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What is Civic Republicanism ?

Civic republican political theory takes its starting point from a long established tradition of thinking about politics-a tradition that is understood to have contributed significantly to the development of democracy. This tradition is associated with such political thinkers as Aristotle, Cicero, Guicciardini, Machiavelli, James Harrington and Rousseau as well as with the many commonwealth theorists of the 18th century. In recent times this tradition has been defended and developed by Hannah Arendt, John Pocock, Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, among others.

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The term republicanism is defined and understood in contrast with monarchy or the personal rule of kings and emperors. Whereas a monarch enjoys personal authority over his subjects and rules his realm as his personal possession and more or less to realize his personal interests, government in a republic is, in principle, the common business of the citizens conducted by them for realizing the common good. The idea of republicanism, thus develops from a desire and the attempt to replace ‘the empire of men with the empire of law’.

The civic republican perspective begins by adopting some of the important ideas of Greek political thought. In fact, civic republicanism begins, as dose Greek political thinking, from the premise that man is by nature a social-political animal. Men, however, are also moral beings as they embody certain moral purposes. Naturally therefore, and in order to realize their interests and develop their true selves, men must live together in a political association, more specifically in a self-governing political community.

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A self- governing political community is one in which citizens participate to realize the good of both the individual as well as the collective. In a republic then, citizens are essentially virtuous as they place the common good above their particular individual goods. To put in a nutshell, a good polity is an association of good citizens, good citizens beings those who possess the quality of civic virtue or the predisposition to seek the good of all in public matters. To use Aristotle’s words, the end of a political community “is the good life and the good in politics is the common interest”.

Underlying and contributing to the civic republican ideal of a good polity are somewhat distinct ideas of freedom and government –ideas, which republicans conclude, go beyond and are deeper than the dominant liberal notion of freedom and government. It is this distinctiveness which, they believe, makes civic republicanism a compelling theory of political order and freedom.

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