Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, Culture, Philosophy

By Richard Kearney | Go to book overview
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Genealogy of the republic
In Chapter 2 we explored what the notion of ‘Republic’ has come to mean in the contemporary Anglo-Irish context and sought to compare this with certain aspects of revolutionary republicanism. In what follows I propose to trace the genealogy of republicanism from its origin in classical and Renaissance thought through English, French and American versions of the term. I take as guiding motto Cicero’s statement: ‘When we inquire what a Republic means, we should first of all understand the nature of the thing itself about which we inquire’ (The Republic of Cicero, Book 1, pp. 24-25). The term ‘republic’ may be defined according to the following eight characteristics:
1 primary power invested in the people;
2 a mixed balance of separate powers—executive, legislative, judicial;
3 primacy of a ‘political life’ of civic participation based on the Aristotelian model of the citizen as a zoon politikon;
4 the virtue of autonomy and self-government in contradistinction to the absolute sovereignty of monarch or despot;
5 the appeal to a certain universality of value tailored to the historical needs of particular communities in particular times and places;
6 a commitment to a plurality of views on justice, transcending inherited dogma and cultivating open debates about the nature of civic virtue—i.e. a democratic conflict of interpretations;
7 a government by law rather than by persons—with crucial emphasis on the original moment of law-giving, on the founding constitution of first principles;
8 a society of equal rights of access, in accordance with the old Athenian principle of isonomia—a society in which office was to be widely accessible on an equal footing.


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