Libertarians You’ve Never Heard Of: Benjamin Constant
t’s important to learn from intellectual giants like Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, but there are many unsung heroes that are also worth exploring. In thiseducational series, we hope to introduce students to such individuals. While not all of the figures profiled here explicitly identified as libertarian, they made great contributions to the cause of liberty that are worth acknowledging.
“Every time government attempts to handle our affairs,it costs more and the results are worse than if we had handled them ourselves.”–Benjamin Constant.
Who: Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) was a Swiss-French politician, who wrote about politics and religion. He is recognized as the first liberal and probably the first person who understood that the biggest threat to liberty is political power.
Why he matters: Constant’s major contribution to liberty is that he defied laws and powerful people through his eloquent writings and speeches. An important event that demonstrated his commitment to liberty was his first address as a member of Napoleon’s Tribunate, in which he presented a case for freedom of speech denouncing Napoleon’s authoritarianism, which caused his dismissal. He lived for freedom and all his life he participated in politics, usually with the opposition party. His ideas and theories influenced great thinkers and economists such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Friedrich Hayek. At his funeral, Lafayette told everyone: “Love of liberty, and the need of serving her, always ruled his conduct.”
If you only read one thing: Read Constant: Political Writings, which is a compilation of Constant’s political essays and writings.