Issue 2008, number 33: summaries
La traduction en anglais des résumés publiés dans le n°33 a été assurée par le professeur Dennis Wood.
«The editorial workshop of the Principes de politique»
This article deals with the theoretical and practical questions facing the editors of the Principes de politique which is to be published in Volume V of the Œuvres complètes. This is a particularly difficult edition to produce because it concerns the key text for an understanding of Constant’s political theory as revealed in his books and the numerous pamphlets and articles published when the Empire was about to fall and also for an understanding of the theory which Constant was later to defend as a member of parliament. The great ideological importance of the Principes de politique will be brought out in the critical apparatus accompanying the text, which will be based on the Paris manuscript. Every effort will be made to render the structure of the text clear, to document its genesis and its countless links with other texts in a critical apparatus devoted solely to these problems which are so characteristic of Constant’s method of composition. The introduction to the edition will require particular care, as will the annotation, which will be difficult to achieve despite the excellent edition of the Lausanne manuscript by Etienne Hofmann.
«The Principes de politique of 1806 as a source for Constant’s publications during the Restoration: a schematic description of the problem»
What links are there between Constant’s Principes de politique, published from 1813 onwards, and his unpublished manuscripts dating from the Consulate and Empire? Before the Principes de politique became known to researchers (in 1961 for the 1810 version and in 1974 for the original version), there was a tendency to regard these unpublished manuscripts simply as the rough draft of the political work which would appear later. But since their publication, scholars have realized that these are autonomous and, in many cases, completed texts in their own right. Constant had no hesitation in reusing passages from these manuscripts in works published later. Using as full a list as possible of these passages, drawn above all from the Principes de politique, this paper sets out to show, on the basis of precise statistics, first, the relative proportions of what was used again and what was left unused by Constant, and second, to demonstrate, both in general terms and specifically book by book, the way in which these passages were drawn on in later pamphlets and treatises. These figures are an invitation to future researchers not simply to describe this phenomenon in Constant’s work but also to analyse this mode of composition in his writings.
«Social authority, individual rights and guarantees in the Principes de politique of 1806-1810»
In the Principes de politique of 1806-1810 Benjamin Constant proposes to examine how to limit the power of the state and to guarantee the rights of individuals, that is their freedoms. In doing so he develops a programme of work which was anticipated in his early pamphlet Des réactions politiques published under the Directory. His thinking on how to limit the actions of the state comes out through the semantic choice he makes: Constant prefers the term ‘social authority’ to that of ‘sovereignty’ which traditionally denotes a limitless and indivisible power. The significance of the limits imposed on the state in the Principes is that the actions of the state end where the individual sphere begins. This is why, after a first book devoted to limiting social authority and in which Rousseau’s theory of sovereignty is strongly criticized, the Principes is then largely given over to a consideration of those freedoms which need to be defended. These freedoms are, by and large, those of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. Among them the right to property, a social but not a natural right, is shown to lie on the borderline between civil and political rights. The freedom of the individual and political freedom are complementary, something about which Constant was to remind his readers during the Restoration, most notably in his famous lecture on freedom as viewed by the Ancients and by the Moderns.
Two centuries after it was written, the status of the 1806 Principes de politique as an unfinished masterpiece continues to raise questions. Why was the book left unfinished? Why did Constant not decide to publish the work when the most direct obstacles to its publication had disappeared? This article sets out to examine whether, apart from factors relating to the historical context and Constant’s various projects, there were reasons in October 1806 for abandoning the Principes de politique which concerned its structure and internal logic – that ‘order of ideas’ to which Constant attached the greatest importance. Our conclusion will be that the aporias which Constant encountered while writing the Principes were caused by his ambition to write a book in which rigorous demonstration and the analysis of errors would go hand in hand with effective persuasion. This dual objective was the source of the work’s originality, but it was at the same time one of the reasons for its partial failure.
Stefano De Luca
«Rethinking the concept of freedom after the upheaval of the Revolution: the Principes de politique of 1806»
After a brief summary of the events which led up to the first Italian edition of the Principes de politique of 1806 (and of the principles adopted for the translation and the notes), the article focuses on the most innovatory aspect of the work: its attempts to redefine the concepts of freedom and authority after the upheaval of the Revolution, and above all in the light of the ‘new despotisms’ of Jacobinism and Bonapartism founded on the instrumental use of the principle of popular sovereignty. The analysis begins by looking at the pars destruens [destructive part] of Constant’s thought, that is his criticism of earlier concepts of freedom and authority, and then proceeds to examine the pars construens [constructive part] in which Constant defines his new principles around the nature and extent of social authority and of individual freedoms. These new principles are the very opposite of the concepts which were prevalent at that time, both those which arose from a reaction against the Revolution (à la Joseph de Maistre and Bonald) and those inspired by the Revolution (à la Rousseau and de Mably). But these principles are different from Montesquieu’s liberal concept, since they locate the supreme guarantee of liberty not in an “internal” limit on power (by dividing it up), but by setting “external” limits on it through the recognition of an intangible sphere of individual rights. The article concludes by showing how Constant introduces this new concept in the later books of the Principes within the framework of an historical analysis which anticipates the famous Discours of 1819.
«The Italian translation of Benjamin Constant’s Principes de politique: aspects concerning linguistics and translation»
This article describes and problematizes the Italian translation of Benjamin Constant’s Principes de politique of 1806, undertaken by Stefano De Luca et Chiara Bemporad and published by Rubettino in January 2007.
The first part of the paper makes clear the translators’ concern to produce a version which was both faithful to the meaning of the original text and easily accessible for the modern reader. The second part, which is practical in focus, illustrates with precise examples the choices made by the translators and explains in each case what criteria were adopted.
«Silences or unutterable words in the literary narratives of Benjamin Constant»
The characters who are also the narrators of Benjamin Constant’s literary narratives – Amélie et Germaine, Cécile, Ma vie and Adolphe – present, each in their different ways depending on the different styles of writing, the story of a «crisis», and the spoken word is shown to be both the cause and the symptom of their existential difficulties. Studying the specific details of words in these four works leads to the discovery of pregnant and burdensome silences, and it becomes clear that these silences are the mode of writing through which Constant has chosen to depict intersubjective conflicts. We see revealed a range of different ways in which an absence of words is dealt with, from the strategies deployed to its significance. Constant’s narrators themselves use the absence of words in order to arrange the climaxes of their stories. Silences are shown to be particularly meaningful, since they suggest what is unsaid or unsayable. Alongside this there are spectacular scenes or stormy outbursts which occur when people are no longer able to hold back from saying what they have been trying not to say. Such an approach to characters listening and speaking, through the narrative voice of these fictional or biographically based texts, demonstrates that the spoken word cannot be separated from bodily existence and succeeds in bringing out the radical or ambivalent difficulties of the human condition.
«General Foy, Benjamin Constant and David d’Angers. The icons of liberty»
This article sets out to highlight what made General Foy a revered leader of the friends of liberty, from when he took up his parliamentary duties until his death. His lavish funeral (1825) was a powerful expression of the public mood during the long political crisis which followed the assassination of the Duc de Berry and which dominated the reign of Charles X. Presented here are documents which illustrate this crisis, including the speech which Benjamin Constant was to make at the burial, a text hitherto unknown to researchers. In addition there is an analysis of the iconography of the tomb of General Foy, a monument by David d’Angers paid for by national subscription. This monument bears two portraits of Benjamin Constant which can be added to the iconography of Constant. The last part of the article gives a long account of Constant’s own funeral transcribed from David d’Angers’ notebooks which adds interesting details of the event, which was both a repetition of General Foy’s burial and represented almost the end of a particular tradition.