By Tzvetan Todorov
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Additional resources for A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant
The ancient Greeks, in particular, had no place for it; they were not concerned with preserving a space where the individual would decide everything by himself, because for them, “the individual was entirely sacrificed to the ensemble” (Principes, 1806, XVI, 1, 419). On the other hand, they cultivated a very different form of freedom, “active participation in collective power” (Conquête, II, 7, 164). “The aim of the Ancients was to share social power among all the citizens of a fatherland. That is what they called freedom (liberté).
Absence of the former, notes Constant, would destroy the latter. From another perspective, one might also speak of a “moral freedom, which consists of making us independent of the passions that degrade us” (Liberté politique, 258). The latter is no longer identified with the protected territory of societal supervision, but with an internal purification; nevertheless, it benefits from personal freedom. However, the most telling distinction is still to come. ” To indicate this new contrast, Constant sometimes speaks of civil freedom and political freedom, or even of negative freedom and positive freedom, or again, as in his talk at the Atheneum in 1819, of the liberty of the Moderns and that of the Ancients.
Why this intimate commotion, which appears to reveal to us that which common life obscures? Reason, clearly, cannot explain it; when it analyzes it, it disappears, but that is precisely why it lies essentially in the domain of poetry (Guerre de Trente Ans, 866). Similarly, “observation of the human heart” is Constant’s explicit aim in his novel Adolphe (“Foreword” of the second edition, 6). “Reason,” in other words abstract argumentation, is poorly suited to analysis of feelings or the inner world; but “poetry” and literature are on their home terrain.
A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant by Tzvetan Todorov