Republican political theory

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Republican political theory takes its starting point from a long-established tradition of thinking about politics (Pocock, 1975). The republican tradition is associated with Cicero at the time of the Roman republic; with a number of writers, preeminently Machiavelli – “the divine Machiavel” of the Discourses – in the Renaissance Italian republics; with James Harrington, Algernon Sydney, and a host of lesser figures in and after the period of the English civil war and commonwealth; and with the many theorists of republic or commonwealth in eighteenth-century England, America, and France. These theorists – the common wealth men (Robbins, 1959) – were greatly influenced by John Locke and, later, the Baron de Montesquieu; indeed, they claimed Locke and Montes quieu, with good reason, as their own. They are well represented in documents like Cato’s Letters (Trenchard and Gordon, 1971) and, on the American side of the Atlantic, the Federalist Papers (Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, 1987). The common wealth men helped to shape habits of political reflex and thought that still survive today. Their distinctive refrain was that while the cause of freedom rests squarely with the law and the state – it is mainly thanks to the constitution under which they live that people enjoy freedom – still the authorities are also an inherent threat and people have to strive to “keep the bastards honest.” The price of liberty is civic virtue, then, where that includes both a willingness to participate in government and a determination to exercise eternal vigilance in regardto the governors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationJustice, Political Liberalism, and Utilitarianism
Subtitle of host publicationThemes from Harsanyi and Rawls
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780511619595
ISBN (Print)9780521640930
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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