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  • Republicanism Modernized
  • Paul A. Rahe (bio)
Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson. Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. viii + 191 pp. Index. 65.00 (cloth); 19.99 (paper).

This slim volume consists of seven chapters: an introductory chapter aimed at situating its argument with regard to the secondary literature on republicanism and liberalism; substantive chapters on Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Thomas Paine and James Madison, Germaine de Staël, and Benjamin Constant; and a five-page concluding chapter suggesting what these figures have in common. The substantive chapters have all been published elsewhere and appear here in revised form. It is in these chapters, taken individually, that the value of the book lies.

In the introductory chapter, Kalyvas and Katznelson attempt to lay the foundation for stitching together the substantive chapters. This they fail to accomplish. To their great credit, they recognize that the republicanism embraced by Smith, Ferguson, Paine, Madison, de Staël, and Constant was commercial in character and had, as its end, prosperity as well as public and private liberty; and they are aware that these thinkers relegated virtue and public-spiritedness to a secondary, instrumental role without jettisoning them altogether. But they are not fully in command of the secondary literature on republicanism, and they appear not to have read the republican tracts of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Had they read more widely in the secondary literature, had they taken the trouble to study with care the writings of Marchamont Nedham, James Harrington, Henry Neville, John Wildman, Algernon Sidney, Walter Moyle, John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon, and James Burgh (among others), Kalyvas and Katznelson would have seen that the analytical accounts of the history of republicanism provided by J. G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner are fundamentally at odds;1 they would have been forced to consider whether there was not a profound difference between the early modern republicanism inspired by Machiavelli and that of the Greeks and Romans; and they would have been driven to ponder whether the liberal beginnings to which the title of this book refers do not, in fact, go back to the 1650s. Moreover, had they [End Page 205] done so, they would have been in a better position to define with precision what they mean by republicanism and liberalism.2 After reading their book, I was left wondering whether, by their definition, Aristotle, Machiavelli, James Harrington, and Rousseau all count as republicans and, if so, why; whether constitutional monarchies should be regarded as republics and, if so, why; and whether there were any liberals in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first two decades of the nineteenth century who were not also republicans and what would define them as such.

Alternatively, Kalyvas and Katznelson could have dismissed the republicanism-liberalism debate as beside the point, and instead they could have framed their discussion with an eye to the distinction drawn by Montesquieu (whom they mention only in passing) between the democratic republics of classical antiquity and the strange, new commercial republic disguised as a monarchy that he discovered during the months he spent in England.3 It was, after all, The Spirit of Laws that inspired the ruminations of Smith, Ferguson, Paine, Madison, de Staël, and Constant; and it was in response to his political typology that they framed their arguments. Montesquieu was the superintending spirit of the age.4

The first of the substantive chapters presented by Kalyvas and Katznelson is intriguing and attractive but not in the end fully persuasive (pp. 18–50). In it, they tackle what German scholars long ago termed das Adam Smith Problem. They begin by contrasting the secondary literature, based mainly on Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, that treats the Scot as a civic republican, with the secondary literature, based mainly on his Wealth of Nations, that depicts him as a liberal (pp. 18–22). They correctly conclude that Smith's thinking has both a republican and a liberal dimension, and they attempt to square the circle by suggesting there is a single psychological principle underpinning both of his books—the "drive to acquire social approval, moral approbation, and civic...


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