Richard Dagger

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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Republicanism is an ancient tradition of political thought that has enjoyed a remarkable revival in recent years. Aristotle and Polybius are the two Greek thinkers most often associated with republicanism. As with liberalism, conservatism, and other enduring political traditions, there is considerable disagreement as to exactly what republicanism is. Whether republicanism itself is an adequate or distinctive political philosophy is the subject of a broader controversy. Whether John Adams, Thomas Paine, Montesquieu, or any other modern thinker really was a classical republican, or even a republican at all, is not a settled matter. Republicans have generally opposed monarchy and favored representative government, but there is also reason to be cautious here—and reason to look more closely at the definition of republicanism before turning to its history. How does a republic differ from a democracy? If a democracy maintains its respect for the rule of law, then it is a democratic republic; if not, it may be a populist, majoritarian, or plebiscitarian form of democracy, but it cannot be a republic.

Keywords: Aristotle; Polybius; democracy; political philosophy; republicanism; monarchy; representative government; John Adams; Thomas Paine; Montesquieu

Article.  4954 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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