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Republican Constitutional Thought: Elitist and Plebeian Interpretations Of the Mixed Constitution

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Even if republicanism is one of the oldest traditions of political thought, it has defied internal classifications other than divisions between ancients and moderns, or by region or country. Republican thought has remained a broad tradition that has brought together diverse thinkers who, although they appear to have opposing views regarding who should rule in a free republic, have been interpreted as endorsing an idealized republican order that stems from Cicero and the 'civic humanism' that developed in the early quattrocento in Florence. Following recent plebeian reinterpretations of Machiavelli, which put into question this cohesion within the tradition, this article offers a classification of republicanism based on the division between elitist and plebeian approaches to the political order. It first engages with the development of the dominant 'elitist-proceduralist' interpretation of the republican constitution from Cicero to Montesquieu and James Madison, and then maps out the plebeian republican tradition in the works of Machiavelli, Condorcet and Jefferson. The third and fourth sections focus on contemporary republicanism, reviewing the reinterpretations of the mixed constitution offered by Philip Pettit and John McCormick, as two major exponents of the current elitist and plebeian strands of republican thought.

Keywords: CICERO; CONDORCET; CONSTITUTIONALISM; CORRUPTION; INEQUALITY; JEFFERSON; MACHIAVELLI; MADISON; MONTESQUIEU; McCORMICK; OLIGARCHY; PETTIT; PLEBEIANISM; REPUBLICANISM

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Cambridge

Publication date: 2022

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