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chapter three: On Property - 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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A number of those who have defended property by way of abstract reason seem to me to have fallen into grave error. They have represented property as something mysterious, anterior to society and independent of it.2 Property is served by the rejection of these hypotheses. Mystery is harmful in everything which does not spring from superstition. Property is not anterior to society. Without political association, which gives it its guarantee, it would be only the right of the first possessor, the right of force, that is to say, a right which is no such thing. It is absolutely not independent of society, since some kind of social condition, admittedly a very wretched one, could be conceived without it, while property without society is unimaginable. Property exists by virtue of society. Society found that the best way to get its members to enjoy goods common to all or disputed by all before its institution, was to concede some of them to each person or to maintain each person in that part of them he happened to possess, guaranteeing to him enjoyment of this, plus such changes as this enjoyment might undergo either by the countless changes of chance or by inequality in the degrees of effort. Property is only a social convention. Our recognizing it as such, however, does not mean we envisage it as less sacred, less inviolable, less necessary than do writers using a different philosophical approach. Some philosophers have considered its establishment an evil and its abolition possible.3 They have had recourse, however, to found their  theories, to a host of suppositions of which some are quite unrealizable and of which the least chimerical are relegated to a future it is not even permissible for us to predict. Not only is their fundamental assumption a growth in enlightenment at which man may perhaps one day arrive but on which it would be absurd to found our present institutions, but they have assumed as proven a diminution in the work required today for the subsistence of the human race of an order which surpasses all invention even suspected. Certainly each one of our discoveries in mechanical science which replaces human force by instruments and machines is a victory for thought; and by the laws of nature, these victories becoming easier as they multiply, they must follow one another at an increasing rate. But what we have done under this heading, and even what we can imagine, fall far short of our total exemption from manual labor. Nevertheless, this exemption would be indispensable for the abolition of property, short of our wishing, as some writers propose, to divide this work equally among all members of the society. Such a division, however, even if it were not an absurd dream, would work against its own purpose, would take away from thought the leisure necessary to make it strong and profound, from ingenuity the perseverance which brings it to perfection, from all classes the advantages of habit, continuity, unity of purpose, and centralization of productive forces. Without property the human race would be in stasis, in the most brutish and savage state of its existence. Each person, responsible for providing on his own for all his needs, would split his energies to meet them and, bent beneath the weight of these multiplied cares, would never advance an inch. The abolition of property would destroy the division of labor, the basis of the perfecting of all the arts and sciences. The progressive faculty, the favorite hope of the writers I am opposing, would die for lack of time and independence. The crass and forced equality they recommend to us would be an invincible obstacle to the gradual setting up of true equality, that of happiness and enlightenment. 
[2. ]See on this subject the old but still useful article by Pierre Larousse in the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, s.v. Propriété, Section II: Légitimité du droit de propriété. This article has the merit of bringing out Constant’s originality and locating him both among those who, like him, see property as a social institution (Pascal, Domat, Bossuet, Montesquieu, Mirabeau, Tronchet, Robespierre) and specifically against those who represent property as “anterior to society,” such as Mercier de la Rivière, Destutt de Tracy, and Cousin. Locke’s name should be added to the latter list.
[3. ]Constant is thinking in the first place of Godwin, in the last book of whose Enquiry Concerning Political Justice defects in the system of property are analyzed. One can also number among philosophers hostile to property in the eighteenth century Morelly and his Code de la nature, then Linguet, and in some respects Mably.