The following passage comes from the author’s TLS review of a book on Mary Wollstonecraft (see bibliography). — George P. Landow

Decorated initial R

epublicanism has been the subject of a renaissance in political theory in recent years. Thanks to the work most notably of Philip Pettit and Quentin Skinner, it is establishing itself as an alternative to liberalism. . . . The republican view holds that you are not free if you are subject to the will of someone else. This definition was captured in Roman law, which distinguished between a free person and a slave: the liber homo is sui iuris, under their own law, while the servus is dependent on the good will of his or her master. According to Skinner’s now classic account in Liberty before Liberalism (1998), the republican theory, popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, lost out to liberalism, which simply defines freedom as freedom of action – you are free so long as you are able to do what you want. Swept aside in that victory was the insight that even if you are able to do what you want, if you do this at the discretion of another, then you are a slave. Even if you enjoy a cornucopia of rights, such as movement, speech, property and education, if you enjoy them on someone else’s permission, then they are not really rights, but privileges. The republican theory was deployed chiefly in relation to monarchy.

Victorian political theories and parties


Dawson, Hannah. “Vindicated.” Times Literary Supplement. (9 October 2015): 12. [Review of Halldenius]

Halldenius, Lena. Mary Wollstonecraft and Feminist Republicanism. London: Chatto & Windus, 2015.

Pettit, Philip. Republicanism: a theory of freedom and government. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Republicanism and political theory. Edited by Cécile Laborde and John Maynor. Malden, MA : Blackwell, 2008.

Skinner, Quentin. Liberty before liberalism. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Last modified 10 February 2016