Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter six: The Consequences of Rousseau's Theory - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter six: The Consequences of Rousseau’s Theory - 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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The Consequences of Rousseau’s Theory
When you have affirmed on principle the view that the prerogatives of society always become, finally, those of government, you understand immediately how necessary it is that political power be limited. If it is not, individual existence is on the one hand subjected without qualification to the general will, while on the other, the general will finds itself represented without appeal by the will of the governors. These representatives of the general will have  powers all the more formidable in that they call themselves mere pliant instruments of this alleged will and possess the means of enforcement or enticement necessary to ensure that it is manifested in ways which suit them. What no tyrant would dare to do in his own name, the latter legitimate by the unlimited extension of boundless political authority. They seek the enlargement of the powers they need, from the very owner of political authority, that is, the people, whose omnipotence is there only to justify their encroachments. The most unjust laws and oppressive institutions are obligatory, as the expression of the general will. For individuals, says Rousseau, having alienated their all to the benefit of the collectivity, can have no will other than that general will. Obeying this, they obey only themselves, and are all the freer the more implicitly they obey.34
Such are the consequences of this theoretical system as we see them appear in all eras of history. Their most frightening scope, however, was the one they developed during our Revolution, when revered principles were made into wounds, perhaps incurably. The more popular the government it was intended to give France, the worse were these wounds. When no limit to political authority is acknowledged, the people’s leaders, in a popular government, are not defenders of freedom, but aspiring tyrants, aiming not to break, but rather to assume the boundless power which presses on the citizens. When it has a representative constitution, a nation is free only when its delegates are held in check. It would be easy to show, by means of countless examples, that the grossest sophisms of the most ardent apostles of the Terror, in the most revolting circumstances, were only perfectly consistent  consequences of Rousseau’s principles.35 The omnipotent nation is as dangerous as a tyrant, indeed more dangerous. Tyranny is not constituted by there being few governors. Nor does a large number of governors guarantee freedom. The degree of political power alone, in whatever hands it is placed, makes a constitution free or a government oppressive; and once tyranny subsists, it is all the more frightful if the tyrannical group is large.
Doubtless, the overextension of political power does not always have equally dire consequences. The nature of things and people’s dispositions may sometimes soften the excesses; but such a political system always has serious drawbacks nevertheless. This doctrine creates and then carelessly casts into our human arrangements a degree of power which is too great to be manageable and one which is an evil whatever hands you place it in. Entrust it to one person, to several, to all, you will still find it an evil. You lay the blame on the power-holders and depending on the circumstances, you will have to indict in turn monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, mixed constitutions, and representative government. And you will be wrong. The condemnation must be of the extent of the power and not of those in whom it is vested. It is against the weapon and not the person wielding it we need to rail. There are things too heavy for human hands.
 Look at the fruitless efforts of different peoples to remedy the evils of the unlimited power with which they think society invested. They do not know to whom to entrust it. The Carthaginians created in succession the Suffetes to rein in the aristocracy of the Senate, the Tribunal of the Hundred to suppress the Suffetes, the Tribunal of the Five to control the Hundred. Condillac says they wanted to put a brake on one authority, and they established a counterforce which was equally in need of restraining, thus always leaving the abuses to which they thought they brought a remedy to carry on.36
The mistake of Rousseau and of writers who are the greatest friends of freedom, when they grant society a boundless power, comes from the way their ideas on politics were formed. They have seen in history a small number of men, or even one alone, in possession of immense power, which did a lot of harm. But their wrath has been directed against the wielders of power and not the power itself. Instead of destroying it, they have dreamed only of relocating it. It was a plague; but they took it as something to be conquered; and they endowed the whole society with it. Inevitably it moved from there to the majority and from the majority into a few hands. It has done just as much harm as before, and hostility to all political institutions has accumulated in the form of examples, objections, arguments, and evidence.
[34. ]It seems Constant has condensed two passages: first: “The constant will of all members of the State is the general will; it is through this that they are citizens and free,” Du contrat social, Livre IV, Ch. 2, éd. cit., p. 440, and second: “So long as the citizens are subjected only to such conventions, they obey no one else but only their own will,” ibid., Livre II, Ch. 4, éd. cit., p. 375.
[36. ]Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Histoire ancienne, Livre VII, Ch. 7. In the edition published under the title: Cours d’étude pour l’instruction du prince de Parme, Geneva, Du Villard et Nouffer, 1780, t. V, pp. 473–474, we find: “They wanted to put a brake on one authority and doing this established another, which needed containing. They therefore left the abuses they thought they were remedying to continue.”
[D. [Refers to page 20.]]When people wanted to condemn the King to death, they said that the will of the people made the law, that insurrection, demonstrating the will of the people, was a living law, and that Louis XVI was condemned by that law.