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The problem of arbitrariness in Benjamin Constant

Grant number: 15/21607-6
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): March 01, 2016
Effective date (End): November 30, 2020
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Political Science - Political Theory
Principal researcher:Eunice Ostrensky
Grantee:Felipe Freller
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated scholarship(s):17/03986-5 - Benjamin Constant and the liberalism of order: Has the French Revolution already finished?, BE.EP.DR


The central quest of this research is the place of arbitrariness ("l'arbitraire") in Benjamin Constant's (1767-1830) political thought. Unlike the more conventional perspective, which tends to resume the question by presenting Constant as an author that radically rejected arbitrariness, this research intends to explore the subject of arbitrariness as a real political problem that the thinker had to face throughout his career, not as a simple evil that he rejected in a normative plan. Having as its main source of inspiration the conceptual history of the political proposed by Pierre Rosanvallon, the research intends to situate the problem of arbitrariness in the urgent questions of the political context in which Constant searched to intervene - particularly, the attempts to end the French Revolution that occurred from the 9 Thermidor to the Revolution of 1830. First, we will seek to understand why the problem of arbitrariness emerges in a so acute way since Constant's first writings under the Directory - a problem that will be related to the challenge, faced by the author in this moment, of balancing the principle of the sovereignty of the people and the independence of republican government from the national majority. Then, we will ask how such events as the coups of 18 Fructidor and 18 Brumaire test Constant's relentless condemnation of arbitrariness, compelling the author to reformulate his theory and to increase its complexity. One of the main hypotheses of this research relates to the effort of the thinker to, in response to these experiences, incorporate arbitrariness into his political theory in a tamed manner, in order to avoid its tyrannical effects. The main product of this tamed incorporation of arbitrariness is, according to the research's hypothesis, the theory of neutral power developed by Constant during the Consulate, whose repercussions on his late political treatises (during the Empire, the Hundred Days and the Restoration) will be investigated. Thus, the Constant explored by this research is not the normative theorist of total suppression of arbitrariness by the rule of law, but rather the thinker that searched to regulate the tense balance between the domain of laws, principles and fixed forms, on one hand, and the domain of arbitrariness and discretionary decisions, on the other hand.

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(References retrieved automatically from Web of Science and SciELO through information on FAPESP grants and their corresponding numbers as mentioned in the publications by the authors)
Academic Publications
(References retrieved automatically from State of São Paulo Research Institutions)
FRELLER, Felipe. Benjamin Constant and the arbitrariness issue: a moderate decisionism. 2020. Doctoral Thesis - Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH/SBD) São Paulo.

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