Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

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  1. I dig this. Question about the context though: how is this so? “Indeed, the earlier republics all pretty much fit into Madison’s definition of a ‘democracy.'” Is that so because a small number of Greek or Roman citizens got together to directly and democratically decide governance, that small number happening to be the privileged male non-slaves? In other words, I find it hard to imagine him (Dahl) claiming that the Greek or Roman governments be actual direct democracy. Unless I’m completely wrong in my history.

    • Dahl himself argues that to be a true democracy, you need full adult political participation rights. He uses ‘popular government’ here to note that it was broad participation but many people were excluded. But Madison obviously did not make exclusion of women and slaves a deal breaker with respect to either republics or democracies, so he’s saying according to Madison’s definition, the older ‘republics’ were Madisonian democracies.

      Does that make sense?

      David Kaib

      August 1, 2014 at 12:36 pm

  2. There is a tradition in political philosophy, however, that distinguishes “democracy” and “republic”. A democracy is a state in which the people (the majority) govern, and a republic is a state in which the rule of law is respected. These are not mutually exclusive, of course. Democratic theorists focus on the equality of every legitimate member of society, such as the equality of all Athenians, of all Rousseauean citizens, of all Marxian communists. Meanwhile, republicans typically pursue the equality of classes as a way to guarantee the continuity of law, but this would seem to be a purely instrumental commitment. This puts Madison at least adjacent to the republican tradition. His discussion of “factions” is really the same discussion about the balancing of classes that previous republicans engaged in, except without the class language.

    (Nowadays, though, I think we have a better idea of democracy than just majority rule.)

    Alex Sparrow

    July 31, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    • Interesting. I’d think rule of law isn’t the core of a republic, in part because the British tradition was understood to be bound by the rule of law even under a king. That said, Madison certainly sees his version of republic to include rule by the people (properly circumscribed). So either way I agree with Dahl that Madison’s distinction here is off base.

      David Kaib

      August 1, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      • Well, philosophical republicanism is okay with monarchism as long as long as the monarch is subordinate to the law (even if that sounds odd). The worst that a philosophical republican would say of kings is that they tend not to remain subordinate to law over time. Most republican philosophers are concerned more with advancing a distinctive conception of freedom that challenges the limitation of the liberal tradition. I posted some thoughts on the issue, as a sort of anti-neoliberal project.

        But yeah, though, Madison was making up definitions out of nowhere.

        Alex Sparrow

        August 2, 2014 at 5:02 pm

  3. I’m not a Republican. I’m a fiscally responsible American!

    FlgranteDelicto

    December 21, 2016 at 1:58 pm


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