Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter one: Why among the Ancients Political Authority Could Be More Extensive Than in Modern Times - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter one: Why among the Ancients Political Authority Could Be More Extensive Than in Modern Times - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Why among the Ancients Political Authority Could Be More Extensive Than in Modern Times
Before finishing this work I believe I must resolve a difficulty which perhaps has already struck more than one of my readers. The principles I represent as the basis of all possible freedom today are directly opposed to the principles formerly adopted for political organization by most of the free nations of antiquity. If we except Athens, all the Greek republics submitted individuals to an almost boundless political jurisdiction. It was the same in the great centuries of the Roman Republic. The individual was entirely sacrificed to the collectivity. The ancients, as Condorcet remarks,1 had no notion of individual rights. Men were so to speak just machines, their springs regulated and all their movements directed by the law. Yet it is the ancients who offer us the noblest examples of political freedom history brings down to us. We find among them the model of all the virtues which the enjoyment of that freedom produces and which it needs for its persistence.
One cannot reread, even today, the beautiful annals of antiquity, one cannot retrace the actions of its great men, without feeling some emotion or other of a profound and special type, which nothing modern makes one experience. The old elements of a nature so to speak earlier than ours seem to reawaken in us at these memories. It is hard not to regret these times, when human faculties were developing in a premapped direction, but on a vast scale, so strong in their own powers, and with such a sense of energy and dignity. When we give in to these regrets, it is impossible  not to tend to imitate what we regret. As a result, those who since the Renaissance have striven to draw the human race out of the degradation into which those two linked scourges of superstition and conquest had plunged it, have for the most part believed they had to draw from the ancients the maxims, the institutions, and the practices favorable to freedom. But they failed to recognize many of the differences which, in distinguishing us in essence from the ancients, make almost all their institutions inapplicable to our times. Since this misjudgment contributed more than people think to the misfortunes of the Revolution which signaled the end of the last century, I think I must devote several chapters to bringing out these differences.
[A. [Refers to page 351.]]Mémoires sur l’instruction publique.