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chapter five: Continuation of the Same Subject - 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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Continuation of the Same Subject
If you apply this experience of the last three centuries of history to the present state of human intellection, you will readily be convinced that the annihilation of press freedom, that is to say, of intellectual progress, would have results today even more fatal than those we have recounted. The monarchies whose progressive withering and retrograde movement we have described, deprived of the free use of printing from its inception, felt this deprivation only in a dull, slow, imperceptible way. A people deprived of freedom of the press after having enjoyed it, would experience the initial pain of this loss more sharply, followed by a more rapid degradation. The thing which debases men is not lacking a right but having to give it up. Condillac says there are two sorts of barbarism, the one which goes before enlightened centuries and the one which succeeds them.16 In the same way one can say there are two kinds of servitude, the one preceding liberty and the one replacing it. The first is a desirable state of affairs compared to the second. But the choice of these is not left to governments, because they cannot annihilate the past.
Imagine an enlightened nation, enriched by the works of a number of studious generations, possessing masterpieces of all types, having made immense scientific and artistic progress, and having got to this point by the only way that can lead there, the enjoyment, assured or precarious, of freedom of publication. If the government of that nation put such constraints on that freedom that it became every day harder to elude them, if it did not allow the exercise of thought except in a predetermined direction, the nation could survive for a while on  its former capital, so to speak, on its acquired intelligence, on habits of thinking and doing picked up earlier; but nothing in the world of thought would renew itself. The reproductive principle would have dried up. For some years vanity might stand in for the love of learning. Sophists, remembering what glamour and esteem literary works used once to bestow, would give themselves over to works of ostensibly the same genre. Their writings would combat any good effects which other writings might have had, and as long as there remained any trace of liberal principles, there would be in such a people’s literature some kind of movement, a sort of struggle against these ideas and principles. This very movement, however, this struggle, would be an inheritance of a now-destroyed liberty. To the extent that the last vestiges, the last traditions, could be dispelled, there would be less acclaim and less advantage in continuing these more and more superfluous attacks. When all had been dispelled, the battle would finish, because the combatants would no longer perceive even the shadow of their foes. Conquerors and conquered would alike keep silence. Who knows if the government might not reckon it worth imposing this? It would not want anyone to reawaken extinguished memories, or stir up abandoned ideas. It would come down hard on overzealous acolytes as it used to on its enemies. It would forbid even writings taking its own line, on the interests of humanity, as some pious government once forbade talk of God, for good or ill. Thus a career in real thinking would be definitively closed to the human spirit. The educated generation would gradually disappear. The next generation, seeing no advantage in intellectual occupations, or indeed dangers therein, would break off from them for good. You will say, in vain, that the human spirit could still occupy itself with lighter literature, that it could enter the service of the exact or natural sciences, or devote itself to the arts. When nature created man, she did not consult government. Her design was that all our faculties should be in intimate liaison and that none should be subject to limitation without the others feeling the effect. Independent thinking is as vital, even to lighter literature, science, and the arts, as air is to physical life. One could as well make men work under a pneumatic pump, saying that they do not have to breathe, but must move their arms and legs, as hold intellectual activity to a given object, preventing it from preoccupying itself with important subjects which give it its energy because they remind it of its dignity. Writers strangled in this way start off with panegyrics; but they become bit by bit incapable even of praise and literature finishes  up losing itself in anagrams and acrostics. Scholars are no more than the trustees of ancient discoveries which deteriorate and degrade in manacled hands. The source of talent dries up among artists along with the hope of glory which is sustained only by freedom. By a mysterious but incontestable relationship between things from which one thought oneself capable of isolating oneself,17 they no longer have the ability to represent the human figure nobly when the human spirit is degraded.18
Nor would this be the end of the story. Soon commerce, the professions, and the most vital crafts would feel the effects of the death of thought. It should not be thought that commerce on its own is a sufficient motive for activity. People often exaggerate the influence of personal interest. Personal interest itself needs the existence of public opinion in order to act. The man whose opinion languishes, stifled, is not for long excited even by his interests. A sort of stupor seizes him; and just as paralysis extends itself from one part of the body to another, so it extends itself from one faculty to another.
Interest cut off from reflection is limited in its needs and easy to content in its pleasures, working just as much as is needed for the moment, preparing nothing for the future. Look at Spain, whose example we cited above. Thus it is that governments which wish to kill men’s opinions and believe they are encouraging interests find to their great regret that this clumsy twin policy has killed them both. No doubt there is an interest which is not snuffed out under despotism; but it is not one which leads man to work. It is the one leading him to beg and plunder, to enrich himself by the favors of power and the spoils drawn from weakness. This interest has nothing in common with the motive necessary for the working classes. It makes the whereabouts of despots a very busy place; but it cannot serve as a spur either to the efforts of industry nor the speculations of commerce. We have shown by the example of Frederick II how intellectual independence influenced even military success. One does not notice at first glance the link between a nation’s public spirit and the discipline or valor of an army which fights away from home and often comprises foreign elements. This link, however, is constant and necessary.  People like to think of soldiers today as docile instruments, whom it suffices to know how to handle skillfully. This is all too true in certain respects. It is also necessary, however, that soldiers are aware of a certain public opinion behind them. It moves them almost without their knowing. It is like that music to whose sound these same soldiers advance on the enemy. None pays it a consistent attention, and yet all are moved, encouraged, and carried along by it. If it stopped making itself heard, they would all slacken off imperceptibly. Only barbarian hordes can march ardently into battle unsustained by the public opinion of a nation of their compatriots, whose cause they defend and who share in their success. But this is because the barbarian hordes are driven by the hope of plunder and the desire to make new settlements in the country they are seizing. This hope and desire take the place for them of public opinion, or rather they constitute a real opinion.
“The conquest of the Gauls,” remarks Filangieri, “cost Caesar ten years of exhaustion, victories, and negotiations, and Clovis, so to speak, only a day.”19 Yet the Gauls who resisted Caesar were surely less disciplined than those who fought against Clovis and had been trained in Roman military tactics. Clovis, at fifteen or sixteen, was certainly not a greater general than Caesar. But Caesar had to subdue a people who took a great part in the administration of their domestic affairs, Clovis one which had been enslaved for five centuries. We have already said, at the start of this chapter, that among modern nations, freedom of the press takes the place in some respects of direct participation in the administration of affairs.
There are two circumstances, I agree, which can briefly stand in for public opinion among civilized nations in the matter of military success. The  first is when a great general inspires his soldiers with a personal enthusiasm. The second is when public opinion having been strong for a long time, the army has retained the momentum that opinion once gave it. In this case it is public opinion which has fled the nation and found refuge in the army. It is very easy to grasp that this spirit, which lives only in action and the attachment of interests, should grow dim first in the peaceful and inactive part of the nation, when the government takes away all its nourishment, and that it should flourish longer in the active and warlike part. Of these two circumstances, however, one is accidental and the other ephemeral, and both are artificial substitutes for the only real and durable cause. All man’s faculties go together. Industry and the military arts are perfected by scientific discovery. The sciences gain in their turn from the perfectioning of the military arts and industry. Learning has applications to everything. It spurs on progress in industry, all the arts and sciences, and then, in analyzing all this progress, it extends its own horizon. Finally, morality is purified and corrected by such learning. If the government undermines free expression of thought, morality will be the less sound for it,20 factual knowledge less accurate, the sciences less active in their development, the art of war less advanced, and industry less enriched by discoveries.
Human existence, attacked in its noblest parts, soon feels the poison extending to its most distant ones. You think you have limited it only in respect of some superfluous liberty or denied it only some worthless ceremony. In fact your poisoned weapon has struck it to the heart.
The process we are recounting here is not theory: it is history. It is the history of the Greek empire, that empire which was the heir to that of Rome, invested with much of its strength and all its intellectual achievement, that empire where despotism took root, with all the advantages most favorable to its power and perpetuation, and which perished and fell solely for the reason that all despotic empires must perish and fall.
People often tell us, I know, of an alleged circle which the human spirit describes and which, they say, brings back—by an inevitable  determinism—ignorance after enlightenment, barbarism after civilization.21 Unfortunately for this thesis, however, despotism has always slipped in between these stages in a way making it difficult not to define it as itself counting for something in the cycle. The real cause of these alternations in the history of nations is that man’s intelligence cannot stand still. If you do not stop it, it advances. If you stop it, it retreats, because it cannot stay at the same point. Thought is the basis of everything. If you discourage it from self-examination, it will not exercise itself on any other object, except apathetically. One could say that, indignant at seeing itself driven from its proper sphere, it wants to take vengeance, in the form of a noble suicide, for the humiliation which has been inflicted on it. All the efforts of government will not restore it to life. The false, intermittent movement it receives resembles only the convulsions which an art—more frightening than effective—stimulates in corpses, without reanimating them. And if the government wished to make up for the natural activity of muzzled public opinion with its own actions, just as in besieged places they make the horses they keep locked up there paw the ground between the columns, it would be taking on a difficult task. To begin with, a wholly artificial bustle is costly to maintain, indeed can be maintained only by extraordinary things. When each person is free, he interests or amuses himself with what he is doing, saying, or writing. But when most of the nation is reduced to the role of forcibly silenced spectators, to make these dumb spectators applaud, or even just watch, the managers of the show have constantly to reawaken their curiosity with theatrical spectacles or changes of scene. Now, it is probably an advantage for a government to be adept at laying on grand events when the general good demands it. But it is an incalculable nuisance to the governed that the government simply has to put on so-called grand events when the general good does not demand this. Moreover, this artificial activity does not fulfill its  purpose for very long. The governed soon stop listening to a long monologue they are never allowed to interrupt. The nation gets tired of a pointless display whose costs and risks are all it supports, but whose purposes and management are alien to it. The interest in public affairs is concentrated on the government and its creatures. A moral barrier stands between the bustling of government and the lasting inaction of the people. The former tries in vain to communicate to the latter its concern, and the most dazzling undertakings and the most solemn celebrations of these are only so many funeral ceremonies, with dances on the tombs. All positions are occupied by ciphers, and consent is deprived of all spontaneity. Things keep going, but by command and threat. Everything is more expensive because men insist on payment for being reduced to the level of mere machines. Money has to take over the functions of opinion, imitation, and honor. Everything is harder, because nothing is voluntary. The government is obeyed rather than supported. At the least interruption all the cogs stop operating. It is like a game of chess. The hand of power controls it. No pieces resist. But if the hand were to stop for an instant, all the pieces would remain immobile. Finally, movement weakens in government itself. A nation’s lethargy, where there is no public opinion, communicates itself to its government, whatever the latter does. Having been unable to keep the nation awake, the government finishes by falling asleep with it. Thus everything falls silent, subsides, degenerates, and is degraded in a nation which no longer has the right to make public its thoughts, and sooner or later, such a realm presents the spectacle of those plains of Egypt, where we see an immense pyramid pressing down on the arid dust, reigning over the silent wastes. It was a beautiful conceit of nature to place man’s recompense outside himself, to have lighted in his heart this indefinable flame of glory, which, nourishing itself on noble hopes, the source of all great actions,  our protection against all the vices, the link between all the generations and between man and the universe, repulses gross pleasures and disdains sordid desires. Bad luck to him who extinguishes that sacred flame. He plays the part in this world of the principle of evil, his iron hand bends our brow to the earth, when heaven made us to walk head held high and to contemplate the stars.
[16. ]Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Cours d’étude . . . , op. cit., t. IV, p. 2: “There are therefore two sorts of barbarism, the one which follows enlightened centuries and the one which precedes them; and they are not like each other.”
[17. ][Hofmann has had difficulty deciphering the folio French here, so the English is uncertain too by definition. Translator’s note]
[18. ]In writing these pages, Constant is indicating without naming the leading French newspapers, led by the Mercure de France, whose content was more and more limited to panegyrics, anagrams, and acrostics.
[19. ]Gaëtano Filangieri, La science de la législation, Paris, Cuchet, 1786, t. II, p. 105, n. 1. Here is the complete quotation from which Constant also borrows other expressions. “The conquest of the Gauls cost Caesar ten years of exhaustion, victories, and negotiations. It cost Clovis at the head of a handful of Franks, so to speak, a day. Was the fifteen- or sixteen-year-old Clovis a better general than Caesar? Were the Franks more valiant than the Romans? No. Caesar had to fight a people who had always been free or happy. Clovis found the Gauls oppressed and enslaved for more than five centuries. This is the difference in a nutshell.”
[21. ]Constant indicates here all the opponents of the doctrine of human perfectibility, such as Fontanes, Fiévée, de Feletz.
John Barrow, Voyage en Chine, formant le complément du voyage de Lord Macartney, translated from the English, with notes, by J. Castéra, Paris, F. Buisson, an XIII (1805), 3 vol. Constant must have read at least the two accounts in the Mercure de France, 2 frimaire an XIV (23 November 1805), pp. 393–402, and 22 March 1806, pp. 537–542.