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Benjamin Constant

Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) was a French thinker, writer and politician.

Constant was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, to descendants of Huguenots. He was educated by private tutors and at the universities at Erlangen and Edinburgh. In the course of his life, he spent many years in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Britain. He was intimate with Anne Louise Germaine de StaŽl and their intellectual collaboration made them one of the most important intellectual pairs of their time. He was active in French politics as a publicist and politician during the latter half of the French Revolution and between 1815 and 1830. During part of this latter period, he sat in the French National Assembly. He was one of its most eloquent orators and a leader of the left-liberal opposition known as the Indepentants.

A classical liberal author, he pleaded for individual liberty, restrictions on government authority on the individual, and increasing voting rights. He is well-known for his theory of modern liberty. This theory says that modern social organisation, above all the rise of commercial social relations, makes it historically necessary that moderns enjoy individual liberty and political participation. He set modern liberty in contrast to the ancient liberty of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which gave citizens great participation in public affairs, but at the expense of their individual freedom. Constant thus attacked Napoleon's martial appetite on the grounds that it was illiberal and no longer suited to modern commercial social organization.

Constant was, however, no proponent of radical libertarianism. His religious writings pleaded for a guiding religious sentiment, which would encourage moral duty and self-abnegating sacrifices. Thus, while he pleaded for individual liberty as vital for individual moral development and approprate for modernity, he disregarded egoism and self-interest as part of a true definition of individual liberty. His moral and religious thought was strongly influenced by German thinkers, such as Immanuel Kant, whom he read in preparing his religious history.

His works include:

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