Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter four: Apologia for Despotism by Louis XIV - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter four: Apologia for Despotism by Louis XIV - 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.
Apologia for Despotism by Louis XIV
It is rather curious to hear Louis XIV on despotism. He makes an apologia for it and not without skill.
“We must remain in agreement,” he says, “that nothing so securely establishes the happiness and peace of provinces, as the perfect coming together of all authority in the person of the sovereign. The least division made in it always produces very great misfortunes and, whether the parts detached from it end up in the hands of individuals or certain companies, they can never be other than in a violent condition. The prince who must keep them united in his person could not possibly permit their dismemberment without making himself responsible for all the misfortunes which flow from this. . . . Not counting the revolts and internal wars which the ambition of the powerful inevitably produces when it is not checked, a thousand other ills are born again from the sovereign’s slackness. Those closest to him, the first to see his weakness, are also the first who want to gain advantage from it. Each one of them necessarily having people who act as ministers to their greed, they give these at the same time license to imitate them. Thus by degrees corruption spreads everywhere and becomes the same in all occupations. . . . of all these various crimes, the people alone are the victims. It is only at the expense of the weak and the poor that so many people  mean to accumulate their monstrous fortunes; instead of a single king whom the people ought to have, they have a thousand tyrants at once.”11
All this reasoning is founded on the error this book seeks to refute. It is thought that despotism must be somewhere, either in the hands of one man or of several. Rather than despotism, however, we can establish in its place something called freedom. Then it does not at all follow from the fact that the head of the supreme power has only limited authority, that subaltern agents possess what would make his authority absolute. They too have only limited authority. Far from oppression spreading and descending from rung to rung, all are contained and checked. Louis XIV paints us a picture of a free government as if despotism were everywhere in it and freedom nowhere. The complete opposite is the case. Despotism is nowhere in it because freedom is everywhere. The weakness of an absolute government is the misfortune of peoples, because power drifts randomly and the strong seize hold of it. Wisely established limits are the good fortune of nations because they circumscribe power, in such a way that no one can abuse it.
On the Duties of Individuals to Political Authority
[11. ]Mémoires de Louis XIV, éd. cit., pp. 17–19.