Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter four: On Government Protection of Enlightenment - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter four: On Government Protection of Enlightenment - 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 Government Protection of Enlightenment
Do you restrict yourself to demanding that government favor with all its might the indefinite growth of enlightenment? In charging government with this function, however, are you quite sure you are not imposing on it a duty directly opposed to its interest? We need to distinguish between the sciences proper and enlightenment in the widest sense of that word. We have said, and  we think we have shown,11 that the sciences always gained from the progress of enlightenment and lost from its decay. But the material of science is nevertheless liable to become isolated in many respects from the interests most dear to the happiness and dignity of the human race. Mathematics or physics in the hands of d’Alembert, Condorcet, Biot, or Cabanis are means for the perfectioning of intelligence and rationality and thereby of morality. These sciences can also become separated, however, from the wider purpose of thought; they become then a form of work of a kind more difficult and of more extensive utility than the work of the majority of men, but no less foreign to what we understand specifically by philosophy. All governments have an interest in encouraging sciences thus circumscribed and consequently almost all encourage them. They make a bargain with them whereby the sciences agree not to step outside the agreed sphere. A famous author ingeniously observed that government sought to divide man’s faculties, as it divides citizens among themselves, in order to keep them the more easily in slavery.12 It is not thus, however, with enlightened activities. Such a bargain is contrary to their nature. The personal interest of those in power is therefore by no means to protect them frankly and to the utmost.
The interest of the governors as such is for the governed to be sufficiently enlightened to be skillful economically, with no loss of their docility and without their in any way harming or worrying the government. Government, of any kind, however legitimate or moderate you suppose it, is keen on surveillance. Now, the more enlightened nations are, the more redoubtable surveillance is. The growth of the intellectual powers of the governed is the creation of a rival power to that of the governors. The consciousness of each individual of the cultivated class constitutes an inflexible tribunal, which judges the acts of government. The governors, therefore, as governors, have an interest not in an indefinite progress of enlightenment, but in a relative and limited one.
As individuals, it is more obvious still that their immediate interest in relation to enlightenment is not the same as that of the governed. It would be too simpleminded of us to stop here and show that it is  more agreeable for the holders of power, however well-intentioned they may be, for ministers, however pure they want to be, to be surrounded by men less educated than they and from whom they can easily command admiration and obedience, the implication being that even when the ostensible purpose of the government is to encourage enlightenment, its secret desire is still to keep it dependent and therefore to limit it. This desire would not exist in the holders of power, however, if the objects of their protection were not inclined to take it for granted. From this derives some kind of constraint, some eternal obstacle to all free movement, all strict logic, all precise research, all impartial reasoning. Government protection hurts enlightenment even when the government, sincere and disinterested in all its views, repudiates all ulterior motive and all idea of domination. Compare the respective progress of French literature and German literature in Berlin under Frederick II. No sovereign was in better faith than Frederick in his zeal for the development of the human spirit. He invited his academy to prove that error could never be useful.13 His country’s literature seeming to him still in its infancy, he showered his favors on all the French men of letters who gathered around him. He overwhelmed them with distinctions and wealth. He allowed them that familiarity with the great which is said to throw almost all men into such a sweet intoxication. The French writings published at his court, however, were never more than inferior and superficial productions. Frederick’s genius could not efface the autonomous character of government. It is true that his protégés repeated philosophical ideas, because these ideas were the watchword; but truths themselves are sterile when they are produced to order. They wrote audacious things, only with a trembling hand, uncertain about the conclusions it was prudent to come to therein and endlessly and anxiously returning to consult officialdom. Voltaire made a short appearance in this literary circle, warmed by royal protection; but since Voltaire was not one of protection’s creatures and was himself a power, the two potentates could not live together, and Voltaire soon left the monarch to protect his humble littérateurs at his leisure.
The German writers scorned by Frederick had no  portion of his encouragement or favor. They worked only for the public and themselves. It is to their writings, however, that Germany owes the high degree of enlightenment she has reached; and their writings owe their merit to the government’s neglect. If one had to choose between persecution and protection, persecution is the more valuable to intellectual life.14
There is among the resources nature has given man a resilience which reacts in the hand which oppresses it, but relaxes or bends when that hand, become more adroit, has managed to seize hold. It was in terror of being accused of sorcery by the government that Roger Bacon outstripped his century. Galileo was to discover the movement of the earth under the Inquisition’s yoke. It was far from his country, whence tyranny had banished him, that Locke analyzed man’s faculties. It is too often concluded, since a cause has produced an effect, that differently employed it would produce an opposite effect. Governments can sometimes succeed in stopping the march of human intelligence for a while. One would be wrong to infer, however, that they succeed in encouraging it. Ignorance can at their behest prolong itself on earth. Enlightenment shines only at the behest of freedom.
[11. ]In Book VII, Ch. 5.
[12. ]Hofmann does not know who this author is.
[13. ]Hofmann was unable to verify this.
[14. ]In an article in the Moniteur of 9 fructidor an IV (26 August 1796), De la restitution des droits politiques aux descendants des religionnaires fugitifs, Constant had already said: “The late king of Prussia, by his blind contempt for everything which appeared in German, has rendered the progress of enlightenment the only service which government could, that of leaving it alone.” From the text published in Béatrice Jasinski, L’engagement de Benjamin Constant. Amour et politique (1794–1796), Paris, Minard, 1971, p. 255.