Republicanism via Pettit, 1999

Philip Pettit described republicanism as a matter of public policy in Republicanism, A Theory of Freedom and Government. The major public policy issues communicated upon by Pettit were private property, environmentalism, feminism, socialism, multiculturalism, foreign affairs, judicial reform, economic goals, and political participation. Each of these issues holds policies of nondomination at their root. Nondomination is the language of modern republicanism.

I will now try to expand upon the properties of modern republicanism. First, modern republicanism sees private property, the buying and selling of property, as legitimate under the rule of nondomination. However, people or companies should not be able to dominate or take advantage of people or companies within the state. Further, nondomination does not mean that everybody has an equal amount of materials. According to Pettit, “While the project is committed to structural egalitarianism… it is not essentially committed to any sort of material egalitarianism” (119).

Pettit determined that modern republicanism might invigorate four political groups: environmentalists, feminists, socialists, and multiculturalists. Pettit thought that environmentalists should start to speak with a republican voice because “…environmental damage exercises a form of domination” (138). He believed that feminists should use a republican tongue in order to further freedom without domination “…as non-domination can be designed as much with women in mind as men…” (140). Pettit articulated that socialists should enjoy a republican conversation since firing “at-will” or “arbitrarily” is wrong. And republicans agree that workers should strike in order to combat domination (142). Finally, multiculturalism could easily embrace republican verse since “Freedom as non-domination is a pluralistic ideal…” (146).

Descriptions of Modern Republicanism in public policy will now be discussed. First, republicanism could be a big, non-dominating government with many auxiliary controls (150). This certainly is opposed to the classical republican government—the Yeoman farmer. This republican government may need a large bureaucracy in order to enforce nondomination—to be the final arbiter during domination disputes. Pettit was quite silent on the role of technology, however, which might track citizens interests without increasing the size of government.

Pettit sometimes found that contentious domestic issues (within a liberal framework) could be overwhelmed by international common sense and thus alleviated. “The best republican policy may well be to expatriate domestic sovereignty… to relevant international agencies” (Pettit, 153). For example, Pettit wrote, “Should homosexuality be legally permitted and homosexuals allowed full civil rights? Should women have the right to work in certain industrial sectors and to earn the same wages as men?” Pettit argued that these types of issues should be evaluated with respect to international norms—keeping nondomination in mind. Thus a local language looks to the global context. As the saying goes, act locally-think globally; a republican tradition. Well, I added that last part…

Two other issues of modern republicanism described by Pettit are judicial reform and economic reform. Regarding judicial reform, Pettit argued that modern republicanism would embrace “parsimony in criminalization:” recognition, recompense, reassurance (156). With respect to economic transformation, Pettit articulated that good infrastructure and good trading partners are essential to nondomination practices. He added “…the free contract cannot serve the role of automatic legitimator… the republican state… to play a regulative role in disallowing contracts that involve terms under which one party has the possibility of dominating the other” (164-5). In this case, the state must ensure that domination does not contractually occur. In short, Lochner v. New York (1905) is vilified par excellence.

Modern republicanism would change political participation. First, deliberative polls—polls that seek to answer what the public would think if they actually thought about it—would replace random sample polls (Pettit, 169). Compulsory voting and allocated representation for minorities are two serious changes that modern republicanism would like to institute (Pettit, 191-4). Realistically, it seems very unlikely that modern republicans could change the constitution in order to allocate representation for minorities.

Pragmatically, modern republicanism would enable citizens to direct their tax flows. In this way, constituents of America would be made to vote and made to tell the government how to spend their tax revenues. Thus, if the government is going to dominate the people and take money from them, then the people get to tell the government where to spend the money.


So, I ask you, reader: should the government ask you where to spend your money at tax time? And should they honor that?!


3 thoughts on “Republicanism via Pettit, 1999

  1. Pingback: “We Got an A.P.D. on Syria and Chemical Weapons” | Political Pipeline

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