By Tzvetan Todorov
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Extra resources for A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant
Only the republic is legitimate, in that here it is the sovereign people that decides the law according to which it will live. Constant initially accepts Rousseau’s postulate without hesitation: power must be the expression of the people’s will; the good political regime is democratic. “In a word, there are only two powers in the world. One is illegitimate; that is force. The other is legitimate, and that is the general will” (Principes, 1806, I, 2, 22). But he is not satisfied with that and adds a constraint 36 Liberal Democracy that takes Montesquieu as its starting point.
Democracy is authority deposited in the hands of all, but only that sum of authority necessary for the security of the group [. ] The people can give up this authority in favor of just one man or a small number, but their power is limited, like that of the people who gave them this mantle (I, 7, 41). Sovereignty is total only within certain bounds. Even if there is just one individual in dissension with all the others, these latter should not be able to impose their will upon him in his private life.
If laws do not transgress these principles, it is better to obey them, even when one may not agree with them. Order is preferable to disorder. But if they do contravene these principles, civic disobedience is not only licit, it is required. “Nothing excuses the man who lends his support to the law that he believes to be iniquitous” (XVIII, 6, 484). Constant would have no difficulty understanding the concept of a crime against humanity, an act that might be allowable under the laws in force but that transgresses the principles of rights and morals, the underpinnings of any law.
A Passion for Democracy: Benjamin Constant by Tzvetan Todorov