A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant by Tzvetan Todorov

By Tzvetan Todorov

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Extra info for A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant

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However, Montesquieu’s solution, which requires that power be limited by laws and by other powers, is not enough for Constant either. Power may be distributed between distinct entities (the legislature, the executive and the judiciary) in vain. If their sum deprives me of a private territory, then I cannot approve such a regime: What matters to me is not that my personal rights cannot be violated by one power, without the approval of another; but that this violation should be prohibited to all the powers.

Perfect transparency is impossible in itself because, between the party having something to communicate and the party with whom he is communicating, there always stands the obstacle or the mediation of language. We speak using other people’s words (from the past), and we speak to address ourselves to other people (into the future). Does Constant, in his autobiographical writings, describe the singular individual that he is, or the man of his times, or even man in general? He himself wonders: “Are the others what I am?

De Staël once and for all only in 1811. After that date he settled with Charlotte in Germany, where he stayed until 1814, when the defeat of Napoleon enabled him to return to Paris. During this period, 1802-1814, Constant lived as an exile and he was often quite unhappy. This was the most fertile period of his life in terms of literature and philosophy; all his important works were begun then. He wrote the first version of his great work on religion, completed both parts of a treatise on political theory, wrote a short novel (which later became Adolphe), produced an astonishing Journal Intime [Diary] and left unfinished two autobiographical accounts, Ma Vie (called by its first editors Le Cahier rouge) and Cécile.

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