Publication Details

Melleuish, G. C. (2005). Benjamin Constant: from the age of war to the age of commerce. In M. Murphy (Eds.), Conference Proceedings: Australasian Political Studies Association Conference 2005 (pp. 1-27). Dunedin, New Zealand: Australasian Political Studies Association.


Benjamin Constant was a distinguished liberal thinker whose continuing fame rests on his differentiation between ancient and modern liberty. In making this distinction Constant was attempting to demonstrate that the values which had actuated the ancient Greeks and Romans, and which many of the most extreme players in the French Revolution had attempted to emulate, were no longer relevant in the modern world. For Constant the Revolution had demonstrated that the values of ancient liberty were positively harmful when applied to modern politics. In this Constant was following Montesquieu and his view that 'sweet commerce', as manifested in the regime of eighteenth century England, had created a new type of political order unknown to the ancients. In a nutshell commerce had come to replace war as the power actuating the behaviour of men and women.