: 10.3846/cpc.2012.02

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Coactivity: Philosophy, Communication / Santalka: Filosofija, Komunikacija ISSN 2029-6320, eISSN 2029-6339
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