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Republicanism - Republic - Roman Republicanism, Medieval Republicanism, Renaissance Italian Republicanism, English Republicanism, Modern Republicanism, Bibliography

classical political world people

The term republic derives from the Latin phrase res publica ("matter" or "thing of the people"). Most generally, the word refers to any political regime in which no king or hereditary dynasty rules over subjects in a state of submission or servility. A republic is thus populated by "citizens" who enjoy some manner of political and legal rights to govern themselves through collective political mechanisms and processes. Because citizens are self-governing, liberty is associated with and regarded as emerging from republican regimes. Yet republicanism must also be distinguished from democracy: the idea of a republic entails the imposition of fixed and strict limits on the power of the people. Consequently, a republic involves a constitutional system that provides checks and balances or a mixture of authorizing agents. Stated simply, the liberty of the citizens must be weighed against the maintenance of a common public good that is best identified by leaders who are insulated from the unchecked passions of the people.

Historically, the language of republicanism has been recognized as one of the central modes of political discourse in the European and modern Atlantic worlds. The title of a synoptic collection of essays from 2002 labels republicanism a "shared European heritage," and many scholars treat it as a European bequest to the New World. Certainly, republicanism seems to be a distinctively Western construction, although a plausible case may be constructed that the pre-kingship system of Judaic government depicted in the Old Testament constituted an embryonic system of "federated republic." (Indeed, many later thinkers viewed the Israelite polity as an inspiration for their own vision of a self-governing constitution.)

Perhaps the most hotly debated issue in current scholarship is the relationship between the ancient or classical, the medieval, and the modern strains of republican thought. Some have traced the diffusion of classical republicanism from the Renaissance through to the founding of the American republic, arguing for an essential continuity, a "Machiavellian moment," in the phrase of John Pocock. Others have sternly criticized the view that a uniform revival of classical republicanism may be attributed to the modern world, contending instead that "classical" republicanism must be distinguished from a "modern" variant and that, despite superficial resemblances, different thinkers may be sorted into one or the other category. Paul Rahe represents the outstanding proponent of this view. Still others posit a continuous and developing tradition of republican thought that commenced in the Roman era and persisted (in necessarily transformed fashion) through the Latin Middle Ages into the modern world.

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