Front Page Titles (by Subject) Political Expediency vs. Principle - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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Political Expediency vs. Principle - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Political Expediency vs. Principle
“Political Expediency and Lying: Kant vs. Benjamin Constant.” Journal of the History of Ideas 43 (Jan.–March 1982): 135–144.
Kant's famous essay “On the Supposed Right to Tell a Lie from Altruistic Motives” (1797) seems to paint him as a misguided moral legalist who claims that it is always wrong to tell a lie, even to save a friend from probable murder. Kant's particular moral position is overly rigorous but, to make sense of his essay, we must examine it with reference to the historical and political context. This reveals Kant as a defender of the ideals of the French Revolution against the conservative reaction represented by Benjamin Constant.
Within its historical context, Kant's essay was a reply to a pamphlet by Constant entitled On Political Reactions (1797). Constant rebuked “the German philosopher for advocating inflexible principles contrary to the common sense safety of society.” Constant's ethical subject is actually political propaganda for the Directory which had gained power in France in 1795 as a result of the Thermidorean reaction against the more radically democratic Jacobins. Constant's own essay was intended to provide a reactionary justification for the Directory's political opposition to the demands for universal suffrage and equality of wealth. Being a constitutional monarchist and defender of preserving elements of pre-Revolution society (such as the influence of the aristocracy), Constant wished to justify the bending of (Revolutionary) principles in the name of preserving society (actually the Directory's political interests). Constant found a handle to this political argument in attacking Kant's absolutist prohibition of lying even to murderers.
Kant's 1797 counterattack against Constant reasserts his adherence to the Revolution's and Enlightenment's principles, challenging the Hobbesian view that subordinates duty to ungrounded hedonic rights. To Kant this subordination seemed a reversal of morality and a surrender to unprincipled expediency. Both rights and a social contract call for the logical priority of principled duty to truth and other moral absolutes.