Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter two: Rousseau's First Principle on the Origin of Political Authority - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter two: Rousseau’s First Principle on the Origin of Political Authority - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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Rousseau’s First Principle on the Origin of Political Authority
Rousseau begins by establishing that any authority which governs a nation must come from the general will.8 This is not a principle I claim to challenge. In our day people have tried to obfuscate it; and the evils which have been caused and the crimes committed on the pretext that this was to execute the general will, lend seeming support to the arguments of those who would like to locate the authority of government in another source.9 Nevertheless, all these arguments are powerless against the straightforward definition of the words we use. Short of reviving the doctrine of divine right, we ought to agree that the law must be the expression of the will of everybody or at least of a few people. Now, if it is the latter, what might be the source of the exclusive privilege conceded to this small number? If it is force, force belongs to anyone who can grab it. It does not constitute law, or if you recognize it as legitimate, this will be true whoever has seized it; and everyone will want to win it in turn. If you think that the power of this small group is sanctioned by everyone else, that power then becomes the general will.
This principle holds for all institutions. Theocracy, royalty, and aristocracy, when they command minds, are the general will. When they do not command minds, they cannot be anything else but force. In sum, the world knows only two kinds of power.  There is force, the illegitimate kind; and there is the legitimate kind, the general will.
The objections we may raise against this will, bear either on the difficulty of recognizing or expressing it, or on the degree of power granted to the authority emanating from it. One could claim, often justifiably, that what people call the general will is no such thing and that the things subjected to it should not be. In this case, however, it is no longer legitimacy that is being attacked but its rightful powers or the fidelity of its interpreters.
This principle does not deny the legitimacy of any form of government. In some circumstances society may want a monarchy and in others a republic. So these two institutions may therefore be equally legitimate and natural. Those who declare one or the other illegitimate or against nature are either party mouthpieces and do not say what they think, or else they are ideological dupes and do not know what they are saying.
There are only two forms of government, if we may even give them that title at all, which are essentially and eternally illegitimate, because no society could want them: anarchy and despotism. Moreover, I am not sure that the distinction which often favors the latter is not illusory. Despotism and anarchy are more alike than people think. In our era, people gave the name “anarchy,”10 meaning the absence of government, to a government which was the most despotic that has ever existed on earth: a committee of a few men, who endowed their functionaries with boundless power, with courts tolerating no appeal, with laws based on mere suspicions, with judgments without due process, with numberless incarcerations and a hundred judicial murders a day. This is to abuse terms and confound ideas, however. The Revolutionary government  was most certainly not an absence of government.
Government is the use of public force against individuals. When it is used to stop them hurting each other, it is a good government. When it is used to oppress them, it is a frightful government, but in no sense is it anarchic. The Committee of Public Safety was government; so was the Revolutionary Tribunal. The law of suspects embodied government too. This was detestable, but certainly not anarchic. It was not for lack of government that the French people were butchered by executioners. On the contrary, it happened only because executioners were doing the governing. Government was most certainly not absent. Rather, an atrocious and ubiquitous government was always present. This was absolutely not anarchy, but despotism.
Despotism resembles anarchy in that it destroys public safeguards and tramples on due process. It differs from anarchy only in that it then demands for itself the due process it has destroyed and enslaves its victims in order to sacrifice them.
It is not true that despotism protects us against anarchy. We think it does only because for a long time our Europe has not seen a real despotism. But let us turn our gaze on the Roman empire after Constantine. We find that the legions were endlessly in revolt, with generals proclaiming themselves emperors and nineteen pretenders to the crown simultaneously raising the flag of rebellion. Without going back to ancient history, let us look at the sort of spectacle presented by the territories ruled by the sultan.11
Anarchy and despotism bring back the savage state into the social state.  But while anarchy puts all men there, despotism puts itself there on its own and beats its slaves, pinioned as they are, with the chains it has cast off.
Whatever may remain unexamined in this comparison, one thing is certain: this comparison will not suffice to tip the balance in favor of either of the two things concerned. So mankind cannot want either anarchy or despotism. Any other form of government can be useful, any other can be good, any other can be what a society desires and, as a consequence, can be legitimate.
[8. ]Du contrat social, Livre II, Ch. 1: “The first and most important consequence of the principles previously established is that only the general will can direct the power of the State according to the purpose for which it has been set up, which is the common good.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, published under the direction of Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Reymond, Paris, Gallimard, 1964, t. III, p. 368 (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade).
[9. ]Constant is perhaps thinking of Joseph de Maistre, whose Considérations sur la France, written in 1796, was a reply to De la force du gouvernement; and to Louis Amboise de Bonald, whose Théorie de pouvoir politique et religieux also came out in 1796. Let us note, however, that Constant never quotes them by name either in his formal corpus nor in his letters.
[10. ]It is hard to know to whom Constant is referring. Ferdinand Brunot, Histoire de la langue française des origines à 1900, t. IX, La révolution et l’Empire, Partie 2e: Les événements, les institutions et la langue, Paris, A. Colon, 1937, p. 828, gives the example of the Ami des lois of 16 brumaire an V (6 November 1796), defining as anarchists those “who see the republic as booty devolving upon them alone, who demand institutions which perpetuate their tyranny and leave them total mastery of government decision making and the framing of the law.” F. Brunot shows very effectively how among the Thermidorians the term “anarchy” took on the meaning of “despotism” or “tyranny” in order to designate the Terror as just such a régime.
[11. ]A reference to Sultan Selim III, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1798 to 1807. His reign was marked by disastrous wars against the European powers and internal revolts in the provinces under his jurisdiction.