Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments

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9780865973954: Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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"Principles of Politics," first published in 1815, is a "microcosm of [Constant's] whole political philosophy and an expression of his political experience," says Nicholas Capaldi in his Introduction. In "Principles," 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."Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) was born in Switzerland and became one of France's leading writers, as well as a journalist, philosopher, and politician. His colorful life included a formative stay at the University of Edinburgh; service at the court of Brunswick, Germany; election to the French Tribunate; and initial opposition and subsequent support for Napoleon, even the drafting of a constitution for the Hundred Days. Constant wrote many books, essays, and pamphlets. His deepest conviction was that reform is hugely superior to revolution, both morally and politically. 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.Sir Isaiah Berlin called Constant "the most eloquent of all defenders of freedom and privacy" and believed to him we owe the notion of "negative liberty," that is, what Biancamaria Fontana describes as "the protection of individual experience and choices from external interferences and constraints." To Constant it was relatively unimportant whether liberty was ultimately grounded in religion or metaphysics--what mattered were the practical guarantees of practical freedom--"autonomy in all those aspects of life that could cause no harm to others or to societ

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Apart from a few essays little was known in English of Constant, but now, thanks to the magnificent translation of his major work by Dennis O'Keeffe (Principles of Politics, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 2003) we have a clear idea of what Constant stood for and its value for the contemporary world. Constant produced, in over 550 densely argued pages, the most coherent normative theory of liberalism (in its traditional sense) in the nineteenth century. It is intellectually complex but Constant's own lyrical style is rendered into elegant English in O'Keeffe's fine translation. . . .There is an informative introduction by Nicholas Capaldi, and our understanding is made easier by Dennis O'Keeffe's thorough and lucid translation. He even politely corrects the odd mistake Constant made. It is a monument to scholarship and unlikely to be matched.

The Salisbury Review
Autumn 2004
Liberty Fund has published an elegant, faithfully translated edition of the first (1810) and longest version of Constant's Principles of Politics Applicable to All Modern Governments. . .Constant is a necessary companion for every thoughtful person who tries to steer a principled middle path between reactionary nostalgia and progressive illusions. His measured, humane liberalism is superior to nearly everything that goes by that name in the contemporary academic and political worlds.

The New Criterion
June 2004
By 1810 Constant had completed his Principles of Politics, which Dennis O'Keeffe has now translated into an elegant English that matches Constant's French. O'Keefe is the editor of the Salisbury Review in London, and his is the first full translation of this French classic. It also has an authoritative Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi, who sees Constant as a crucial link in the French liberal tradition between Montesquieu and Tocqueville. The book itself is a handsome product.

Quadrant
May 2004

Synopsis:

Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) was born in Switzerland and became one of France's leading writers, as well as a journalist, philosopher, and politician. His colourful life included a formative stay at the University of Edinburgh; service at the court of Brunswick, Germany; election to the French Tribunate; and initial opposition and subsequent support for Napoleon, even the drafting of a constitution for the Hundred Days. Constant wrote many books, essays, and pamphlets. His deepest conviction was that reform is hugely superior to revolution, both morally and politically. 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. Sir Isaiah Berlin called Constant 'the most eloquent of all defenders of freedom and privacy' and believed to him we owe the notion of 'negative liberty', that is, what Biancamaria Fontana describes as "the protection of individual experience and choices from external interferences and constraints."

To Constant it was relatively unimportant whether liberty was ultimately grounded in religion or metaphysics -- what mattered were the practical guarantees of practical freedom -- "autonomy in all those aspects of life that could cause no harm to others or to society as a whole." 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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