An analysis of the idea behind the theory of classical republicanism

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An analysis of the idea behind the theory of classical republicanism

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In addressing this topic, let us start by setting to one side the question of whether Montesquieu was a republican, in any sense of the term. He almost certainly was not one, as a matter of subjective political identity. No reader of the Persian Letters can miss the evidence of flirtation with republican sentiment in the novel — the morality tale of the corruption of the Troglodytes, or Usbek's declaration that "Monarchy is in a state of tension, which always degenerates into despotism or republicanism.

The mercantile prosperity and individual liberties of contemporary England now seemed vastly superior to the "virtues" of ancient Rome, with its destructive cycle of conquest and corruption.

In the course of writing The Spirit of the Laws, however, Montesquieu changed his mind once more. Doubts about England now combined with a deepened appreciation of monarchy to produce the mature typology of the treatise. Its prescriptive centerpiece was Montesquieu's analysis of modern European monarchy, whose "moderation" distinguished it sharply from both republics, in either their "democratic" or "aristocratic" forms, and despotisms, whose natural home lay outside Europe.

As befits a text whose goal was to give "everyone. As for the "virtuous" republics of Sparta, Athens, and Rome, these belonged to a storybook past, as historically remote from modern Europe as the Muslim and Chinese despotisms were geographically.

This is the view of Montesquieu's politics that is set forth at great length in Michael Sonenscher's spectacular account of the intellectual origins of the Revolution in Before the Deluge, and there can be little doubt about its accuracy. I pursue a different question in this essay, which has less to do with the prescriptive profile of The Spirit of the Laws than with its sources and its influence, irrespective of its author's intentions.

Where should we situate Montesquieu within a wider account of republicanism in early modern Europe? There appears to be only one recent attempt to answer this question.

In a lecture on "Montesquieu and the New Republicanism" delivered inthe late Judith Shklar began with a characteristically crisp assertion: In this context, Montesquieu's crucial move was to expose what Shklar called "the Augustan charade" — the Bourbon monarchy's systematic effort to cloak itself in the ideological mantle of the Roman Republic.

An analysis of the idea behind the theory of classical republicanism

This ideological unmasking came at a cost, however. For the result, in effect, was to declare the historical obsolescence of the egalitarian, virtuous republics of classical antiquity, which had no place among the far larger, more commercial monarchies that dominated modern Europe.

If this was a price that Montesquieu himself was willing to pay, Shklar explained, many of his most faithful readers were not. Despite its author's reservations about republics, The Spirit of the Laws turned out to inspire two novel and very different kinds of republicanism in the second half of the century.

In France, Rousseau crafted a "theoretical" republicanism out of Montesquieu's portraits of classical Sparta and Rome — holding up a critical mirror to modern society as a whole in the first Discourse, developing a theory of democratic legitimacy in The Social Contract, and refashioning republicanism as a "preventive psychotherapy" in Emile.

This was the blueprint for self-limiting government that served the American founders at Philadelphia. If such, then, was the gift of Montesquieu to modern republicanism — inspiring both a Gallic version, running through Rousseau to Robespierre, and American variant, finding fullest expression in "Publius" — what were its sources?

Where did Montesquieu stand in relation to earlier currents of republican thought in Europe? On this subject, Shklar had virtually nothing to say. Her reticence in this respect is surprising and not merely because her lecture was published in a volume, edited from Cambridge, devoted to the legacy of Machiavelli.

Although Shklar had been perhaps the most prominent of the early admirers of J. Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment, she nevertheless complained that Pocock's reconstruction of an "Atlantic republican tradition" had given us Hamlet without the Prince by somehow forgetting France.

Reviewing Pocock's edition of Harrington inShklar wrote By blurring the lines, and treating us to so huge an array of insignificant Englishmen, one loses sight of what specific character Harrington or republicanism might ever have had.

Yet it was a European ideology, the quintessence of radicalism until it reached its epitome and death in Robespierre's virtuous terror. Just as Hobbes was a European philosopher and not just the devil's Englishman, so Harrington was part of a continuing trend in European radicalism.

Its terminal point is not the petty party squabbles of the reign of Queen Anne, but the French Revolution. Still, Shklar need not be unduly faulted for having skirted the issue, for she was far from alone in this regard. It is a striking fact that, despite many calls over the years for an effort to expand the Cambridge conception of an "Atlantic republican tradition" to include French political thought, no large-scale attempt at this has ever been made.

The closest we have to it is Jonathan Israel's account of the origins of what he terms "modern democratic republicanism" in The Enlightenment Contested.

Now it may well be the case that the latter has long since outlived its usefulness; after all, the American obituary of the Cambridge "paradigm" was written some fifteen years ago.

This is a large enough subject in itself. All there is space for is a brief glance at two "moments" in the text, which touch centrally upon the issue of Montesquieu's relations to a wider "Atlantic republican tradition.

Montesquieu's typology distinguishes between the "nature," or objective structure, of republics, monarchies, and despotisms and the subjective "principle" that sets them in motion.

By its nature, then, as Montesquieu writes in Book II, "republican government is that in which the people as a body, or only part of the people, have sovereign power"; accordingly, there are two sub-types of republic, "democracy" and "aristocracy.1.

Political Liberty as Non-Domination. Absolutely central to the contemporary civic republican program is the conception of political liberty as non-domination or independence from arbitrary power, and so it makes good sense to begin with an explication of this idea.


Rather than any classical model, the “natural republicanism” of the Ja- cobins was founded on modern theories of “natural right”—above all, the right permanently to dispose of anyone deemed an .

The classical theory of concepts is one of the five primary theories of concepts, the other four being prototype or exemplar theories, atomistic theories, theory-theories, and neoclassical theories. The classical theory implies that every complex concept has a classical analysis, where a classical.

Republicanism is simultaneously a theory of freedom and politics (Pettit, ), or, put differently, an account of freedom through politics.

3 This makes it an appealing starting point for examining the economic conditions of democratic governance. Democratic theory is an established subfield of political theory that is primarily concerned with examining the definition and meaning of the concept of democracy, as well as the moral foundations, obligations, challenges, and overall desirability of democratic governance.

stand the debate between republicanism and liberalism in early American constitutional history requires a consideration of whether and when the idea .

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