Republicanism: History, Theory, Practice


She is wrong, of course. A tradition of revolutions exists and can be identified very precisely, in any place, in any historical period, from where it constantly emerges in its popular form — for what is universal about this collective treasure is that it is owned by no particular region in the world, nor did any single intellectual tradition create it. Where do we go to trace this tradition of revolutions? If we look at the people who make revolutions — at their practices, their ideas, their organizations, their years of preparation and collective work — we find that everything they write, everything they do, is imbued with passion, spirit, ideology, principles, but above all an awareness of the virtues, and an unwavering allegiance to practice them, in order to achieve their aims.

Any study of revolutions must therefore be attached in some serious way to the reality of the experience of revolutions and revolutionaries, the language they used, the ideals that drove them.

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What they were fighting for, who they were fighting against — and how. Above all, what were the values which moved them to choose such risks and live such harsh struggles? These are the questions that lead one to uncover the broad tradition of republicanism. What ties these revolutionaries together in a tradition?

Tactics, strategies, ideologies; what connects them above all is that revolutionary principle of popular sovereignty: This single principle is as the French republican Godefroy Cavaignac rightly named it la force revolutionnaire. Popular sovereignty as the revolutionary principle is not based on the nation alone, but rather on a republican understanding of the social contract, where all citizens are equal and free.

Accordingly, popular sovereignty and revolutions are most often about republicanism, and about republicans. This republican tradition has quite a distinguished lineage in the modern era.

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In the late 18th and 19th century, it inspired revolutions across Europe and the Americas. In the 20th it can be traced through the rich history of the anti-colonial struggles for liberation from Africa to Asia, Vietnam and Algeria to Palestine. Its prevailing feature was the ambition to create republics through revolutions. There are a few reasons why the historical and theoretical literature has been largely silent about this tradition.

This is primarily because most chose to remain anonymous. However there is more to it than that: The role of leadership was conceived quite differently. Those few figures who are well known— the 18th century Dessalines, the 19th century Mazzinis, the 20th century Nelson Mandelas, are not the key republicans who dreamed, planned, and constructed these revolutions, step by step, year by year.

The essential work in the creation of republics through revolutions was, and still is, anonymous and involves large bodies of organised cadres. Further, this anonymity is intentional. The work to create free republicans is a pattern of practice as much as it is a tradition of thought, and anonymity is the essence of virtuous republican practice.

Another reason for the neglect of this revolutionary republican tradition of popular sovereignty is that these republicans are excluded from the traditional historical narratives, almost all of which are centered around the nation-state. Their activities were transnational and unbounded by national frameworks, which is how most studies on the creation of modern democracies have been, and continue to be written.

For example, if you look at the 19th century revolutionary project in Europe, or the anti-colonial movement in the second half of the 20th century, you will find the majority of texts and pamphlets of the dozens of organizations in any country, and their principles, charters, and oaths, all locate the fight for the establishment of free republics as an international project, and not a national one.

Indeed, both Marx and Engels sought to destroy the reputations of their republican revolutionary contemporaries in this manner: The precariousness of their lives, their desperate situations, and for many even the manner in which they died has meant that much of their work has been lost. Indeed, the best historical and conceptual work currently being carried out in South Africa, Palestine, and elsewhere on revolutionaries and revolutionary movements of the s through s is being retrieved via oral histories of old cadres. Some have argued that the kind of moral vision upon which these revolutionaries rested had fragmented by the end of the eighteenth century.

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As MacIntyre states in After Virtue:. Yet contrary to his belief that this restoration of the epic republican tradition is no longer possible, a powerful and vibrant strand of revolutionary republicanism continued to flourish in Europe and the rest of the world throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The essential features in this tradition could be usefully highlighted.

Central to its identity are a number of myths about man, society, war, liberty, equality, fraternity, patriotism, and nationalism. For example, the myths of liberty, equality and fraternity that emerged at the time of the French Revolution were relied upon by republicans throughout the Caribbean and Latin America in their revolutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as in Europe during the Polish insurrections and Spring of Nations of Bentham's Theory of Law and Public Opinion. Tocqueville's Political and Moral Thought. Modern Political Theory from Hobbes to Marx.

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The Tyranny of the Majority. The Morality of Politics Toleration, Neutrality and Democracy. The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls. Technology and the End of Authority. The Science and Philosophy of Politics. War in International Thought. Birth of the European Individual. Political Theorists in Context. International Political Theory after Hobbes. The Exceptionally Decisive Carl Schmitt.

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