Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government

Philosophical Review 108 (1):90 (1999)
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Abstract

In his most recent book, Philip Pettit presents and defends a “republican” political philosophy that stems from a tradition that includes Cicero, Machiavelli, James Harrington, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Madison. The book provides an interpretation of what is distinctive about republicanism—namely, Pettit claims, its notion of freedom as nondomination. He sketches the history of this notion, and he argues that it entails a unique justification of certain political arrangements and the virtues of citizenship that would make those arrangements possible. Of historical and philosophical interest, he stresses, is the fundamental contrast between freedom as nondomination and slavery. Joseph Priestly, for instance, invoked this contrast in defending the cause of the American Revolution, and in 1769 declared, incredibly, that if the parliament of Great Britain continued to tax the American colonies, “the colonists will be reduced to a state of as complete servitude, as any people of which there is an account in history”. Those opposed to American independence, among them Jeremy Bentham, relied instead on a Hobbesian notion of freedom as noninterference, using it to argue that the colonists were no more interfered with by the British government than were citizens of Britain. Drawing out this contrast, Pettit aims to establish that a republican view of freedom better supports the institutions of a constitutional democracy than does liberalism. His account of the distinguishing characteristics and strengths of republicanism is, however, only partially successful. Neither his case that a republican notion of freedom provides for a more solid defense of democratic institutions and constitutional protections than is available within liberalism, nor his argument that republicanism can better address “private” injustices, is convincing.

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Author Profiles

Philip Pettit
Australian National University
Erin I. Kelly
Tufts University

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