Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter six: The Fifth Difference - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter six: The Fifth Difference - 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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The Fifth Difference
Lastly, mankind has not aged by more than twenty centuries without changes in character. The ancients were right in the youth  of moral life. The moderns are in its maturity or perhaps its old age. This observation can be proved, if need be, by simple examination of ancient writings. Their poetry is all of a kind and direct. Their poets’ enthusiasm is true, natural, complete. Modern poets are always trailing some ulterior motive or other drawing on experience and destroying enthusiasm. We might say they fear to seem dupes and rather than lending themselves to an irresistible impulse, these are men who pore over the poetry with their readers. The first condition of enthusiasm is not to observe oneself too knowingly, but the moderns never stop observing themselves, even in the midst of their most sensitive or violent impulses.
The word “illusion” has no equivalent in any ancient language because the word comes into being only when the thing no longer exists. The philosophy of the ancients is exalted even when it claims to be abstract. Modern philosophy is always dry, even when it strives to be exalted. There is poetry in the philosophy of the ancients and philosophy in the poetry of the moderns. Ancient historians believe and affirm; modern historians analyze and doubt. The ancients had complete conviction about everything. We have almost none save about the hypocrisy of conviction. Now, nothing is isolated in nature. Literature always bears the impress of the general character. Less worn out by civilization, the ancients had more vivacious impressions of things. Their warlike habits inspired in them great activity, profound confidence in their strength, scorn for death, a standard indifference to pain, and therefore greater devotion, energy, and nobility. The moderns, wearied by experience, have a sadder and thereby more delicate sensibility, a more habitual openness to emotion. Egoism itself, which mingles in with this faculty of emotion, can corrupt but not destroy it. To resist the power which suffering has over us, we are forced to avoid the sight of it. The ancients faced it without fear and tolerated it without pity. A woman of very superior intelligence has very wisely remarked how much less refinement there was in the sensibility of the ancients than in ours, by comparing  Racine’s Andromache with Virgil’s, though the latter is incontestably the most sensitive of the ancient poets.20 Writers who have come after her and copied her without acknowledgment,21 have attributed the difference to religious causes. This is an inversion of the ideas. This difference makes itself felt in religion as elsewhere. Religion is not its cause, however. Its cause lies in the progress of civilization, which gentles the character by weakening it, and which, making domestic relations safer, less menaced, less interrupted, thereby makes of them a more constant and intimate part of human life. The ancients, like children, believed docilely, and listened with respect. They could accept without repugnance a whole ensemble of institutions made up of traditions, precepts, usages, and mysterious practices as much as from positive laws. The moderns have lost the ability to believe for a long time and without analysis. Doubt is endlessly at their shoulder. It weakens the force even of what they do take on. The lawmaker cannot speak to them as a prophet. He makes positive laws for them to give their existence security. They cannot be dominated, however, except by habit. Every advance in life gives preeminence to a different faculty, among nations as among individuals. Imagination was dominant among the ancients as reason is with us. Now imagination runs to meet what one wishes to persuade it of. Reason waits and rejects, and even when it yields does so only reluctantly. From this results a truth whose consequences are as important as they are extensive. Nothing was easier than recasting ancient peoples by their institutions. Nothing would be more impossible than treating modern peoples this way. Among the ancients an institution was effective the moment it was set up. An institution among the moderns is effective only when it has become a habit. In the remote times of antiquity peoples had so few habits that they changed names almost as often as rulers. Dionysius of Halicarnassus22 informs us that Italy was designated in succession  by six different appellations according to the names of those who seized that country one after another. Leaders of nations and earth’s conquerors, try to designate a street by your name today. All your might will not make people forget their habit and substitute this new name for it.
[20. ]Madame de Staël, De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, revised, corrected, and enlarged second edition, Paris, Maradan, an IX. Préface de la seconde édition, t. I, pp. 13–14.
[21. ]A reference to François René de Chateaubriand, Génie du christianisme ou beautés de la religion chrétienne, Deuxième partie, Livre II, Ch. 10. In the Paris edition, by Migneret, 1802, t. II, pp. 96–98, Chateaubriand takes up the idea of a comparison, but does not, strictly speaking, plagiarize Mme de Staël.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Les antiquités romaines, Paris, Ph.-N. Lottin, 1723, pp. 16–23.