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Benjamin Constant Biography

Benjamin Constant Biography (1767-1830)     Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Constant mother's family was of French Huguenot descent. ...

Benjamin Constant Biography
(1767-1830)

    Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Constant mother's family was of French Huguenot descent. But only 16 years of age, Constant was sent to Edinburgh to study (1783-5) where he learned English, after which he proceeded to read Blackstone, Hume, Smith, Gibbon, Burke and Godwin. In 1789, he married the first of his two wives, a lady of the court. Constant settled in Paris in 1795 where he supported Napoleon's rise to power (they were to have a falling out). Constant was banished from France in 1802. He had an intimate relationship with Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) and traveled with her throughout Germany and Italy where both were imbued with German Romanticism (Goethe et al.). With the fall of Napoleon, Constant returned to Paris and came to be a member of the Chamber of Deputies. He wrote extensively, mostly about political philosophy, but also lent his hand to fiction, Adolphe (1816). His course of study in England, just as was the case for Montesquieu, led Constant throughout his life to espouse, in respect to how a country ought to rule itself, "British liberalism." Coming against Rousseau's view, Constant was of the Lockian view that citizens have rights independent of all social and political authority. Primary to Constant's political thinking is the importance of individual rights, limited government and the sacrosanct nature of property. I quote from Nicholas Capaldi's introduction to Liberty Fund's ed. (2003) of Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments (1810), Constant's most important work: "Constant focuses on the rule of law: the need for due process in order to protect individual rights; laws that lay down the neutral rules of the game, so that individuals can pursue their private economic interests with security; the importance of jury trials; the significance of pardon as a check on the system itself; and the need for judicial independence." (xxi)


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