Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter five: On Examples Drawn from Antiquity - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter five: On Examples Drawn from Antiquity - 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 Examples Drawn from Antiquity
We should separate from this subject all the examples drawn from antiquity. We will devote another book in this work to developing the numberless differences which mark us off from the ancients.7 Let us merely say here that in the small States of antiquity property was far from being the same thing it is with us.  The sharing out of conquered territories made or could make proprietors of all individuals. In our times conquests aggrandize States but do not give new lands at all to the citizens. All the laboring work, which takes away all leisure from those committed to it, was done by slaves. Slavery is abolished. The rich appeased the poor in feeding them out of largesse. Our financial system no longer permits handouts of money and corn. The public square contained the whole nation, which was governed by eloquence, a power which in our huge societies no longer exists. The discussions gave the whole nation general ideas on politics, even when they directed it badly on such and such particular occasions. Thus, freed from manual work by the slaves, often fed for nothing by the rich, or by the State, which came to the same thing, given understanding of government by orators, nonowners were able to give almost all their time to public affairs. They acquired the habit of so preoccupying themselves, and this habit made them less unfit for it.
Today private matters, the cares imposed on each person for his subsistance, take at least most of the poor man’s time, if not all of it. Public matters are only an accessory. Printing has replaced popular discussion. The lower classes, however, have little time to read. What they read without choice, they take up without examining. No opinion gets debated in their presence. Theirs therefore forms by chance.
Nonowners could consequently exercise political rights in the republics of antiquity with less inconvenience than they could in our modern States; and yet, if we examine the thing closely, we will become convinced that their influence was fatal to these same republics. Athens suffered greatly from not having based its government on property. Its lawmakers had always to battle with the ascendancy of the propertyless. Most of its writers, its philosophers, even its poets have a marked preference  for oligarchy.8 This is because they were seeking in the power of the few the security that they should have reposed in property alone. The Lacedaemonian [Spartan] institutions were not based on property; but these bizarre institutions had distorted property as they had annihilated personal freedom and imposed silence on all the affections. They rested moreover on the most horrible servitude. The helots and the Messenians were the true propertyless class of Laconia, and for them the loss of political rights was subsumed in that of natural rights.9 The opponents of property stress the poverty of some of the illustrious citizens of ancient Rome. These illustrious citizens were, however, despite their poverty, propertied. Cincinnatus owned the land he ploughed. If the propertyless in Rome had what looked like political rights, they paid for that sterile honor, dying of poverty, thrown into prisons, their creditors the patricians legally entitled to defame them.
Such will always be the fate of this class while it has rights it cannot exercise without putting the public good at risk. In their alarm owners will have recourse to the most violent means in order to break the threatening weapon now in the hands of their enemies, entrusted to them by an imprudent constitution. Of all the political passions, fear is the most aggressive. Proprietors will always be oppressive to avoid being oppressed. Property will never be powerless. If it is refused legal influence, it will soon seize upon the arbitrary and corrupting kind.
[7. ]Book XVI, On Political Power in the Ancient World.
[9. ][The helots were prisoners of war of Sparta, subsequently enslaved. The city of Mycenae, like Sparta situated in Laconia, was conquered by the Spartans and its inhabitants enslaved. Translator’s note]
[A. [Refers to page 172.]]See above all Xenophon and Aristophanes’ comedies.