All private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance. No importance was given to individual independence, neither in relation to opinions, nor to labour, nor above all to religion… Thus, among the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations”4 This is what the ancients deemed to be free, that is free from rule by a sovereign, but a shared sovereignty between the citizens of the state. It had particular emphasis on participation in the daily affairs of the state and on decision making for the state.
This shared sovereignty was crucial towards the ancient democracy because of the bellicose nature of the states during that period of time. He showed that ancient liberty formed because there was no real freedom from coercion from other states. Constant saw modern democracies as very different from those of the ancients and that it embraced different ideals and operated differently. The most important point with modern democracies is that it worked through a representative function in society.
The underlying difference could be seen through a pragmatic view that modern states are incredibly large and thus direct democracies on a daily basis would not only be disruptive to daily life but also impossible. “All ancient republics were restricted to a narrow territory. The most populous, the most powerful, the most substantial among them, was not equal in extension to the smallest of modern states. “5 Furthermore, in ancient democracies, there was no universal suffrage and enfranchisement of most citizens thus it was not necessary for there to be a representative democracy.
Representative democracy was a product of pragmatism and a market driven economy based on commerce. States today are very much driven by the market economy, and thus individuals are more self interested in their own affairs. Citizens of the modern state are more concerned with their liberty to be left to their own devices where they could engage in their own economic activities rather than to deliberate on a constant basis in the political sphere.
Constant believed that the stability and beneficence of modern liberty was based on three “distinct judgements: the civilising impact and evident mutual advantage of international economic exchange, the effective military security of all relatively commercialised societies against military threats from pre-commercial societies, and the manifest absence of rational material advantage for any modern state power in pursuing either its own interests or those of its subjects by the threat of use of armed force against other modern states.
“6 Modern liberty differed considerably from that of the ancients, as modern liberty would be what Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty or freedom. Alternatively, positive freedom or liberty is what Berlin called that of the ancients. Negative freedom, is a notion where the individual is allowed actions when no one is interfering with your right to action. There is a lack of constraint, whereas positive liberty (that of the ancients) is to have the ability to carry through an objective and the freedom to carry it forward.
To understand how Constant was lead to believe that ancient democracy was dangerously impractical; is to understand what would happen when ancient liberties are placed on a modern world. Constant shows the difference between the ancients and moderns in terms of the “outcome of these differences”. Firstly “the size of a country causes a corresponding decrease of the political importance allotted to each individual”7 Constant believes that, in ancient states, the individual citizen still wield considerable power in terms of his political influence whilst in modern states, he does not.