Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Constant, Benjamin (1767–1830)
Jacob T. Levy
Benjamin Constant was a Swiss-born French political theorist, novelist, intellectual, and politician from the later stages of the French Revolution through the Napoleonic era and the Restoration. He made major contributions to the coalescence of liberal theory and indeed is sometimes thought of as the first liberal theorist; after Alexis de Tocqueville he is the probably the most important French liberal thinker. Best known in political theory today for his contrast between the liberty of the ancients (the right to participate in public life) and that of the moderns (individual freedom in the private sphere), he was a longtime defender of freedom of speech, critic of slavery, and supporter of responsible parliamentary-ministerial government. Constant entered French political life in the mid-1790s, after university educations in Germany and Scotland and service in minor diplomatic posts. He joined a circle of moderate republicans centered around Germaine de Staël, a fellow Protestant from ...