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RepublicMedieval Republicanism

The tension between the populist and elitist dimensions in republican thought is recapitulated in later important contributions to republicanism. Italy, in particular, produced a number of exponents of republican doctrines, such as Brunetto Latini (1220–c. 1294) and Ptolemy of Lucca (c. 1236–1327). Perhaps the most famous medieval republican work was the Defensor pacis (1324), written by Marsilius of Padua (c. 1280–c. 1343). Marsilius stresses the linguistic foundations of the community, following Cicero's account of the formation of the human community as a consensual process in which the multitude is convinced to join into bonds of social and political cooperation by the "persuasion and exhortation" of oratorically gifted individuals. In turn, Marsilius ascribes to discourse a continuing role in the conduct of public affairs, as a sort of repetition of the original foundation of the community. The framing of legislation, for example, he regards as a function of public speech. He stipulates that draft statutes are to be framed by prudent persons (prudentes) who, by virtue of their leisure and superior experience, are best qualified to discover just and useful laws. Yet the wisdom of the few does not entitle them to enact legislation on behalf of the general mass of citizens. Rather, the whole body of citizens (which Marsilius terms the legislator humanus) must consent to draft statutes in order to give them the status of laws that the community is obligated to obey.

The Defensor pacis ascribes to oratory two pivotal functions in the process of a "bill becoming a law." First, it is assigned to the prudentes, when they present their legislative proposals to the citizen body, to "explain" publicly the measures they have recommended; and their fellow citizens are likewise bound to "listen attentively" to the arguments given. The prudentes in effect play the role created by the primordial orator: they must attempt to persuade the assembly of citizens that the draft statutes are consistent with justice and contribute to the common good, while it is left to the multitude, whose powers of reason are less well developed, to reflect on the justifications presented to them and to approve (or withhold approval from) laws. Second, Marsilius views the occurrence of legislative authorization as an occasion for general public discussion and debate among the members of the civic body. The whole citizen population must have an opportunity to speak about the matters of communal concern placed before it, and the words of the populace are ultimately binding. Lest "partiality" creep into the legislative process, the entire citizen body is to enjoy a say in the laws by which it will be governed.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Reason to RetrovirusRepublicanism - Republic - Roman Republicanism, Medieval Republicanism, Renaissance Italian Republicanism, English Republicanism, Modern Republicanism, Bibliography