Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter one: On the Extension of Political Authority beyond Its Necessary Minimum, on the Grounds of Utility - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter one: On the Extension of Political Authority beyond Its Necessary Minimum, on the Grounds of Utility - 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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On the Extension of Political Authority beyond Its Necessary Minimum, on the Grounds of Utility
In no nation have individuals enjoyed individual rights in all their fullness. No government has confined the exercise of political authority to strictly necessary limits. All have gone far beyond this, and philosophers in all ages, and writers of all persuasions, have endorsed the extension with the whole weight of their approval.
Among this number I do not count merely ordinary and second-rate minds, but the most distinguished authors of the last two centuries: Fénelon,1 Rousseau, Mably,2 and even in some respects Montesquieu.
M. Necker is not free from the errors with which I reproach those who favor an increase in political authority. He calls the sovereign power the tutor of public happiness3 and, when he deals with commercial prohibitions, he constantly assumes that individuals let themselves be dominated by short-term considerations, and that the sovereign power understands their long-term interests better than they themselves.4 What  in M. Necker’s case makes this error more excusable and touching, is that he is always so passionately concerned with improving things, and that he sees in government only a more extensive means of benevolence and good works.
Man, such writers say, is a product of law. In the beginning men make institutions, and subsequently institutions make men. Government must seize us from our first moments and surround us with virtue, both by example and precept. It must direct, improve, and enlighten that numerous and ignorant class of people who, lacking time for reflection, are forced to receive the verities themselves on others’ say-so and in the form of prejudices. Any time the law abandons us is a time it gives to the passions to tempt, seduce, and control us. Law must excite in us the love of work, engrave in the spirit of youth respect for morality, enthuse the imagination with subtly combined institutions, and dig deep into our hearts and uproot guilty thoughts there, rather than limiting itself to repressing harmful actions. Law should prevent crimes instead of punishing them. Law should regulate our least movements, preside over the spread of enlightenment, over industrial development, over the perfecting of the arts. It must lead, as by the hand, the benighted crowd it must instruct, or the corrupted one it must correct.
In support of this doctrine, these illustrious protagonists cite the most memorable examples of the nations of antiquity, in which all the jobs men pursued, all the actions of their lives, were covered by laws, their least words were dictated, and even their pleasures were legally regulated.5
Imbued with such principles, the leaders of the French Revolution thought themselves so many Lycurguses, Solons, Numas, or Charlemagnes. At this very time, despite the sorry results of their efforts, one is still more inclined to blame the blundering of the entrepreneurs than the nature of the enterprise.
A general observation is necessary before we examine in detail the theory aiming to legitimate the extension of political authority.
This extension is not absolutely necessary, as we believe we have shown. It is driven solely by the hope that it will be useful. The argument for utility once allowed,  however, we are brought back, despite all our efforts, to the disadvantages which flow from the blind, colossal force which seemed to us so terrible when we called it unlimited sovereignty. Utility does not lend itself to precise demonstration. It is a matter of individual opinion and consequently of interminable discussion. You can find utilitarian reasons for all orders and prohibitions. Forbidding citizens to leave their houses would prevent all the crimes which are committed on the highways. To have them appear every morning in front of their town hall would stop vagabonds, thieves, and dangerous men from hiding in the big cities on the lookout for criminal opportunities. This is the kind of thinking which in our day turned France into one vast prison. Nothing in nature is immaterial in the rigorous sense of the word. Everything has its cause and its effects. Everything has results, real or possible; everything can be useful or dangerous. In a system in which political authority is sole judge of all these possibilities, it is clear that such authority has absolutely no limits nor could have. If it must be limited, however, everything in its jurisdiction must be so too. What cannot be limited does not belong to such jurisdiction. Now, we have shown jurisdiction must be limited. Therefore, before understanding any system at all in terms of its various prerogatives, we have to see if we can draw a line marking where the exercise of that prerogative must stop. If there is no way of drawing such a line, the prerogative itself must be nonexistent. Authority has been taken beyond its competence. For it is of the essence of that competence that it must not be without limits. Set it up without limits and you fall once again into the bottomless abyss of arbitrary rule. Set it up without limits for a single purpose and there will no longer be any security in the social order. For if the security of a single part of the social order is absent, the security of the rest vanishes. If it is not destroyed de facto it is destroyed de jure. Now, the fact is only an accident. Law alone provides a guarantee. 
[1. ]Fénelon, Essai sur le gouvernement civil. In Ch. 5, De la nécessité d’une authorité souveraine, Fénelon declares: “All government necessarily therefore has to be absolute” (p. 29 of the third edition, London, 1722); the author makes it equally clear, however, that he does not mean by this an arbitrary power.
[2. ]Constant criticizes Mably at greater length in Book XVI, Ch. 8, pp.367–368.
[3. ]Hofmann did not find the passage where Necker uses this expression, but the spirit of it figures in Necker’s book Sur la législation et le commerce des grains, Paris, Pissot, 1776, Partie I, Ch. 2–6. Elsewhere, in De l’administration des finances de la France, s.l., 1784, t. III, p. 162, he defines government as the “interpreter and trustee of social harmony.” Cf. Henri Grange, Les idées de Necker (Necker’s ideas), Paris, Klincksieck, 1974, p. 163.
[4. ]See for example Sur la législation . . . , op. cit., p. 136: “All [the ideas] which can minister to the common good, belong to the sovereign; and pondering them is an important part of the august functions entrusted to him.”
[5. ]The theme of the imitation of the ancients, insofar as it concerns the extension of law, will be developed in Book XVI, Ch. 8: Des imitateurs modernes des républiques de l’antiquité.