A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant

A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant

A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant

A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant

Synopsis

The French Revolution rang the death knell not only for a form of society, but also for a way of feeling and of living; and it is still not clear as yet what did we gain from the changes. Benjamin Constant was one of the first to draw up this dark diagnosis. "We no longer know how to love, neither to believe, nor to want. As a result, Heaven no longer offers hope, the earth dignity, the heart refuge." But is it enough to deplore it? Constant does not think so, and having become the first French thinker of democracy, he undertakes to seek remedies to the problem: a political framework that guarantees the dignity of the individual without dissolving the social bond; a religion stripped of its oppressive forms; a love finding the place which is due to values, higher than "all the thrones of the earth."

Excerpt

Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), a brilliant and original philosopher and a political scientist, was overshadowed by Tocqueville despite his timeliness and relevance for today. A realistic free trade advocate and a committed conservative, although liberal and lyrical regarding affairs of the heart, Constant is the first serious analyst to consider the French Revolution without bias, concluding: "It is not so certain that we won out in this deal."

In this clear and lively presentation, including a biographical overview, renowned critic and essayist Tzvetan Todorov shows Constant as the first French analyst of democracy in the broadest sense: a modest and unsystematic observer who tried to establish politics as the guarantee of individual dignity without dissolving social ties, religion as a free choice beyond oppression, and love as the highest of all feelings, higher than "all the thrones on Earth."

Reassessing the role of interest, treating ethics and compassion separately from religion, understanding the role of language and the need for fusion in love relationships and linking individual feelings to community issues, Constant brilliantly anticipated our most contemporary concerns.

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