19th Century Liberalism- Benjamin Constant

by Victoria Wilder ~ February 5th, 2010. Filed under: Chapter 19: The Age of Ideology in Western Europe.

After the French Revolution, Europe entered an Age of Ideology. One ideology which emerged in the early 19th century was liberalism.  Liberals represented a resurgence of Enlightenment ideals because they believed in inherent rights of individuals and limited influence of the church in government. Benjamin Constant was an influental liberal writer and political figure in postrevolutionary France. His 1816 writing, Ancient and Modern Liberty Compared (http://www.uark.edu/depts/comminfo/cambridge/ancients.html), describes the dichotomy between liberty in the ancient and modern worlds.

In Ancient and Modern Liberty Compared, Constant says that in the ancient world, citizens literally participated in government wheras in the modern world they participate through representatives. The ancient citizen lived a public life but modern men enjoy a private life and private property. Constant calls for a new kind of politics which can maintain this separation of private and public so that the state will respect individual liberty. Constant’s idea that, ” In order to be happy, men need only to be left in complete independence in regard to everything relating to their occupations, their undertakings, their spere of activity, and their fantasies,” represents 19th century liberal ideas of the rights of the individual.

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