The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns - B. Constant, 1816

Here are a few conclusions made by Benjamin Constant in 1816 in his paper "The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns" You can read it there in full.

"...among the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations."

"All had to buy their security, their independence, their whole existence at the price of war."

And what are we doing now exactly? Personally, I feel like the American Republic is in danger...or really doesn't exist in many ways already. Hm.

Also there the point he makes about reaching a point in history with the modern nation state where commerce replaces war.
He starts out here referring to "ancient" peoples.

[For ancient peoples] War precedes commerce. War and commerce are only two different means of achieving the same end, that of getting what one wants. Commerce is simply a tribute paid to the strength of the possessor by the aspirant to possession. It is an attempt to conquer, by mutual agreement, what one can no longer hope to obtain through violence. A man who was always the stronger would never conceive the idea of commerce. It is experience, by proving to him that war, that is the use of his strength against the strength of others, exposes him to a variety of obstacles and defeats, that leads him to resort to commerce, that is to a milder and surer means of engaging the interest of others to agree to what suits his own. War is all impulse, commerce, calculation. Hence it follows that an age must come in which commerce replaces war. We have reached this age.

I hate to call hindsight 20/20 on this one, but how sorely Constant is mistaken. I don't see much of a difference today in this matter. War still precedes commerce.

And the following makes me cringe:

Secondly, the abolition of slavery has deprived the free population of all the leisure which resulted from the fact that slaves took care of most of the work. Without the slave population of Athens, 20,000 Athenians could never have spent every day at the public square in discussions. Thirdly, commerce does not, like war, leave in men's lives intervals of inactivity. The constant exercise of political rights, the daily discussion of the affairs of the state, disagreements, confabulations, the whole entourage and movement of factions, necessary agitations, the compulsory filling, if I may use the term, of the life of the peoples of antiquity, who, without this resource would have languished under the weight of painful inaction, would only cause trouble and fatigue to modern nations, where each individual, occupied with his speculations, his enterprises, the pleasures he obtains or hopes for, does not wish to be distracted from them other than momentarily, and as little as possible.

Who is more civilized both then and now if we do a more factual comparision of "ancients" and "moderns"? (leaving out the fact that American colonizers existed as a westward illegally expanding force placed squarely on the indigenous peoples of America. Oh, but that's ANCIENT HISTORY people say. So, perhaps defining what antiquity is would be good for both dead white guys and live ones. Then even more pesky problems might pop up though.

And shouldn't there be an accumulative affect going on as history unfolds? Shouldn't people and societies learn from their mistakes? Well, of course...but do we? Of course not!

Maybe Benny's little weiny was bothering him before he wrote that article.


PS: NEW YORK rocks. Keep the dissent alive. Although I fear this is the final chance to voice opposition against the Iraq war en masse. So, in this manner, it is a sad day.

PPS. Oh, and what's this about some spying? FBI probing some Pentagon Israeli Spy Case Now, that's a damn surprise. Also check out Juan Cole's detailed, annotated, and expert assessment here. New developments coming at Cole's site, so scroll down if you want the entire report. Here's a newsweek article that has several new details about the spying case by Israel on the United states. Specifically, matters concerning Lawrence Franklin here..