Literature Review of Republicanism (D1)

 “The discovery of republicanism has, according to Joyce Appleby, ‘produced a reaction among historians akin to the reaction of chemists to a new element. Once having been identified, it can be seen everywhere’” (Dunn, 2004, 150).


            The very definition of republicanism changes from scholar to scholar. Kane (2008) openly admits, “Different political theorists have presented different concepts of republicanism. Different governments have also implemented republican ideas differently in practice” (45). This literature review will articulate many of the different viewpoints among scholars regarding the conceptualization of republicanism. In general, scholars definition’s of republicanism differ dramatically if they incorporate Machiavellian virtu. For example, scholars whom focus on the ancients, generally, think of republicanism as a political methodology to enable public virtue, or, the greater good. However, modern republicanism that incorporates Machiavellian virtu almost ignores the idea of the greater good, and instead describes republican liberty as non-domination by the individual or society upon the individual within society. In short, implementing republicanism today is a means to ensure that an individual within society is not arbitrarily interfered with or dominated against. Not only is slavery absent under modern republicanism, but the State actively extinguishes domination.

Machiavelli planted the seeds to transform the ancient idea of republicanism into a more individualistic nature. Maynor (2003) and Pettit (1999) found that republicanism is the political language of freedom for all, via non-domination by anyone or any party. More specifically, Machiavellian republicanism means that “to be free means not to depend on the will of another” (Maynor, 2003, 24). According to Machiavelli, freedom may be threatened in two ways. First, freedom may be threatened in the state by an external force, such as invasion. Second, internal self-interest could allow people to dominate one another. Whereas liberalism allows freedom to be threatened by internal self-interest, republicanism would not allow such domination to shape everyone’s public sphere (Maynor, 2003).

A cleavage among scholars exists between those whom view republicanism pre-Machiavelli or post Machiavelli. Machiavelli described “Fortuna,” an external force designed to tempt one away from virtue, as a force to put one “into a life of corruption” (Maynor 2003, 27). According to Maynor (2003), republicanism actively eradicates Fortuna. Republicanism is the freedom that is “essential to the realization of virtue,” because republicanism actively decimates domination in the public and private spheres (Maynor 2003, 27). While liberalism allows all people to have an opportunity to be involved in the political process, republicanism finds that exclusion from political process alienates people, and (collective) liberty vanishes (Maynor 2003, 28). Pocock also found that republicanism was set into greater action via Machiavelli, whereas Fortuna threatened the republic.

Kane (2008) described how republicanism “presents independent initiative as a positive virtue” (44). Kane (2008) described that republicans are concerned with rationality within their own institutions and structures, and will resist external institutions and structures (i.e. cosmopolitanism). Kane (2008) cited the American founders and their will to rule internally, since without republican rule, the founders were unable to encourage the public good and deal with negative externalities (i.e. Native Americans). Ellis found that the anthropology of republicanism is the claim to human dignity (2006, 8). Further, Ellis (2006) found a relationship between religion and republicanism in an individual sense, and quoted many American founders whom married the two concepts, such as Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, and John Adams (41).

Kane (2008) found that republicanism’s focus is on self-determination and Machiavellian virtue, instead of cosmopolitan universalism, propagating democracy, or in general, exercising influence externally. Hence, republicanism as a theory in practice would wait for its seeds of virtue to grow until governmental institutions and structure anathema to republicanism would collapse upon themselves. Republicanism, according to Kane (2008) does not extend to the point of nationalism (121). Kane (2008) saw the twentieth century as a battle between liberalism and various forms of totalitarianism, which were “tidal forces”, whereas republicanism and cosmopolitanism “resembles an undercurrent” (2).

Republicanism is not wholly absorbed by one political party. In America, Kane (2008) found that republicanism and neoconservativism were at odds with each other when the latter was “propagating democracy” (47). Cosmopolitanism may be a manner for a nation to incorporate republican values and norms within its structure, institutions and culture. However, neoconservatives, for example, cannot forcibly bring democracy or republicanism to another state. Meaning, republicanism is internal self determination over globalization, Machiavellian virtu over cosmopolitan-universal moral virtue (Kane, 2008, 47-8). For example, the American founders pledged their loyalty to each other against external forces, and the European Union also established an identity upon the global community (Kane, 2008, 69). According to Kane (2008), “the goal of asserting collective identity against the backdrop of a larger and potentially hostile world is the essence of republicanism” (69).

Other scholars view republicanism pre-Machiavelli, whereas one may reference Plato, the Greeks, and other ancients, such as Cato. Dunn (2004) found a difference between scholars regarding republicanism and categorized them as: old or new. Old republicanism scholars, such as Wood, see republicanism only as a “moral dimension” and a “utopian depth” and the “sacrifice of individual interests to the greater good…” (Dunn, 2004, 156). Many scholars exclude republicanism, such as Bailyn, whom see America’s foundational political structure about the “dialectic of liberty and power” (Dunn, 2004, 156). Moreover, according to Wood, “by 1787, Lockean liberalism [came to] overshadow republican sentiment” (Dunn, 2004, 158). And many scholars would agree with this assessment.

Some political scientists have not observed republicanism as a dominant political force in America at all, while others take the opposite stance. Hartz, for example, found that only liberalism was language within the American political culture—there were merely variations and manifestations of liberalism. In America, there was “the presence of the liberal idea” (1991, 20). Liberalism is based on the individual, the free-market, and private property ownership. The Lockean doctrine is liberalism (Hartz 1991, 10-11). To Hartz, “we have only had the American Way of Life, a nationalistic articulation of Locke…” (1991, 11). However, Pocock said that “Locke played no predominant role in the formation… [in the] Whig cannon” (Dunn, 2004, 162). Dunn, also, synthesized that the American founders incorporated both Locke and more republican thinkers, such as Cato (2004, 298-99). Yet scholars even diverge in their understanding of Cato upon republicanism.

Scholars deviate regarding republicanism and the degree of self-rule, and rules, from within. Kane elucidated his conception of republicanism: it “advocates self-rule for particular communities” (2008, 2).  Kane (2008) wrote that cosmopolitanism “sees international institutions as more legitimate than any individual state [republicanism]” (2). Wood said that the “sacrifice of individual interests to the greater good of the whole formed the essence of republicanism” (Dunn, 2004, 308). More extreme than that, Wood said that, “ideally, republicanism obliterated the individual” (Ibid). Yet, Dunn (2004) shows that Wood confuses scholars’ conceptualizations; whereas Cato found that liberty was primarily an individual’s liberty and public liberty was a result of many individuals’ liberty (309).

More scholars swerve in their understanding of republicanism still. Dunn (2004) contrasted many scholars conceptions and definitions of republicanism. For example, after articulating Wood’s conception of republicanism, Dunn found that Pocock described republican liberty as “‘freedom from restraints upon the practice’ of political life” (2004, 161). Importantly for the discussion here, Dunn explained that “All this differs substantially from Wood’s version of classical republicanism…” (2004, 161). Maynor (2003) found that republicanism constantly questions how the State may meddle to promote “ideals and values… of non-domination” (82). When republicanism dictates the political languages, the State will abandon liberal neutrality and challenge domination (Maynor 2003).

Today, scholars struggle with the dominance of republicanism. Dunn (2004) found that today’s scholars must shift their understanding of republicanism upon the American political landscape in order to incorporate America’s republican roots. Dunn (2004) admits that this shift shall invariably be from Lockean rights to one that incorporates republicanism as “‘a dynamic ideology assuming moral dimensions and involving the very characteristic… of society’” (151). Dunn (2004) surmised, “The discovery of republicanism has, according to Joyce Appleby, ‘produced a reaction among historians akin to the reaction of chemists to a new element. Once having been identified, it can be seen everywhere” (150). Many scholars of republicanism now do see republicanism everywhere, and I shall only take a few more paragraphs to articulate republicanism within classic American literature.

Republicanism scholars provide numerous contextual and historical examples of republicanism within American political culture. For example, Pangle (1990) explained that the separation of powers, federalism, and the subjugation of ambition were all voices and policies of republicanism. The American people were free in the Lockean tradition, but their government was based on republican values and sought to enable American virtue. Pangle exposed the ideological depth of republicanism from Federalist 54, “…if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the Negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants” (1990,116).

Republicanism as non-domination policy enables freedom, which was a foundational political argument by the American founders. Maynor (2003) found that “as long as the British held the power to interfere arbitrarily with the American colonies; they would be unfree in the republican sense” (37). The Founders unquestionably did endure domination by the British through all things political, especially taxes and popular representation. The American Revolution overthrew domination and arbitrary interference by political participation, political parties and public policy, even if the Founders literally re-enacted de jure domination (i.e. slavery). Yet, Maynor (2003) and Pettit (1999) argue that republicanism was the spark for freedom, and republicanism continues to speak against domination and arbitrary interference today.

Modern republicanism is, according to Maynor (2003) and Pettit (1999), apparent as the dominant political language when the faction(s) and/or individual(s) actively diminish arbitrary interference and domination within political parties, public policy, and political participation. Maynor (2003) says that republicanism as non-domination (1) secures you from anxiety of interference, (2) reduces the need to anticipate arbitrary interference, and (3) increases trust and stability (44-45). Moreover, the language of republicanism will be obvious when considering that political parties, public policy, and political participation may not suffer arbitrary interference or domination. Thus, republicanism is mostly a political language to describe and enact non-domination by individuals or parties in the paradigm of politics.

Thus, republicanism has caused and will cause much consternation in the field of political science. The very definition of republicanism changes from scholar to scholar. Some define republicanism via Machiavellian virtu. Others focus on the ancients and see republicanism as a means to enable public virtue, or, the greater good. Moreover, modern republicanism scholars almost ignore the idea of the greater good, and instead describe republican liberty as non-domination by the individual or society upon the individual within society. Regarding the latter, non-domination is liberty. Liberalism, as demonstrated by some scholars, must now contend with republicanism.

Some experts of republicanism find it everywhere in American political culture. Indeed, Kane, who found republicanism as an undercurrent, predicts a resurgence of republicanism in the early 21st century (2008, 133). Other scholars of republicanism also question how it will assert itself and manifest itself in modern American society. Thus, the growth and change of republicanism should be studied longitudinally by political scientists. With respect to this specific literature review regarding the definition of republicanism itself, I propose to study the level of attitudes of republicanism amongst political scientists and economists. This brief literature made clear that scholars do not have the same understanding of republicanism.


9 thoughts on “Literature Review of Republicanism (D1)

  1. Would you please include full references to these sources? You can upload longer works as a pdf file that be clicked on. That might be a more readable option on longer works. Just give an abstract and then link to the pdf.

    • Hi Norton, I realize that this blog is not like mainstream political science blogs. Rather, it is a “web-log” of my academic readings and a place for me to experiment with creativity. The links to pdfs are in my research page. See here.

      My design is very different than traditional web logs. On the other hand, perhaps my design will be useful to other graduate students–my niche market 🙂

  2. But perhaps it would be more useful if there were full references. Sometimes it can be hard to track down an article or book with just the last name and year. If other students saw sometime that sounded interesting, they might have to do a bit of work to track it down. If there were full references, they could just copy and paste into google and be good to go.

    • Good point. I’ll keep that in mind for future posts. On the other hand, that will take up space (see your argument). Please recall the purpose of the web log–to record my analysis of academic reading through time (for public view).

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