Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter one: On the Inviolability of the True Principles of Freedom - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter one: On the Inviolability of the True Principles of Freedom - 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 the Inviolability of the True Principles of Freedom
This work has sought to determine the extent and jurisdiction of political authority on the various things which include all the interests of men. Let us now see what principles of freedom result from our analysis and whether these can be overdone or misused.
Individuals must enjoy complete freedom of action for all innocent or unimportant actions. When, in a given situation, an action unimportant in itself can threaten public safety, such as a certain way of dressing which can serve as a password, a society has a right to forbid it. When an action of the same kind is part of a guilty action, such as brigands agreeing to a rendezvous before effecting an assassination, society has the right to deal harshly with this unimportant action, in order to interrupt a crime already begun. In the two cases society’s intervention is legitimate because its need is proven. But equally in the two cases it is legitimate only on this condition.1
Individuals must enjoy complete freedom of opinion either private or public, as long as that freedom does not produce harmful actions. When it does produce such, it becomes identified with them, and under this heading it must be repressed and punished. Opinion separated from action, however, must remain free. The only function  of the government is to confine it to its proper domain, speculation and theory.
Individuals must enjoy a boundless freedom in the use of their property and the exercise of their labor, as long as in disposing of their property or exercising their labor they do not harm others who have the same rights. If they do so harm them, society intervenes, not to invade anyone’s rights but to guarantee the rights of all.
Now, what abuses can result from these principles which are the only true principles of freedom, and to what exaggeration are they susceptible?
A singular error which I indicated at the start of this book and of which one must accuse Rousseau and Mably above all, but from which almost no political writer has been exempt, has confused all ideas on this question.
The principles of political authority have not been distinguished from those of freedom.
Since in the theorizing of philosophers friendly to humanity, the principles of government tended to take away from oppressors of human societies the powers they had usurped and to return those powers to the whole society, it was not grasped that this last was only a preliminary operation which had merely destroyed that which should not exist, but by means of which one was deciding nothing as to what should be put in its place.
Thus the dogma of national sovereignty having been first proclaimed and then abused, it was thought that a principle of freedom was being abused, when it was only an abuse of a principle of government.
Because where citizens are nothing, usurpers are everything, it was believed that for the people to be everything it was necessary that individuals be nothing. This maxim is palpably false. It implies that freedom is nothing other than a new formula for despotism. Where the individual is nothing, the people are nothing. Can it be thought that the people get rich from the losses of each of their members, as a tyrant enriches himself from what he steals from each one of his subjects? Nothing is more absurd. The people are rich by way of what their members possess, free because they are free. The people gain nothing from members’ sacrifices. Individual sacrifices are sometimes necessary, but they are never a positive gain, either for individuals or the nation.
Those who hold or usurp power may, to legitimate their encroachments, borrow the name of freedom,  because, unfortunately, the word is boundlessly obliging; but they can never borrow its principles or even any of its maxims.
When, for example, a mistaken majority oppresses the minority or, which happens far more often, when a ferocious and noisy minority seizes the name of the majority to tyrannize society, to what does it lay claim in justification of its outrages? The sovereignty of the people, the power of society over its members, the abnegation of individual rights in favor of the society, that is to say, always principles of government, never principles of freedom.
How indeed could the latter be invoked in favor of the opposition? What do they establish? That society has no right to be unjust toward a single one of its members, that the whole society minus one is not authorized to obstruct the latter in his opinions, nor in those actions which are not harmful, in the use of his property or the exercise of his labor, save in those cases where that use or that exercise would obstruct another individual possessing the same rights.
Now, what do oppressive majorities or minorities do? Precisely the opposite of what these principles establish. It is not therefore these principles they exaggerate or abuse. They act from directly opposite assertions.
When can opinions put out by the press become a means of tyranny? It is when a single man or group of men seize exclusive control of the press and make it the organ of their opinion, represent this opinion as national, and wish on this authority to make their view prevail over all others. But in that case, what principles can this man or men proclaim in support of their behavior? Not the principles of freedom, which forbid making any opinion dominate, even that of everyone against that of a single other soul, but the principles of political government, which, exaggerated and submitting individuals with all their rights and without reserve to the sovereign community, permit the restraining, obstructing, and proscribing of the opinions of individuals.
These examples could be multiplied infinitely. The result would always be the same. It was by derivation from this error that Burke said freedom is a power.2 Freedom is a power only in the sense that a shield is a weapon. So when one speaks of possible abuses of the principles of freedom,  such an expression is inaccurate. The principles of freedom would have prevented anything under the heading of abuses of freedom. These abuses, whoever their author, taking place always at the expense of another’s freedom, have never been the consequence of these principles, but rather their reversal.
[1. ]Constant had already spoken of the jurisdiction of the government on the actions of individuals in Book V, Ch. 2.
[2. ]See Book XV, Ch. 1, n. 2.