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Issue 2005, number 29: summaries


Les traductions des résumés des articles publiés dans le numéro 28 ont été assurées par Léonard Burnand et le professeur Dennis Wood.

 

Kurt Kloocke
«Johann Gottfried Herder and Benjamin Constant»


This article is conceived from the point of view of reception theory. First, we offer some reflections on the philosophical premises underlying Herder’s thought in Ideas for the Philosophy of Human History, before going on to examine his theory of history. This theory is based on pre-Kantian speculative metaphysics and seeks to present a teleological view of history with, at its heart and as its supreme value, what Herder calls «humanity», a complex and dialectical notion in which the moral aspirations of mankind and human dignity merge. In this lies the dynamism of perfectibility, respect for the multiplicity of human religions and cultures, and – a very realistic element – a model of history which does not exclude optimistic and linear progress.
In 1804 Constant was unable to see a practical way of organizing his research on religion and was therefore a sceptical reader. He was more and more attracted by the vast corpus of Herder’s writings which he began reading on 21 January 1804 in Weimar. Herder, by virtue of his study of world religions and civilizations, was to become an important point of reference for Constant. But, most importantly, Constant’s reading of Herder allowed him – thanks to the Kantian distinction between «religious feeling» and «positive religions» and also to Schleiermacher’s subjectivist philosophy – to develop a general hermeneutic hypothesis which would provide some solution to his historical and theological questioning, without which his book on religion could probably not have been written.

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Catherine Carpenter
«Morale et polythéisme dans les écrits de jeunesse de Constant: l’influence de Hume, Smith et Gillies»


Jusque dans les années 1804-1805, Constant fut obsédé par la question de la moralité et par la relation de celle-ci avec le polythéisme. Tant ses manuscrits de jeunesse que ses Journaux intimes en attestent. Pourtant, en dehors des travaux pionniers de P. Deguise et P. Thompson, peu d’études ont eu pour objet le sens de la moralité chez Constant. De plus, les rares publications qui ont abordé cette problématique se sont focalisées sur la période postérieure à 1795, ignorant ainsi les années de formation à Edimbourg. Le présent article examine la corrélation entre l’idée de moralité chez Constant et la pensée de philosophes écossais tels que David Hume et Adam Smith; il propose, d’autre part, une analyse de la traduction que Constant a faite d’un chapitre de l’Histoire de l’ancienne Grèce de John Gillies. Cet examen permet de faire apparaître des liens entre les idées de Gillies et les écrits de Constant sur la moralité. Cette étude révèle aussi à quel point, jusqu’en 1805, le système moral de Constant intégrait à la fois des vertus chrétiennes et des éléments issus de la philosophie stoïcienne grecque, une combinaison qui n’est pas sans rappeler la Théorie des sentiments moraux d’Adam Smith.

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Marie-France Piguet
«Benjamin Constant and the origins of the word “individualisme”»


This article examines the role of Benjamin Constant’s writings in the emergence of the word «individualisme» in the French language. It puts forward a number of hypotheses concerning the first occurrences of the word in print, and investigates how far the coining of the word or its spread may be attributed to the Saint-Simonian journal Le Producteur which uses it in its replies to Benjamin Constant’s criticisms and in order to stigmatize the beliefs of those who uphold individual freedom and freedom of conscience, Constant and Dunoyer in particular. The article then seeks to discover why the word «individualisme» remains in Constant’s work part of the vocabulary of his adversaries, a word which other people use and which has a negative value designating a system whose central tenet Constant supports. It establishes finally that in order to express this central tenet Constant already had at his disposal a term which had been tried and tested for many years, «individualité». These considerations show that the circumstances which attended the birth of the word «individualisme» were a major confrontation between two different ways of envisaging the role of the individual in society. They also lead to the hypothesis that Benjamin Constant probably kept out of his own lexicon a word which his writings contributed towards popularizing.

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James Mitchell Lee
«Une réponse à la question “Qu’est-ce que le libéralisme?”: Benjamin Constant et l’Allemagne»


Cet article examine comment Benjamin Constant a intégré à sa philosophie politique libérale une téléologie morale issue des Lumières allemandes. Bien que Constant se soit réjoui du progrès des sociétés marchandes qui avaient donné naissance à sa chère «liberté moderne», il craignait que la civilisation soit porteuse de tendances décadentes susceptibles de compromettre sa bonne marche. Il a trouvé la solution à ce problème chez les grands auteurs de l’Aufklärung: Lessing, Mauvillion, Herder, Wieland et Kant. C’est à eux qu’il a emprunté les questions majeures abordées dans son ouvrage sur la religion: le sentiment religieux, la révélation progressive, la liberté morale. Ses réponses sont très proches de celles de Kant. Constant observe, dans De la religion, que seule la société athénienne du Ve siècle est parvenue à élaborer une forme indépendante de théologie, allant de pair avec la moralité et la liberté individuelle; tout comme les auteurs allemands qu’il a étudiés, il a vu se développer un phénomène analogue dans la «nouvelle théologie» de l’Aufklärung. En fin de compte, Constant estimait que le sentiment religieux, la moralité et la liberté progressaient ensemble et se renforçaient mutuellement. Ainsi, en replaçant le concept constantien de «liberté moderne» dans le contexte des Lumières allemandes, et en le situant par rapport à De la religion, on peut voir comment il en est venu à penser que la liberté avait besoin de l’appui de la moralité pour sauver la civilisation.

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Kurt Kloocke
«The Idea of individuality in the Political Writings of Benjamin Constant»


This article is inspired by a brilliant piece of writing by Denis Thouard about the scholastic maxim «individuum est ineffabile», «the individual is ineffable», on whose thought we have drawn in order to introduce the idea that the philosophy of individuality expresses in a general way the essential presuppositions of liberalism. We go on to describe how the broad lines of Constant’s political thought can be deduced from his theoretical writings, namely a pragmatic liberalism which defends institutions which operate successfully to protect individual liberty and to ensure the efficient running of the institutions of a liberal state. This meets the requirements of the age Constant lived in, leaving aside the royalist and imperial tendencies of the time. What characterizes Constant’s work is, however, a reluctance to enter into discussion of the philosophical presuppositions of his political theory. Constant could have turned to Kant’s political philosophy and he could have found in the thought of his friend Wilhelm von Humboldt a political theory which was surprisingly close to his own. Comparative research work in this field remains to be done.

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Helena Rosenblatt
«Deux libéraux face à la religion: une étude comparative de Tocqueville et Constant»


En tant que pères fondateurs du libéralisme moderne, Benjamin Constant et Alexis de Tocqueville invitent à la comparaison. Cet article se propose de confronter leurs idées relatives à la religion. Tous deux ont consacré des textes substantiels et pénétrants au phénomène religieux. Ils ont considéré la religion comme essentielle à la santé morale des régimes libéraux et démocratiques, tout en étant partisans d’une séparation de l’Eglise et de l’Etat. Cependant, pour des raisons liées aussi bien au contexte qu’aux origines et au tempérament des deux auteurs, leurs opinions ont divergé sur plusieurs points importants. Tocqueville, par exemple, envisageait principalement la religion comme un antidote contre les effets potentiellement néfastes de la démocratie; alors que Constant la percevait avant tout comme un élément susceptible de favoriser le progrès intellectuel et moral de l’humanité. En résumé, Tocqueville considérait la religion comme un frein nécessaire, tandis que Constant voyait en elle un aiguillon émancipateur.

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Claire Jaquier
«
“The charitable Swiss”, “the beneficent angel”: promoting and adding lustre to love of one’s fellow citizen at the end of the Enlightenment»

«La bienfaisance», that is beneficence, doing good or being charitable towards one’s fellow man, was the Enlightenment virtue par excellence, and had a remarkable opportunity to attract favourable attention in Switzerland during the second half of the XVIIIth century. The Yverdon Encyclopédie anticipated the Paris Encyclopédie by publishing in 1771 an article on «Bienfaisance» signed by F.B. De Felice which was later reproduced in the Paris Supplément of 1776. De Felice developed the notion by publishing a further article entitled «Bénéficence». The interest which the Swiss showed in a virtue which ensured social cohesion and the good of all was also reflected in the activities of Freemasons and the work of learned societies. In the field of fiction «bienfaisance» was exemplified according to the Swiss definition of the concept: the beneficent man is active, honest, enlightened and tolerant. His acts of kindness are performed according to their likely results, which are calculated in a prudent and rational way. The hero of Le Suisse bienfaisant [The Charitable Swiss] (1788), an anonymous play which features a watchmaker from the Neuchâtel mountains, behaves in this way. Swiss «bienfaisance» which ensures the circulation of goods and assistance, is defined not only in moral terms but also social and symbolic terms: not only is beneficence inscribed in the human heart – if that were the case, it would be merely the prerogative of people of a kindly disposition – but it is also a necessary component of all societies, one which enables individuals to occupy a distinct place among their fellow men and to enter into alliances with them.

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