An ancient notion of liberty - Sample Essay

Constant believed that ancient democracy was dangerously impractical in the modern world because ancient democracy is linked to the notion of ancient liberties, which placed in the modern state would result in arbitrary rule or an authoritarian state. He believed that an authoritarian state would occur when there was an emphasis on collective participation in the shared sovereignty of the state (an ancient notion of liberty) instead of the emphasis on individual liberty (a modern notion) as a result people could be coerced into this participation.

Thus, this form of coercion would lead to the marginalisation of the individual rights and a slow erosion of political rights. “insistence on the impossibility in principle of realising the ancient conceptions of political agency within the inhospitable practical organisation of modern political societies and on the murderous consequences that are likely to result from the confused attempt to realise them in this profoundly alien setting”1 Furthermore, he believed that because we live in such a rational2 society and that because of this structure of society it would not be pragmatic to impose such ancient liberties in a modern setting.

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In addition, he thought that an increasing globalised world which economic expansion and commerce internationally that the ancient democracy would clash with the fast paced individualistic life we live in today. Constant saw ancient democracy in the Athenian conception. “This republic was the most famous of all: you will guess that I am speaking of Athens” This conception meant a system of citizen-rule or self-rule that entailed direct and participatory democracy.

Furthermore, he saw ancient liberty as a form of exercising collective and direct participation on aspects of sovereign power. “deliberating in the public assembly on issues of war and peace, making treaties of alliance with foreign states, voting on laws, pronouncing legal verdicts, inspecting the accounts, actions and administration of magistrates and calling upon them to explain their stewardship before the entire people to accuse, condemn or absolve them”3 He saw that this structure of democracy, in terms of its working, would conflict with modern society.

He saw that the Athenian point of democracy was the freedom that enabled the citizens of Athens to not only be their own rulers ‘on a remarkably full-time basis’ but also to live as they collectively individually chose for themselves, and ‘to protect that personal opportunity against any forces that threatened it. Thus, to understand why Constant thought that ancient democracy was dangerously impractical in the modern world is to understand what he thought of ancient democracy and its workings.

Ancient liberty was inextricably linked to ancient democracy, as the type of democracy would allow a certain type liberty to flourish. Thus, the ancients according to Constant had a different nature of liberty to that of the moderns. He saw that society on every level affected the nature of liberty. Where because during ancient times states were bellicose in nature it led to a more collectivist approach to ‘liberty’. Where the ancient notion of liberty is “compatible with this collective freedom the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community…

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