On the Duties of Enlightened Men after Violent Revolutions, by Benjamin Constant (Book XVIII, Ch. 6)Submitted by Cyril on Sat, 06/29/2013 - 02:55
"[...] To no avail do the weariness of nations, the anxiety of leaders, the servility of political instruments form an artificial assent which people call public opinion. It is absolutely not this. Men never cut themselves off from freedom. To say that they do is to say that they love humiliation, suffering, destitution, and poverty. To represent them as absorbed in their domestic feelings and individual economic decisions is to paint them, by a crude contradiction, as both putting an excessive price on their possessions and none at all on the lasting nature of these. For security is nothing else but the lasting of things. To say that men can cut themselves off from freedom is to claim that they resign themselves painlessly to being oppressed, incarcerated, separated from what they love, interrupted in their work, deprived of their goods, harassed in their opinions and their most secret thoughts, and dragged into prisons and to the scaffold. Since security is instituted against these things, it is to be preserved from these scourges that we invoke freedom. It is these scourges the people fear, curse, and detest. Wherever and under whatever name they encounter them, they take fright and recoil. What they abhorred in what their oppressors called freedom was not freedom, but slavery; but if slavery were presented under its true names, its true forms, is it credible that they would detest it less?
However active the inquisition may be, with whatever care its precautions multiply, enlightened men always retain a thousand ways of making themselves heard. Despotism is to be feared only when it has choked reason in its infancy. Then the former can stop the progress of the latter and keep the human race in a long imbecility. When reason gets on the march, however, it is invincible. Its supporters may perish, but it survives and triumphs. There exists only a moment to proscribe it with advantage. Once this has passed, all efforts are in vain. The intellectual struggle is engaged, thought is separated from power, truth dawns in every mind.
After the inestimable advantage of being the citizen of a free country, no situation is perhaps sweeter than being the courageous commentator of a subjugated yet enlightened nation. Times when despotism, disdaining a hypocrisy it deems pointless, decks itself in its true colours and insolently deploys banners known for ages are not without compensations. How much better it is to suffer from the oppression of one’s enemies than to blush from the excesses of one’s allies. The defenders of freedom encounter then the agreement of the best part of the human race. They plead a noble cause openly to people and are seconded by the wishes of all men of good will. Persecution followed by glory is largely recompensed. He who succumbs confidently bequeaths to his contemporaries the care of defending his memory and completing his work.
Missionaries of truth, if the road is cut off, redouble in zeal and effort. Let light penetrate everywhere; if it is obscured, let it reappear; if it is repelled, let it come back. Let it reproduce, multiply, and transform itself. Let it be as indefatigable as persecution. Let some march bravely while others slip adroitly into place. Let the truth spread, sometimes resounding and sometimes repeated very low. Let all rational endeavors combine, let all hopes revive, let everybody work, serve, and wait. “There is no prescription for useful ideas,” said a famous man. Courage can come back after despondency, light after ignorance, ardor for the public good after the sleep of indifference. [...]"