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“Why, I pray, do you accuse me of a weak character?  It is an accusation to which all enlightened men are exposed, because they see the two, or better say, the thousand sides of things, and it is impossible for them to make up their minds upon them, with the result that they stumble sometimes on one side, sometimes the other.”  Constant means in English what it does in French, so Benjamin Constant’s defense of his intellectual inconsistency is ironic.  Constant (1767-1830), the French political theorist, novelist, and statesman, a republican invited by Napoleon to collaborate with him in drafting a new constitution for the empire, was perhaps the first writer to comprehend the political significance of the French Revolution and how that event had destroyed both the classical and the absolutist traditions, and to attempt to suggest a theoretical structure that could replace them in the context of the new commercial society.  Though Constant’s life was sufficiently adventurous and tumultuous as to threaten to overshadow his work, his originality and interest as a writer nevertheless prevails.  I became interested in Benjamin Constant while reading up for my book After Tocqueville, and am currently working my way through his Political Writings (Cambridge University...

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