Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter eleven: On Hereditary Privileges Compared to Property - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter eleven: On Hereditary Privileges Compared to 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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On Hereditary Privileges Compared to Property
Hereditary privileges have been compared to property. Property’s enemies have adopted this comparison with alacrity. Privileges having become an odious thing, they have wanted this disfavor to fall on property. The friends of privilege have taken up this comparison for a contrary motive. Property being indispensable, they wanted to justify privileges as provenly necessary. This comparison would be right only if property did not change hands. Only then would it resemble privilege. Then it would also be, however, the most oppressive usurpation, as we said earlier. If property is the constant interest of the majority across the generations, this is because anyone can aspire to it and be assured of getting it through work. Hereditary privileges, however, are only, and can never be other than, the interest of the few. They exclude all who do not belong to the favored caste. They bear not only on the present but on the future and deprive generations unborn. Property stirs emulation; privilege rebuffs and discourages it. Property puts a value on all social relations, all social conditions. Privileges hold themselves aloof. Property communicates and thus improves itself. Privileges surround themselves with defenses and in communication lose their advantages. The more proprietors there are in a country, the more property is respected and the more people are affluent. The more privileged people there are, the more privileges are depreciated and the more people are for all that oppressed. For it is on them that the immunities of the privileged bear down. It is hard, even when we extend our conjectural sphere as far as possible, to imagine a tolerable social condition without property. America shows us a wise and peaceful government without privileged institutions.26 Privileges and society are always at war. The latter wants a rule; the former want exceptions. If property has its drawbacks sometimes, they come from privileges, which, as a result of their diverse combinations, make the acquisition of property often impossible and always difficult for the nonprivileged class. Entails, primogeniture, and all the regulations which make property immobile and troublesome are in the nature of privileges, in fact their emanations.
 In our era a number of men, having abolished hereditary privileges, went on to undermine property. We should not conclude that these things are intimately linked. In all questions there is a point where the mad and the sane split. The latter stop after the overthrow of prejudices which it was important to destroy. The former want to extend the destruction to things worth keeping.27
When it is suggested that property is a convention of the same kind as hereditary privileges, we need to separate these two ideas again, in the countries where these privileges have been discredited. Nothing harms useful things more than their resting on improper things. The two collapse together. The relationship between privileges and property is like that between superstition and morality. Superstition can give morality a meretricious succor. If superstition loses its force, however, morality itself is undermined.
Privileges and proscriptions are social errors of the same kind. They likewise take citizens away from the law, either by abitrary punishments or arbitrary favor.
Montesquieu is often quoted in favor of privileges. But he examines rather than judges the laws. He explains the reasons for them, assigning causes without justifying institutions. He wrote, moreover, under a government mild in practice, though arbitrary by nature. Now, under such a government, privileges can be useful.28 Where rights have disappeared, privileges can be a defense. For all their drawbacks, they are better than the absence of any intermediary power. To do without privileges, a constitution has to be excellent. Under despotism equality becomes a scourge. 
[26. ][It had one huge such institution: slavery. Translator’s note]
[27. ]A very similar argument is found in Mme. de Staël (éd. cit., p. 46): “There is a point in all debate where the foolish and the wise separate. It is when destructive action is over and the matter in hand is to form a link which reunites what the emptiness of some prejudice or other has disunited.” Constant will return to this theme in Ch. 4 and 5 of Book XVIII, in relation to revolutions.
[N. [Refers to page 186.]]This is truly the point of view from which Montesquieu considered privileges. “Since despotism,” he says, “causes frightful evils to the natural order, the very evil which limits it is a good.” Esprit des lois, Livre II, Ch. 4.