Title page from Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments

Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments

In Principles of Politics, Constant “explores many subjects: law, sovereignty, and representation; power and accountability; government, property and taxation; wealth and poverty; war, peace, and the maintenance of public order; and above all freedom, of the individual, of the press, and of religion… . Constant saw freedom as an organic phenomenon: to attack it in any particular way was to attack it generally.”

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While Constant’s fluid, dynamic style and lofty eloquence do not always make for easy reading, his text forms a coherent whole, and in his translation Dennis O’Keeffe has focused on retaining the “general elegance and subtle rhetoric” of the original. This translation is based on Etienne Hofmann’s critical edition of Principes de politique (1980), complete with Constant’s additions to the original work.

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Key Quotes

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

The choice of the people belongs to men who command attention, who attract respect, who have acquired the right to esteem, confidence, and popular recognition. And these more energetic men will also be be moderate. People always take mediocrity as peaceful. It is peaceful only when it is locked up.…

Freedom of Speech

If you once grant the need to repress the expression of opinion, either the State will have to act judicially or the government will have to arrogate to itself police powers which free it from recourse to judicial means. In the first case the laws will be eluded. Nothing is easier than presenting…

Politics & Liberty

In the countries where these oppressive laws continue in undiminished rigor, it has been claimed, as always in such cases, that the classes they oppress recognize the advantages therein. It has been said that serfdom, a natural consequence of this system of property, was felicitous for the peasants…

War & Peace

This politics of war casts into society a mass of men whose outlook is different from that of the nation and whose habits form a dangerous contrast with the patterns of civil life, with the institutions of justice, with respect for the rights of all, with those principles of peaceful and ordered…

Natural Rights

Right is a principle; utility is only a result. Right is a cause; utility is only an effect. To wish to make right subject to utility is like making the eternal laws of arithmetic subject to our everyday interests.