Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Rethinking Constant’s Ancient Liberty: Bosanquet’s modern Rousseauianism

Tyler, Colin



Benjamin Constant was a vociferous critic of the political Rousseauianism that he saw underpinning French politics in the early nineteenth-century. Yet, his hostile reaction at the political level co-existed with a far more sympathetic attitude towards Rousseau’s critical analysis of modernity. This article reflects on that combination through the dual lens of the influence on Constant’s position of his ambivalent attitude towards Rousseau on the one hand and the modernisation of Rousseau undertaken eighty years later by the British idealist Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923) on the other. Reading Bosanquet with Constant’s criticisms of Rousseau in mind uncovers underappreciated dimensions of both Constant and Bosanquet’s thought, and suggests ways to overcome the distinction between ancient and modern liberty that is often simplistically attributed to Constant. Section one introduces the topic. Section two analyzes Constant’s dual attitude to Rousseauianism. Section three analyzes Bosanquet’s modern Rousseauianism. Section four deepens this analysis by contrasting the theories of modern decadence developed by Rousseau, Constant and Bosanquet. It establishes that Bosanquet articulated key relationships that escaped both Rousseau and Constant, something that led him to see progressive possibilities in decadent societies that Rousseau and Constant neglected. Consequently, Bosanquet modernised Rousseau, while both addressing Constant’s criticisms and avoiding Rousseau’s shortcomings.


Tyler, C. (2022). Rethinking Constant’s Ancient Liberty: Bosanquet’s modern Rousseauianism. History of European ideas, 48(3), 280-295.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 28, 2021
Online Publication Date Mar 28, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Nov 29, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 8, 2022
Journal History of European Ideas
Print ISSN 0191-6599
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 48
Issue 3
Pages 280-295
Keywords Ancient and modern liberty; Bernard Bosanquet; Benjamin Constant; British idealism; Decadence; Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Public URL


Published article (1.7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.<br /> This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations