AskDefine | Define republicanism

Dictionary Definition

republicanism n : the political orientation of those who hold that a republic is the best form of government

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The advocacy of a republic as a means of government


The advocacy of a republic as a means of government
  • Croatian: republikanizam
  • Czech: republikánství
  • Finnish: tasavaltalaisuus
  • German: Republikanismus

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, with an emphasis on liberty, rule of law, popular sovereignty and the civic virtue practiced by citizens. Republicanism always stands in opposition to aristocracy, oligarchy, and dictatorship. More broadly, it refers to a political system that protects liberty, especially by incorporating a rule of law that cannot be arbitrarily ignored by the government. As John Adams put it, “They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men.” Much of the literature deals with the issue of what sort of values and behavior by the citizens is necessary if the republic is to survive and flourish; the emphasis has been on widespread citizen participation, civic virtue, and opposition to corruption."
Advocates of republicanism argue that it demands a citizenry that puts a premium on civil virtue and opposes corruption. Most authors argue that republicanism is incompatible with office holders using public power for personal gain. Many dictatorships have called themselves "republics," but generally do not protect the rights or liberty of their citizens.


The Radicalism emerged in the European states in the 19th century. Although most radical parties later came to be in favor of economic liberalism policies, thus justifying the absorption of radicalism into the liberalism tradition, all 19th century radicals were in favor of the Republic and of universal suffrage, while liberals were at the time in favor of constitutional monarchy and census suffrage. Thus, radicals were as much Republicans as liberals, if not more. This distinction line between Radicalism and Liberalism hasn't totally disappeared in the 20th century, although many radicals simply joined liberal parties or became virtually identical to them. For example, the Left Radical Party in France or the (originally Italian) Transnational Radical Party which exist today have a lot more to do with Republicanism than with simple liberalism.
Thus, Chartism in the UK or even the early Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party in France were closer to Republicanism (and the left-wing) than to liberalism, represented in France by the Orleanist who rallied to the Republic only in the late 19th century, after the comte de Chambord's 1883 death and the De Rerum Novarum 1891 papal encyclic. Radicalism remained close to Republicanism (which is a term used more commonly to identify the conservative-liberal tradition in France, represented by several parties: Democratic Republican Alliance, Republican Federation, National Center of Independents and Peasants, Independent Republicans, Republican Party,Liberal Democracy) in the 20th century, at least in France where they governed several times with the other left-wing parties (participating in both the Cartel des gauches coalitions as well as the Popular Front).
Discredited after the Second World War, French Radicals split into a left-wing party – the Left Radical Party, a part of the Socialist Party – and the Radical Party "valoisien", associate party of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Italian Radicals also maintained close links with Republicanism as well as Socialism, with the Partito radicale founded in 1955 which became the Transnational Radical Party in 1989.

Contemporary republicanism

Anti-monarchial republicanism remains a political force of varying importance in many states. In the European monarchies, such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Sweden there has not been much contemporary popular support for republicanism. In such states republicanism is usually motivated by decreasing popularity of the Royal Family, who may be increasingly embroiled in scandal or conflict. However the classical argument against monarchy versus the egalitarian aspects of republicanism will often remain prominent as well. There are also republican movements of varying size and effect in the Commonwealth nations Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and Barbados. In these countries, republicanism is largely about the post-colonial evolution of their relationships with the United Kingdom.

Republicanism in political science

A different interpretation of republicanism is used among political scientists. To them a republic is the rule by many and by laws while a princedom is the arbitrary rule by one. By this definition despotic states are not republics while, according to some such as Kant, constitutional monarchies can be. Kant also argues that a pure democracy is not a republic, as it is the unrestricted rule of the majority.

Classical antecedents

Ancient India

Vaishali in what is now Bihar, India was one of the first governments in the world to have elements of what we would today consider Republicanism, similar to and preceding those later found in ancient Greece (although it was not a monarchy, ancient Vaishali was perhaps better described as an oligarchy). It continues to be inhabited today and is a major pilgrimage center for the Jains and the Buddhists.

Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece several philosophers and historians set themselves to analysing and describing forms of government. There is no single expression or definition from this era, written down in Greek, that exactly corresponds with a modern understanding of the term "republic". However, most of the essential features of the modern definition are present in the works of Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, and other ancient Greeks. These elements include the idea of mixed government and of civic virtue. It should be noted that the modern title of Plato's dialogue on the ideal state (The Republic) is a misnomer when seen through the eyes of modern political science (see Republic (Plato)). Some scholars have translated the Greek concept of "politeia" as "republic", but most modern scholars reject this idea.
A number of Ancient Greek states such as Athens and Sparta have been classified as classical republics, though this uses a definition of republic that was developed much later.

Ancient Rome

Both Livy (in Latin, living in Augustus' time) and Plutarch (in Greek, a century later) described how Rome had developed its legislation, notably the transition from kingdom to republic, based on Greek examples. Probably some of this history, composed more than half a millennium after the events, with scant written sources to rely on, is fictitious reconstruction - nonetheless the influence of the Greek way of dealing with government is clear in the state organisation of the Roman Republic.
The Greek historian Polybius, writing more than a century before Livy, was one of the first historians describing the emergence of the Roman Empire, and he had a great influence on Cicero, when this orator was writing his politico-philosophical works in the 1st century BC. One of these works was De re publica, where Cicero links the Latin res publica concept to the Greek politeia concept. As explained in the res publica article, also this concept only exceptionally links to the modern term "republic" although the word "republic" is derived from res publica.
Among these many meanings of the expression res publica, it is most often translated to "republic" only in the case where the Latin expression refers to the Roman state with the form of government it had between the era of the Kings and the era of the Emperors, which was the Roman Republic. This Roman Republic would in a modern understanding of the word still be qualified as a true republic, even if not excelling in all the features Enlightenment philosophers saw for an ideal government system, for example there was no systematic separation of powers in the Roman Republic.
Occasionally Romans could still refer to their state as "res publica" in the era of the early emperors. The reason for this is that on the surface the state organisation of the Roman Republic had been preserved without the slightest alteration by the first emperors. They had only several offices that in the era of the Republic were reserved to separate persons, accumulated in a single person, and had been successful in making some of these offices permanent and thus had gradually built sovereignty in their person. Traditionally, such references to the early empire as "res publica" are not translated as "republic".
As for Cicero, his description of the ideal state in De re publica is more difficult to qualify as a "republic" in modern terminology, it is rather something like enlightened absolutism--not to say benevolent dictatorship--and indeed Cicero's philosophical works, as far as available at that time, were very influential when Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire developed these concepts. Cicero related however with some ambiguity towards the republican form of government: in his theoretical works he defended monarchy (or a monarchy/oligarchy mixed government at best); in his political life he generally opposed to those trying to realise such ideals, like Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavian. Eventually, that opposition led to his death. So, depending on how one reads history, Cicero could be seen as a victim of his own deep-rooted republican ideals too.
Tacitus, a contemporary of Plutarch, was not concerned with whether on an abstract level a form of government could be analysed as a "republic" or a "monarchy" (see for example Ann. IV, 32-33). He analyses how the powers accumulated by the early Julio-Claudian dynasty were all given to the representants of this dynasty by a State that was and remained in an ever more "abstract" way a republic; nor was the Roman Republic "forced" to give away these powers to single persons in a consecutive dynasty: it did so out of free will, and reasonably in Augustus' case, because of his many merits towards the state, freeing it of civil wars and the like.
But at least Tacitus is one of the first to follow this line of thought: analysing in which measure such powers were given to the head of state because the citizens wanted to give them, and in which measure they were given because of other principles (for example, because one had a deified ancestor) — such other principles leading more easily to abuse by the one in power. In this sense, that is in Tacitus' analysis, the impossibility to return to the Republic was irreversible only when Tiberius established power shortly after Augustus' death (AD 14, much later than most historians place the start of the Imperial form of government in Rome): by this time too many "untouchable" principles had been mingled in to keep Tiberius away from power, and the age of "sockpuppetry in the external form of a republic", as Tacitus more or less describes this Emperor's reign, began (Ann. I-VI).

Classical Republicanism

The idea of the Republic is drawn from Ancient Greece, Ancient India, and Rome but it was truly created during the Renaissance when scholars built upon their conception of the ancient world to advance their view of the ideal government. The usage of the term res publica in classical texts should not be confused with current notions of republicanism. Despite its name Plato's The Republic also has little connection. The republicanism developed in the Renaissance is known as classical republicanism because of its reliance on classical models. This terminology was developed by Zera Fink in the 1960s but some modern scholars such as Brugger consider the term confusing as it might lead some to believe that "classical republic" refers to the system of government used in the ancient world. "Early modern republicanism" has been advanced as an alternative term.
Also sometimes called civic humanism, this ideology grew out of the Renaissance writers who developed the idea of the republic. More than being simply a non-monarchy the early modern thinkers developed a vision of the ideal republic. It is these notions that form the basis of the ideology of republicanism. One important notion was that of a mixed government. Both Plato and Aristotle saw three basic types of government, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. First Plato and Aristotle, and especially Polybius and Cicero developed the notion that the ideal republic is a mixture of these three forms of government and the writers of the Renaissance embraced this notion. Also central the notion of virtue and the pursuit of the common good being central to good government. Republicanism also developed its own distinct view of liberty, though what exactly that view is much disputed.

Enlightenment republicanism

From the Enlightenment on it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the descriptions and definitions of the "republic" concept on the one side, and the ideologies based on such descriptions on the other.
Up till then the situation had been different: even those Renaissance authors that spoke highly of republics were rarely critical of monarchies. While Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy is the period's key work on republics he also wrote The Prince on how to best run a monarchy. One cause of this was that the early modern writers did not see the republican model as one that could be applied universally, most felt that it could be successful only in very small and highly urbanized city-states.
In antiquity writers like Tacitus, and in the renaissance writers like Machiavelli tried to avoid formulating an outspoken preference for one government system or another. Enlightenment philosophers, on the other hand, always had an outspoken opinion.
However, Thomas More, still before the Age of Enlightenment, must have been a bit too outspoken to the reigning king's taste, even when coding his political preferences in a Utopian tale.
French Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Montesquieu expanded upon and altered the ideas of what an ideal republic would be: some of their new ideas were scarcely retraceable to antiquity or the Renaissance thinkers. Among other things they contributed and/or heavily elaborated notions like social contract and separation of powers. They also borrowed from and distinguished it from the ideas of liberalism that were developing at the same time. Since both liberalism and republicanism were united in their opposition to the absolute monarchies they were frequently conflated during this period. Modern scholars see them as two distinct streams that both contributed to the democratic ideals of the modern world. An important distinction is that while republicanism continued to stress the importance of civic virtue and the common good, liberalism was based on economics and individualism. It might be argued that while liberalism developed a view of liberty as pre-social and sees all institutions as limiting liberty, republicanism sees some institutions as necessary to create liberty. On the other hand, liberalism is strongly committed to some institutions e.g. the Rule of Law
It has long been agreed that republicanism, especially that of Rousseau played a central role in the French Revolution.
The French Revolution, which was to throw over the French monarchy in the 1790s, installed, at first, a republic; Napoleon turned it into an Empire with a new aristocracy. In the 1830s Belgium adopted some of the innovations of the progressive political philosophers of the Enlightenment too.


Républicanisme is a French version of Republicanism. It is a social contract concept, that owes to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea of a general will. Ideally, each citizen is engaged in a direct relationship with the state, obviating the need for group identity politics based on local, religious, or racial identification.
The ideal of républicanisme, in theory, renders anti-discrimination laws needless, but some critics argue that colour-blind laws serve to perpetuate ongoing discrimination.


In Poland moderate republicanism was also an important ideology. In Poland republicans were those who supported the status quo of having a very weak monarch and opposed those who felt a stronger monarchy was needed. These Polish republicans such as Lukasz Gornicki, Andrzej Wolan, and Stanislaw Konarski were well read in classical and Renaissance texts and firmly believed that their state was a Republic on the Roman model and called their state the Rzeczpospolita. Unlike in the other areas Polish republicanism was not the ideology of the commercial, but rather of the landed aristocracy who would be the ones to lose power if the monarchy was expanded.
In the Enlightenment anti-monarchism stopped being coextensive with the civic humanism of the Renaissance. Classical republicanism, still supported by philosophers such as Rousseau and Montesquieu, became just one of a number of ideologies opposed to monarchy. The newer forms of anti-monarchism such as liberalism and later socialism quickly overtook classical republicanism as the leading republican ideologies. Republicanism also became far more widespread and monarchies began to be challenged throughout Europe.
Perhaps the most interesting influence of republicanism was witnessed in Turkey forming a new democratic Turkish state in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire through Atatürk's principles (Six Arrows: Republicanism, Populism, Secularism, Reformism, Nationalism, and Statism).

The British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations

In some countries forming parts of the British Empire, and later the Commonwealth of Nations, republicanism has had very different significance in various countries at various times, dpending on the context.
Irish republicanism is not an ideology essentially opposed to an Irish dynasty having a throne in Dublin - an option never seriously mooted in modern Irish politics - but to Ireland still being in personal union with the other realms of the Commonwealth, as was the situation during the period of the Irish Free State. There is also the fact of Northern Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom, and thus still a part of a constitutional monarchy.
In South Africa, republicanism in the 1960s was identified with the staunch supporters of apartheid, who resented what they considered British interference in the way they treated the country's black majority population, despite the fact that the country was by that point an independent state with its own legally distinct monarchy.
In Australia, the debate between republicans and monarchists is still a controversial issue of political life.


This new school of historical revisionism has accompanied a general revival of republican thinking. In recent years a great number of thinkers have argued that republican ideas should be adopted. This new thinking is sometimes referred to as neo-republicanism. Engeman referred to republicanism as "an intellectual buzzword" that has been applied to a wide range of theories and postulates that have little in common in order to give them a certain cachet.
The most important theorists in this movement are Philip Pettit and Cass Sunstein who have each written a number of works defining republicanism and how it differs from liberalism. While a late convert to republicanism from communitarianism, Michael Sandel is perhaps the most prominent advocate in the United States for replacing or supplementing liberalism with republicanism as outlined in his Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. As of yet these theorists have had little impact on government. John W. Maynor, argues that Bill Clinton was interested in these notions and that he integrated some of them into his 1995 "new social compact" State of the Union Address.
This revival also has its critics. David Wootton, for instance, argues that throughout history the meanings of the term republicanism have been so diverse, and at times contradictory, that the term is all but meaningless and any attempt to build a cogent ideology based around it will fail.

Republicanism and democracy

Republicanism is a system that replaces or accompanies inherited rule. The keys are a positive emphasis on liberty, and a negative rejection of corruption. In the late 20th century there has been so much convergence between democracy and republicanism that confusion results. As a distinct political theory, republicanism originated in classical history and became important in early modern Europe, as typfied by Machiavelli. It became especially important as a cause of the American Revolution and the French Revolution in the 1770s and 1790s, respectively. Republicans in these particular instances tended to reject inherited elites and aristocracies, but the question was open amongst them whether the republic, in order to restrain unchecked majority rule, should have an unelected upper chamber, the members perhaps appointed meritorious experts, or should have a constitutional monarch.
Although conceptually separate from democracy, republicanism included the key principles of rule by the consent of the governed and sovereignty of the people. In effect republicanism meant that the kings and aristocracies were not the real rulers, but rather the people as a whole were. Exactly how the people were to rule was an issue of democracy – republicanism itself did not specify how. In the United States, the solution was the creation of political parties that were popularly based on the votes of the people, and which controlled the government (see Republicanism in the United States). Many exponents of republicanism, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson were strong promoters of representative democracy. However, other supporters of republicanism, such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, were more distrustful of majority rule and sought a government with more power for elites. There were similar debates in many other democratizing nations.

Democracy and republic

In contemporary usage, the term democracy refers to a government chosen by the people, whether it is direct or representative. The term republic has many different meanings, but today often refers to a representative democracy with an elected head of state, such as a president, serving for a limited term, in contrast to states with a hereditary monarch as a head of state, even if these states also are representative democracies with an elected or appointed head of government such as a prime minister.
The Founding Fathers of the United States rarely praised and often criticized democracy, which in their time tended to specifically mean direct democracy; James Madison argued, especially in The Federalist No. 10, that what distinguished a democracy from a republic was that the former became weaker as it got larger and suffered more violently from the effects of faction, whereas a republic could get stronger as it got larger and combats faction by its very structure. What was critical to American values, John Adams insisted, was that the government be "bound by fixed laws, which the people have a voice in making, and a right to defend."

Constitutional monarchs and upper chambers

Initially, after the American and French revolutions, the question was open whether a democracy, in order to restrain unchecked majority rule, should have an upper chamber – the members perhaps appointed meritorious experts or having lifetime tenures – or should have a constitutional monarch with limited but real powers. Some countries (such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Scandinavian countries, and Japan) turned powerful monarchs into constitutional ones with limited or, often gradually, merely symbolic roles. Often the monarchy was abolished along with the aristocratic system, whether or not they were replaced with democratic institutions (such as in the US, France, China, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Egypt). In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Papua New Guinea, and some other countries, the monarch is given supreme executive power, but by convention acts only on the advice of his or her ministers. Many nations had elite upper houses of legislatures, the members of which often had lifetime tenure, but eventually these houses lost power (as in Britain's House of Lords), or else became elective and remained powerful (as in the United States Senate).


European versions

  • Bock, Gisela; Skinner, Quentin; and Viroli, Maurizio, ed. Machiavelli and Republicanism. Cambridge U. Press, 1990. 316 pp.
  • Peter Becker, Jürgen Heideking and James A. Henretta, eds. Republicanism and Liberalism in America and the German States, 1750-1850. Cambridge University Press. 2002.
  • Brugger, Bill. Republican Theory in Political Thought: Virtuous or Virtual? St. Martin's Press, 1999.
  • Castiglione, Dario. "Republicanism and its Legacy," European Journal of Political Theory (2005) v 4 #4 pp version
  • Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (1965) online version
  • Fink, Zera. The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth-Century England. Northwestern University Press, 1962.
  • Foote, Geoffrey. The Republican Transformation of Modern British Politics Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  • Martin van Gelderen & Quentin Skinner, eds., Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, v 1: Republicanism and Constitutionalism in Early Modern Europe; vol 2: The Value of Republicanism in Early Modern Europe Cambridge U.P., 2002
  • Haakonssen, Knud. "Republicanism." A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy. Robert E. Goodin and Philip Pettit. eds. Blackwell, 1995.
  • Kramnick, Isaac. Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism: Political Ideology in Late Eighteenth-Century England and America. Cornell University Press, 1990.
  • Mark McKenna, The Traditions of Australian Republicanism (1996) online version
  • Maynor, John W. Republicanism in the Modern World. Cambridge: Polity, 2003.
  • Najemy, John M. "Baron's Machiavelli and Renaissance Republicanism." American Historical Review 1996 101(1): 119-129. ISSN 0002-8762 Fulltext in Jstor and Ebsco. Examines Hans Baron's ambivalent portrayal of Machiavelli. He argues that Baron tended to see Machiavelli simultaneously as the cynical debunker and the faithful heir of civic humanism. By the mid-1950s, Baron had come to consider civic humanism and Florentine republicanism as early chapters of a much longer history of European political liberty, a story in which Machiavelli and his generation played a crucial role. This conclusion led Baron to modify his earlier negative view of Machiavelli. He tried to bring the Florentine theorist under the umbrella of civic humanism by underscoring the radical differences between The Prince and the Discourses and thus revealing the fundamentally republican character of the Discourses. However, Baron's inability to come to terms with Machiavelli's harsh criticism of early 15th century commentators such as Leonardo Bruni ultimately prevented him from fully reconciling Machiavelli with civic humanism.
  • Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government Oxford U.P., 1997, ISBN 0-19-829083-7
  • Pocock, J.G.A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975; new ed. 2003)
  • Pocock, J. G. A. "The Machiavellian Moment Revisited: a Study in History and Ideology.: Journal of Modern History 1981 53(1): 49-72. ISSN 0022-2801 Fulltext: in Jstor. Abstract: Traces the Machiavellian belief in and emphasis upon Greco-Roman ideals of unspecialized civic virtue and liberty from 15th century Florence through 17th century England and Scotland to 18th century America. Thinkers who shared these ideals tended to believe that the function of property was to maintain an individual's independence as a precondition of his virtue. Consequently, in the last two times and places mentioned above, they were disposed to attack the new commercial and financial regime that was beginning to develop
  • Robbins, Caroline. The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission, Development, and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (1959, 2004). table of contents online

American versions

  • Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (1992)
  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard University Press, 1967.
  • Lance Banning. The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology (1980)
  • Peter Becker, Jürgen Heideking and James A. Henretta, eds. Republicanism and Liberalism in America and the German States, 1750-1850. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Linda K Kerber. Intellectual History of Women: Essays by Linda K. Kerber (1997)
  • Linda K Kerber. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1997)
  • Milton Klein, et al., eds., The Republican Synthesis Revisited Essays in Honor of George A. Billias (1992).
  • James T Kloopenberg. The Virtues of Liberalism (1998)
  • Mary Beth Norton. Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (1996)
  • Jack Greene and J. R. Pole, eds. Companion to the American Revolution (2004); many articles look at republicanism, esp. Shalhope, Robert E. Republicanism" pp 668-673
  • Robert E. Shalhope, "Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography," William and Mary Quarterly, 29 (Jan. 1972), 49-80 in JSTOR
  • Robert E. Shalhope, "Republicanism and Early American Historiography", William and Mary Quarterly, 39 (Apr. 1982), 334-356 in JSTOR
  • Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 (1969)
  • Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993)

External links

republicanism in Breton: Republikanouriezh
republicanism in Danish: Republikanisme
republicanism in German: Republikanismus
republicanism in Spanish: Republicanismo
republicanism in Esperanto: Respublikismo
republicanism in French: Républicanisme
republicanism in Italian: Repubblicanesimo
republicanism in Hebrew: רפובליקניזם
republicanism in Dutch: Republicanisme
republicanism in Swedish: Republikanism
republicanism in Turkish: Cumhuriyetçilik
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1