Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter five: Continuation of the Same Subject - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter five: Continuation of the Same Subject - 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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Continuation of the Same Subject
The second duty of enlightened men is more important still, since it is a function not only of prudence but of morality.
When an improper constitution or long-established custom confers on those in the governing group or on some class or other vexatious privileges or despotic usages, the fault lies not with the governing group nor with this class but with the nation which has tolerated what should not exist. No one is guilty if he profits from a faculty he found ready-established and which society had peacefully granted him. The people can reclaim their rights because these are imprescriptible. They can take away from government an unjust prerogative. They can deprive a class of an oppressive privilege. They cannot, however, punish either one of them. They have lost all right to demand compensation or to exercise vengeance for damage to which they had seemed to resign themselves.
In the absence of this principle, revolutions no longer have any term. An abominable, retroactive course is entered, where each step, on the pretext of a past injustice, leads to a present one. People fall into the same absurdity with which they reproach the supporters of the most defective institutions. Men are punished for what they were and could not not be. A revolution gets turned into an era of new inequality whose newness renders it only the more revolting. There are sown for the future the seeds of iniquity, regret, suffering, and resentment. The generations allegedly to be freed are bequeathed the seeds of discord, hatred, and misfortune.
The groups you proscribe, those grown rich on abuses, are at the same time the most cultivated. If you go so far as destroying even  the individuals who compose them, you diminish proportionately the body of national enlightenment. The education of a nation is not the work of a day. It is not enough to strive to instruct that lively majority formerly kept in ignorance by an imperfect social order. The task is long. Pressing events will perhaps not wait until this task is achieved. Enlightened men have to be spread out between all the parties to preserve them from despotism. The Greeks pardoned captives who recited the verses of Euripides.16 The least bit of enlightenment, the least germ of thought, the least refined sentiment, the least mark of elegance must be carefully protected. These are so many elements indispensable to social happiness. They must be saved from the storm. This is necessary both for the sake of justice and for the sake of freedom itself. For all these things, by more or less direct pathways, end in freedom.
Doubtless this duty is hard to fulfill. Revolutions scarcely begin before the friends of freedom find themselves split into two sections. On one side are ranged the moderate men, on the other the violent. Only these latter, however, remain united a long time, because the spur they have been given prevents their separating, and they are exclusively absorbed in an idea common to them. Moderate men, not being drawn by a dominant preoccupation, lend their ears readily to individual considerations. Pride awakens in them, courage is shaken, their steadfastness wearies, personal calculation, repulsed for a moment, takes up the charge again. Cowardice takes a thousand forms and disguises itself in a thousand ways to hide itself from its own gaze. It does not call itself only prudence, reason, wisdom, and knowing what is valuable; it sometimes assumes the title of independence. How many men have I seen leaving the most just and the weakest party, because they were, so they said, too independent to be associated with any party. This language heralded the fact that they were going to move to the stronger side, and their proclamation of independence was only a prouder wording of cowardice.
 A terrible ally, fanaticism, very active in political questions, as in religious ones, is committed to the violent side. Fanaticism is nothing save the rule of a single idea which wishes to triumph at any price. It is probably more absurd still when the question is freedom than it is when the question is religion. Fanaticism and freedom are incompatible. One is based on examination; the other forbids research and punishes doubt. The one thinks through and evaluates all views; the other sees the most timid objection as an assault. The one seeks to persuade, the other issues orders. The one, in a word, considers the need for victory a misfortune and treats the vanquished as equals whose rights it is keen to recognize, the other hurls itself on all questions as if on enemy redoubts and sees in its adversaries only still-dangerous captives it must immolate, so as no longer to have to fear them.
Whatever the natural incompatibility between love of freedom and fanaticism may be, however, these two things combine easily in the minds of men who, not having contracted the habit of reflection, can receive ideas only on the word of others, more in the form of a mysterious revelation than as a sequence of principles and consequences. It is in the shape of a dogma that the notion of freedom dawns in unenlightened minds, and its effect then is as with any other dogma, a kind of exaltation, of fury, impatience with contradiction, the inability to tolerate the slightest reservation, the slightest change in the creed. This rule of faith, brought thus to bear on questions which touch all interests, on opinions which, subject to the law of circumstances, become criminal today when yesterday they were a duty, is much more to be feared than when it is enclosed in an abstract circle of theological subtleties. These subtleties leave in peace, in the bosom of their families, many men indifferent to shadowy discussions. What obscure life, however, what immobile existence, what unknown name could succeed in disarming fanaticism in the political field? This obscure life, this unknown name, this immobile existence, are in its eyes treasons. Inactivity seems punishable to it, domestic affections a forgetting of patriotism, happiness a suspect purpose. Those who desire or regret it, it will call conspirators. Armed for freedom, it bows joyfully before the harshest slavery, provided that it is exercised in the name of its cherished doctrine. It battles for the cause and renounces its effect. Severity, injustice, and slights of all kinds on the part of its leaders seem to it meritorious acts, as it were gauges of sincerity. It finds the educated bothersome because they find it hard  to embrace an opinion without certain restrictions and nuances. It is suspicious of the person of proud spirit, because proud spirits experience some kind of antipathy to the strongest people and serve the powerful only with distaste. The only qualities it demands are belief and will. It sees in morality obstacles, weakness, and chicanery. All is well if the end is good. It violates laws because they are made only for the friends, not the enemies of the fatherland. It betrays friendship because there cannot be friendship between the people’s defenders and oppressors. It neglects its most solemn commitments because fulfilling them might supply dangerous men with means they could direct against public safety. It effaces even the very last vestiges of pity. It is moved not at all by the sight of grief, nor does it fade at all with age. We have seen old men, overcome with sufferings which told them that the end was near, strike their victims with a failing hand, showing themselves unyielding at the edge of the tomb and remaining pitiless in the presence of eternity.
Fanaticism has the fatal property that its very sincerity freezes the courage of those who wish to fight it. It is easy to stand up to the injustice of the wicked, because it is known that in the bottom of their hearts they render homage to those they persecute. It is nothing to attack frontally enemies recognized as such. We resign ourselves willingly to the hatred of these adversaries. We are separated from them by fixed barriers. We fight them in the name of everything which raises the spirit, everything dear to the heart. But to bring down on one’s head the distrust of men one wishes to serve, to lose that popularity which is so vast a recompense for danger, such a means of consoling and saving innocence, to repel the repeated applause of an excited crowd listening to you, responding to you, saluting you, and following you like some tutelary God, to give up the support of one’s party without gaining the good will of the opposing party, to be disowned by those very people who share your opinions most keenly and who are devoted enthusiastically to the cause you cherish, that is real discouragement, the deepest misery. When disinterested men, brave, ardent for freedom, free from all egoism or low passion, in their suspicions come to pursue the friends of humanity and morality, they are animated, in the midst of their mistakes, by a conviction so firm that it takes away from those they suspect part of the sense and the strength of innocence.
 This is still not the whole story. Fanaticism, contained initially in a few energetic minds, seems to communicate itself by rapid contagion to timid and weak characters. They learn its language out of self-interest. They speak its language in order to please it. Soon, however, its ascendancy subjugates them. They become intoxicated by what they say. Each word they utter is a commitment into which they enter. They are driven forward in this course by the very feelings which might induce them to flee. Sometimes they dread their victims, more often their own side. If mutual recognition were possible, their terror would be less; but they all react on each other. Thus in our country men made ferocious by fear got drunk on their own terror. Thus there spread over France this inexplicable vertigo which people called the Reign of Terror.
Fanaticism then loses even the qualities which ennoble it. It furnishes pretexts for all forms of vice. The ungrateful friend, the faithless debtor, the obscure informer, the prevaricating judge, find their apologia written in advance in the agreed language; and this banal justification, prepared for all crimes, succeeds in corrupting that host of equivocal souls, who have neither the audacity of crime nor the courage of virtue.
Once they reach this stage, revolutions destroy all morality. They break the regular sequence of causes and effects. They separate actions from their natural consequences. They break all equilibrium between obligations and sacrifices. There are no longer easy duties nor safe virtues. Everything becomes devotion or heroism; and charisma takes over all the vulgar souls incapable of these great efforts.
Each person in the sinking vessel seizes a plank and repels the companion in misfortune who would like to attach himself to him.17 Each man abjures the links of his past life, isolating himself in order to defend himself and seeing in the friendship or misfortune which implore him only an obstacle to his safety.
 One thing only keeps its price. It is not public opinion. There no longer exists any glory for the powerful nor respect for victims. It is not justice. Its laws are unrecognized and its forms profaned. It is wealth. Wealth can disarm tyranny and seduce some of its agents. It can appease proscription, making flight from it easier. In sum, it can spread a few material joys across a life which is always under threat. Thus shameful leanings form an alliance with the most unbridled manias. People amass wealth to enjoy possessions. They possess to forget inevitable dangers. The response to others’ misfortune is hardness, to one’s own, insouciance. There is blood-letting alongside festivities. In their fierce stoicism people reject sympathy; they throw themselves into pleasure in sybaritic voluptuousness.
Lost in this chaos, enlightened men no longer find any voice to respond to them. All reasoning seems perverted, and no one feels above reproach. Rectitude is a prosecuting voice to be got rid of, to be distorted for the sake of a peaceful life. Each man is haunted by the memory of some troubling fact, on which all his logic focuses. You may believe he is expounding a whole theory to you; he is really trying to justify an hour of his life.
One reflects, sorrowfully, on oneself, on morality, on the principles one has adopted from childhood. To remember some ideas of moderation or prudence is to be regarded as a traitor. One is regarded as culpable when one takes up with any zeal the cause of some unfortunate soul. Faced with all the evidence of disapproval one meets, one is tempted to reproach oneself with a crime, whereas in fact one is fulfilling a duty. Shame upon him, however, who, charged with preserving his country from the perils which the blind furies are preparing for it, him whose duty is to protect weak, oppressed, and defenseless beings, shame I say, if he loses heart. Woe to freedom’s friends if they compromise with that spirit of persecution whose nature is to scorn all compromise. Their cause is henceforth dishonored. Sooner or later, this spirit, not finding them zealous enough, will turn its weapons against them, snatch their banners from them, thrust them into the ranks of the enemy, and proscribe them as turncoats. Then they will have the courage to die, a sterile courage, for which the future will pay them little regard. For want of courage earlier, for not having struggled against injustice from its very first moves, they will die without glory, at once the victims and the authors of the crimes they have suffered. 
[16. ]This phrase picks up one by Mme., de Staël, from Des circonstances actuelles, Livre II, Ch. 4 (ed. cit., p. 298): “Jadis, des Grecs prisonniers en Sicile obtinrent leur liberté de leurs ennemis en leur récitant quelques vers d’Euripide.” [In times past, Greek prisoners in Sicily obtained their freedom from their enemies by reciting to them some verses of Euripides.] It seems, however, that Mme. de Staël found it in Plutarch, Vies parallèles, Vie de Nicias, paragraph 29.
[17. ]An almost identical image occurs in Mme. de Staël’s Des circonstances actuelles, op. cit., Livre II, Ch. 2, p. 236.