(Henri-) Benjamin Constant (de Rebecque), 1767 - 1830

Benjamin Constant was a French eclectic philosopher, political theorist, and novelist whose ideas about religion supported the New England Transcendentalists in their opposition to nineteenth-century religious orthodoxy.  Basic to his philosophy is a distinction between universal religious sentiment and particular religious sects; the former is permanent and profound, while the latter are transient, shallow, and usually misrepresentative.  Constant felt that religion should occupy a central position in human life, but, to be authentic, religion must be kept personal and free from domination by the clergy.  He promoted a purified and "reasonable" Christianity as the single religion most favorable to man's highest moral aspirations.  Orestes Brownson was especially attracted to his position that the truths of religion, as the primary natural human sentiment, can be communicated to man directly without the necessity of supernatural divine revelation.  Constant's magnum opus, the five-volume De la Religion, Considérée dans sa Source, ses Formes et ses Développements (1824 - 1831), was highly recommended by Brownson as well as by George Ripley.