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“For consistently with thinking that the state should be orientated towards the promotion of freedom as non-domination, and not just towards the promotion of freedom as non-interference, I can happily admit the attractions of freedom as personal self-mastery. There is a difference, of course, between the republican viewpoint that I defend and the position of someone who thinks that the state should explicitly embrace the richer ideal of promoting people’s personal autonomy. Such an opponent will argue that the sort of state required for the promotion of non-domination is too austere an agency to be attractive or compelling, and that we need to ascribe the richer ideal to the state if we are to justify the political expectations that we are entitled to entertain. But it is not possible at this stage to respond to that argument. I can only hope that once opponents of this kind see the full profile of the republican state that I defend, and once they perceive that that state will facilitate the realization of the autonomy that they treasure, they may be persuaded that there is no need to give the state explicit responsibility for promoting people’s personal self-mastery. They may be persuaded that people can be trusted to look after their own autonomy, given that they live under a dispensation where they are protected from domination by others.”
Philip Pettit [1]

1Because it is subject to potentially injurious usages, most contemporary political thinkers are near-systematically suspicious of references to virtue. [2] This mistrust regarding what undoubtedly constitutes the epitomic symbol of elitist, ethnocentric, and paternalistic political culture does not necessarily imply a denial of the conviction that the viability and quality of institutions are dependent on certain qualities, aptitudes, and other civic capacities. Although there is an implicit consensus in this respect, not only among the tenants of the republican tradition, but among a significant number of contemporary liberal thinkers, [3] the way in which the development of these virtues can be conceived of in a context characterised by the fact of pluralism is the object of persistent discord. How can we conceive of the means of forming these virtues so that they are able to support the institutions of justice without infringing on the equal freedom of individuals? What are the institutional incentives that are compatible with axiological pluralism? What kind of justification should they be associated with in order to be compatible with the egalitarian orientation governing democracy? In this article, I seek to contribute to this reflection, by exposing and extending an internal debate within the neo-republican school which has emerged in the wake of the work by Philip Pettit.

2In his reformulation of the republican project, Pettit sought to expunge the category of virtue of the premises that tended to legitimise its moralising, paternalistic, and perfectionist diversions. [4] Although his capacity to minimise these risks is generally acknowledged, many critics – some of whom claim an affiliation with the republican trend – have emphasised the difficulty of Pettit’s theory to provide the resources, particularly motivational, that are necessary to the development of the very virtues on which the formation and preservation of the institutions that he calls for depend. For some of these critics republicanism can only hope to accomplish its political project on the condition that it accepts its distinctive values and gives the state the means of promoting them. As the epigraph indicates, some republicans consider that according to Pettit’s theory: “the type of state required for the promotion of non-domination constitutes an authority that is too austere to be attractive and binding” and that it is necessary to address this prohibitive flaw by “associating it with a richer ideal” which would encourage individual autonomy directly. According to them, it is only in this way that it is possible to genuinely “justify the political expectations” that drive the republican project. It is thus in light of these critiques that I propose to explore Pettit’s theory.

3I wish to defend the hypothesis that his republicanism contains significant resources to encourage a broad attachment to the republican ideal whilst allowing the potential abuses of the language of virtue to be limited: something which his perfectionist detractors fail to guarantee. However, his institutional approach would benefit from greater attention to the conditions regulating the exercise of freedom within the infra or extra-state spheres of citizenship. To ensure its success, republicanism should focus less on enriching (i.e. making robust and demanding) the moral ideal that the state must defend, and more on encouraging the democratic experience of non-domination in contexts of cooperation and solidarity, which are varied, accessible, and autonomous.

4The path that I propose here follows a series of loops. First I will briefly present the main aspects of the inflection Pettit operated on the republican language of virtue. The rest of my reflections here will be dedicated to the analysis of two perfectionist republican critiques, that of Paul Weithman and that of John Maynor, which have been set up in opposition to the type of republicanism defended by Pettit. I will present them in turn and provide Pettit’s response, seeking to identify the resources his theory contains to resist these objections. As he himself has not sought to defend his approach against these criticisms, I will attempt to make connections between certain aspects of his demonstration in favour of the republican project and the issue of civic virtue, which will mean taking certain liberties with his line of argument. In the last part of the article I will explore certain complementary elements which I believe are necessary to add to Pettit’s perspective in order to reinforce the development of civic virtue upon which the formation and defence of republican institutions depend.

Civic virtue in Philip Pettit’s theory of republicanism

5Pettit explicitly adopts the republican premise of the interdependence of quality of institutions and quality of mores. Directly inspired by Machiavelli’s classical approach, he writes, “republican laws must be supported by habits of civic virtue and good citizenship […] if they are to have any chance of prospering.” [5] Three main reasons are mobilised to justify this requirement: 1/ “People can be assured of their non-domination only so far as others recognize normative reasons for respecting them, not just reasons connected to fear of legal sanctions”; [6] 2/ “If the republic is to be systematically sensitive to the interests and ideas of people […] then there have to be people who are virtuous enough to press appropriate claims”; [7] 3/ Because “public authorities cannot hope to identify and sanction all offences against republican laws and norms”, “ordinary people also have to be committed enough to perform in that role or to support the efforts of the authorities: ordinary people have to maintain the eternal vigilance that constitutes the price of republican liberty”. [8] For laws, public authorities, and social relations to be in keeping with the republican perspective, citizens must come to their aid and develop certain capacities for surveillance, contestation, and mutual respect. This, moreover, supposes an overall understanding of the normative reasons for, and social and political requisites of, republican freedom. Although he remobilises the republican language of virtue, Pettit is careful to weed out any elements that are liable to legitimise arbitrary interferences in the lives of individuals.

6Pettit’s work has been marked by the desire to reconcile republicanism with axiological pluralism, [9] which has led him to categorically break with the communitarian (such as Charles Taylor and Michael Sandel) and neo-Aristotelian (John G. A. Pocock or Hannah Arendt) variants of republicanism. [10] In his eyes, the main failing of these approaches – which we are used to associating, rightly or wrongly, with the tradition of civic humanism [11] – lies in their validation (through an identification with the positive conception of liberty) of requirements of virtue that risk disqualifying those personal ends that do not correspond to the criteria of the hierarchy of ends defined by the political community’s conception of the good life. [12] To minimise this risk, Pettit defends virtue and particularly the “habits of civility”, [13] using a consequentialist reasoning in which certain dispositions take on value not because they are considered essential characteristics of the good life, but because of their contribution to protecting freedom against domination, whether the latter stems from the public authorities (imperium) or from specific individuals or groups (dominium). [14] In this so-called “political” conception of republicanism, virtue is not an end in itself, nor is it set once and for all; it is a condition and an instrument of the realisation of republican institutions and interpersonal relations.

7For Pettit, freedom as non-domination can only be achieved in a society in which civility is widespread. [15] However, like John Rawls, [16] he has shown a significant reluctance regarding the possibility that public authorities might intervene directly and actively, particularly through public education, in the development of these virtues. [17] To escape state paternalism without falling into the trap of the liberal illusion of spontaneous self-regulated mores, Pettit also uses the mechanism of the intangible hand which seeks to encourage faithfulness to the shared norms of civility based on an endogenous logic of encouragement and dissuasion. [18] Although this model seems to have significant resources for limiting republicanism’s inclination towards paternalism, does it provide sufficient resources for institutions and citizens to develop the ethos that the project requires? Some would say that Pettit has made too many concessions to political liberalism, to the point where he is not able to account for the means of developing the very virtues that his theory supposes to exist. I will explore two of these critiques that stem from the heart of republican theory itself.

The perfectionist critique of Paul Weithman

8In a 2004 article entitled “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism” [19] Paul Weithman put forward a certain number of criticisms regarding one variant of republicanism with which Pettit’s theory is implicitly associated. From the outset, he declared that he shared the ambition to make republicanism compatible with axiological pluralism. However, in his eyes, any political theory that postulates the need for virtue must satisfactorily reveal the conditions of its formation in the current context. [20] Yet just like political liberalism, political republicanism would fail to ensure the conditions of its own success.

9The heart of Weithman’s critique deals with the motivational assumptions of a conception of republicanism in which civic virtue does not appear to be a constituent quality of human excellence or the good life, but as a character trait that allows individuals to adequately play their roles as citizens and to ensure the defence of the institutions of liberty. For him, such an approach poses inextricable problems that can only undermine the chances of republicanism establishing itself and ensuring its viability. For Weithman, having the commitment of individuals based on an overly abstract identification with citizenship and the general duties that accompany it, this mode of instrumental justification of virtue would be unable to ensure the development of motivation that would be sufficient to support the social and political requirements of republicanism. [21] The main obstacle in the path of this perspective derives from the fact that individuals can relatively easily withdraw from the identity of republican citizenship.


“Their felt need to participate in self-government is not urgent. Reflecting on their lives, their many social roles, and the demands on their time, they can distance themselves from the role of self-governing citizen or reject it entirely with relatively few perceptible costs.” [22]

11To use Pettit’s expression from the epigraph, we could say that the dominant orientation of political republicanism is too austere to win the consent of individuals who have many strong reasons to turn away from the ideal of non-domination.

12Because it calls on the moral agent as a whole and not only on the civic personality of individuals, perfectionist republicanism is not subject to this difficulty. This approach draws its efficiency from an element that Weithman aims to shed light on: the avoidance of the status of moral agent leads to very high costs in terms of self-esteem and in the ability to deliberate and choose. [23] As a result, he says, “the categories and norms associated with our moral agency are much more deeply implicated in our practical thinking than are those associated with republican citizenship”. [24] Moral arguments having more resonance in individual deliberation than purely political arguments, it would ultimately be important to think twice about excluding them from the republican equation and thus depriving it of a powerful source of virtue.

13To support his argument Weithman uses the example of temperance, which he argues constitutes (especially among the well-off) an indispensable virtue for the operationalisation of neo-republican standards of deliberation, wealth redistribution, and consumer practices. [25] To develop temperance, Weithman argues, the individual must apply themselves in its pursuit outside the public sphere. This requires a range of affective, intellectual, and appetitive dispositions, which play out on activities that have no direct connection to citizenship as such. [26] Yet encouraging the formation of temperance and recognising it as an essential aspect of the good life are indispensable, because this provides the agent with additional reasons for action that reinforce his or her personal determination to develop this disposition. Weithman also seeks to show that by cutting itself off from extra-civic motivations political republicanism is depriving itself of resources that are essential to the formation of the virtues whose existence it assumes. [27] He argues that because it enables a foundation on a broader range of motivations, of which civic motivations are just one type among others, the perfectionist justification is more attractive and is better suited to the neo-republican project.

14Overall, the originality of Weithman’s critique lies in the fact that it articulates a perfectionist position based on consequentialist reasoning: rather than promoting virtues as intrinsically good, his perfectionism consists in defending the value of virtues in light of the ideal of non-domination. This proposition poses a series of problems however, which must now be analysed further.

The limits of Weithman’s proposition

15A first problem, which I will touch on just briefly, results from Weithman’s decision to present temperance as a necessary, although not sufficient, condition to reaching republican standards of social justice and political deliberation. That the more affluent develop such a disposition may certainly encourage more equal distribution of wealth and the development of more egalitarian mores, but to make these results even partially dependent on a variable so uncertain and contingent supposes an excessive trust in the good will of a particularly ambitious category of the population. Along with Pettit, who on this point echoes a multisecular tradition, it seems to me more prudent to consider the virtue of institutions as a better guarantee of social justice than the virtue of individuals – be they governors or governed, rich or poor, angels or demons. [28]

16A second problem concerns the articulation of perfectionism and axiological pluralism. Although Weithman argues that his perfectionist republicanism is perfectly compatible with such a principle, he nevertheless makes no statement about how he intends to achieve this in order to guarantee equal freedom for individuals. If he implies for example that the advantage of perfectionist republicanism is in not being dependent on a high level of citizen participation, [29] the corrections that he proposes are nevertheless accompanied in the political sphere by an “exhortation to be a good person”. [30] It is unclear how this will be framed in order to ensure that it does not lead to arbitrary interferences in the lives of individuals. In fact, his pluralism somewhat begs the question: Weithman supposes that his perfectionism is not in disagreement with pluralism, but he does not specify the means, particularly institutional, of preventing this. We can probably argue that Weithman overestimates the resources at his disposal for working with the fact of pluralism and for preventing paternalism and the tyranny of the majority. This is a notable regression in regards to Pettit’s vision of republicanism which aims to minimise the paternalistic threats which are potentially associated with the intervention of the public authorities. Indeed for Pettit, these powers play a primary role in the operationalisation of freedom and republican civility. However, these acts, which are more or less based on a certain discretionary power, are subject to conditions of constitutionality [31] and contestability [32] that are intended to ensure that the state does not become a source of domination. There are no such warnings or safeguards in Weithman’s approach.

17Weithman’s theory presents a third problem, more implicit this time, and its analysis will allow me to pursue my exploration of Pettit’s republicanism further. It seems to me that in Weithman’s presentation of Pettit’s theory, he underestimates the motivational resources of political republicanism in favour of the development of virtue. Among these potential resources, the most important come from the advantages that individuals find in a society where non-domination generally reigns. This is the object of the section of Republicanism where non-domination is presented as a personal good. [33] Pettit presents three advantages that, for a given individual, would found the superiority of a society based on freedom as non-domination rather than on freedom as non-interference: 1/ “it […] deliver[s] a person from uncertainty, and from the associated anxiety and inability to plan”; [34] 2/ “from the need to exercise strategy with the powerful, having to defer to them and anticipate their various moves”; [35] 3/ finally, it liberates an individual “from the subordination that goes with a common awareness that the person is exposed to the possibility of arbitrary interference by another”. [36] With a minimum of hermeneutic generosity towards Pettit’s argument, we can no doubt consider these benefits of non-domination as so many encouragements to pursue and defend the republican ideal. The motives stemming from the recognition of these general advantages can be added to the personal desires that such a status would satisfy. In other words, because it is a primary good, in the sense of Rawls, [37] freedom as non-domination can rely on a broad spectrum of motives for action (including the quest for autonomy and self-mastery) which are eclipsed or rendered mundane in Weithman’s presentation. [38] All in all, even though Pettit does not explicitly present them in this light, the different advantages that he associates with non-domination in fact constitute powerful arguments in favour of the political approach to civic virtue.

Maynor’s quasi-perfectionist objection

18In Republicanism, Pettit affirms that his project is not incompatible, at least in theory, with a conception that sees freedom as non-domination as intrinsically valuable; but he says that this is not the approach that he has decided to take. [39] It is, however, the path taken by John W. Maynor, author of Republicanism in the Modern World, published in 2003. [40] Although seductive at first glance, this approach has implications that need to be examined more closely.

19For Maynor, the pursuit of freedom as non-domination produces effects on a moral level that are much more important that Pettit suggests. As they seek to satisfy the requirements for non-domination, whether in their interpersonal relations or in relation to the state, individuals develop a set of virtues that Maynor describes as “robust”, to distinguish them from the treatment that they receive in post-Rawlsian liberalism. These virtues are added to republican institutions in support of the requirement for non-domination at the level of society. Added to the “reciprocal” and “constitutional” powers associated with republican freedom, these virtues have beneficial effects not only on interpersonal relations and those between rulers and the ruled, but also on individual life itself. In a context where non-domination reigns, explains Maynor, individuals are better able to gauge and express their interests and they are more favourably disposed to evaluate and assume their life choices.

20He argues that the republican horizon bears with it the essential resources for self-mastery. Ultimately, just as they allow individuals to assume their roles as active citizens and to minimise their domination over others, these institutional, social, and moral resources contribute to the enrichment and fulfilment of their personal life. [41]

21Of course Rawls, and Pettit after him, have recognised the effects on moral life of so-called political conceptions prioritised in conversations about justice and the legitimacy of institutions. However, Maynor laments the fact that they did not fully draw all the conclusions from this situation. Unlike Rawls, who has expressed his regret on this point, [42] Maynor sets out to demonstrate the importance of explicitly and unreservedly shouldering the moral implications of the republican project. [43] Along with Pettit, Maynor recognises that the specific resources that individuals find in the republican context “constitute” freedom, rather than “cause” it. [44] But, unlike Pettit, he insists that there are good reasons for individuals to see these resources as intrinsically valuable. As paradoxical as it might seem, according to Maynor it is not unreasonable to think that virtues may have both an instrumental value, because they are linked to the freedom that is their ultimate end, and an intrinsic value because they are consubstantial with the concrete experience of non-domination. [45]

22Even so, the most important thing here is that this choice is reflected in a marked emphasis on the positive dimension of freedom. For Maynor, it is the state’s responsibility to promote a demanding conception of citizenship and civic virtues that constitute the veritable foundation of freedom as non-domination. In other words, republicanism must stop limiting itself to the requirements of the “political” approach conceptualised by Rawls, and fully accept the comprehensive values that are associated with it. [46] If the state must be invested with the responsibility of promoting these values, this is because Maynor considers that the respect of the ideal of non-domination is more demanding than Pettit suggests; the state must therefore come to the aid of individuals in order to give them the means of adhering to it. The change in approach that he advocates is also accompanied by a partial redefinition of the notion of freedom. For a society to tend towards non-domination, it is not only necessary that individuals attempt to avoid being dominated; it is just as indispensable that they are not themselves inclined to dominate. If the first requirement should lead individuals to promote their own interests and ensure that they are taken into account by the public authorities, the second requirement implies that individuals make an effort to take into account the interests of others. In both cases, it is important that individuals are anxious to ensure their interests are in keeping with the common good of freedom as non-domination. Yet, for Maynor, Pettit’s strategy is not the most appropriate one for ensuring the development of these personal, interpersonal, and institutional dispositions. In order for the republic to maintain itself, it should instead directly encourage ways of life that are favourable to it.

23Maynor thus emphatically concludes that it is vital for republicanism to be founded on a comprehensive idea of the good. [47]

24Maynor however says that he does not want to advocate a perspective that could be assimilated to perfectionism: his “quasi-perfectionist” approach does not seek to determine the specific content of the way of life that is considered the best, but to identify and promote the formal conditions for its creation. [48] In other words it seeks to provide citizens with the means to independently pursue their own conception of the good. [49] This quasi-perfectionist republicanism, which aims to fulfil and enrich individual life without being “overly prescriptive”, [50] can also be distinguished from Weithman’s perfectionism in that it seeks to establish not only the conditions for a life of non-domination, but also the limits that this imposes on any way of life, even the best life. The goal of Maynor’s approach is therefore to ensure the conditions that enable individuals to determine what is worthy of value within a broad range of ends, for which achievement does not imply their own domination or that of any other. [51]

25What are the supposed advantages of such an approach? Maynor has identified the three most important. First, it would ensure a greater continuity with the republican tradition and more clearly distinguish republicanism from liberalism. [52] Second, moving beyond the artificial distinction between the public and the private, it would encourage a greater openness to claims by certain minority and/or marginalised groups and individuals. [53] Finally, for Maynor, this approach has the advantage of more actively encouraging the development of the civic virtues required for the establishment and preservation of the republican project. [54] To what extent is this actually the case? What is the benefit of accepting all the moral implications of the republican project and promoting the values associated with it?

The limits of Maynor’s proposition

26Because it is not directly related to the problem that concerns me here, I will only briefly touch on Maynor’s desire to distinguish republicanism from liberalism at all costs. In addition to overlooking the importance of instrumental approaches to civic virtue in the history of republicanism, [55] this research aiming to preserve republican identity from the vicissitudes of social, political, and intellectual history detracts significantly from the clarity of his presentation. His insistence on positive freedom, which seems to stem more from a concern for doctrinal distinctions than from substantiated reasoning, is a particular indication of this. [56]

27In addition, what are we to make of Maynor’s claim that a foundation of comprehensive conceptions would allow a greater openness to the voices of minority and/or marginalised individuals and groups? Of course, this approach has the advantage of indicating the limits of an overly rigid distinction between the public and the private, particularly from the perspective of participation in deliberation. It would thus, according to Maynor, provide support for Pettit’s ambition to welcome, transmit, and federate feminist, socialist, and multiculturalist claims. [57] But is the presentation of the republican project in a crepublicanism encourage marginalised individuals and groups to join in deliberations and to develop the aptitudes required to defend freedom as non-domination? In truth, it is easier to glimpse the risks that such a perspective casts over the equal freedoms of individuals than to see its genuine advantages on the motivation of actors to pursue the neo-republican ideal. [58] It falls to the person or entity intervening in the lives of individuals – even those in positions of vulnerability – to sufficiently justify their approach. In this, it is not enough to simply plead one’s good faith; there must be a demonstration as to how the promise of assistance will not become a source of domination.

28Of course, in his insistence on the need to consider his approach within the deliberative and contestatory perspective developed by Pettit, Maynor demonstrates his intention to not reproduce Weithman’s explicitly perfectionist deviations. However, by making self-mastery the veritable touchstone of moral and political evaluation, it is not certain that Maynor fully evaluates the risks he imposes on the individuals and groups he claims to save from exclusion. It seems to me that the advantage of Pettit’s political republicanism lies precisely in his ability to allow this integration of a plurality of voices and conceptions of the good life into civil conversation, whilst limiting the dangers of moralism, paternalism and perfectionism. Incorporating the means for partial adjustments, such as the addition of politics of recognition, [59] Pettit’s approach – which emphasises the identification of “vulnerability classes” [60] and the desire for increased political representation of the individuals and groups it covers [61] – seems able to escape from an overly rigid distinction between public and private, without posing a threat to individual freedom. [62]

29Finally, how can we evaluate the idea according to which a quasi-perfectionist approach would be necessarily more favourable to the development of civic virtue? We can see in Maynor the highly questionable assumption that there is necessarily a correlation between the “robustness” of the moral ideal promoted by the state and the effectiveness of the development of the corresponding civic virtues. This assumption, which has influenced and continues to influence many public policies, with clearly paternalistic traits, periodically receives support from various normative political theories. Rather than an argument, however, the correlation between these two variables appears to be a commonplace that is regularly mobilised without concern as to its relevance and the conditions of its appropriateness to social and political reality. It is in this form at least that this assumption appears in Maynor’s analysis. However, given the weight of its moral implications, it ought to be incumbent on whoever makes such an assumption to provide the proof of its theoretical and practical validity. Even supposing that such proof could be provided, there are good reasons to ask what institutional approach should be taken to avoid this requirement for virtue one day becoming a sword of Damocles over the heads of individuals who are uncooperative, passive, frivolous, or not sufficiently concerned about public affairs. Indeed, even in the hypothesis that such an eventuality could be avoided, Maynor’s wager seems overly adventurous. How does presenting republican freedom as an intrinsic good make it more attractive to those who do not identify, or only slightly, with the republican ideal?

30From a consequentialist approach, we might think (contrary to what Maynor implies) that it would be more judicious to prioritise the experience of non-domination itself and the means for extending it rather than insisting on the need to adopt republican values from the outset. If the objective is that a maximum number of agents ultimately consent to interiorise and defend the ideal of non-domination, it may well be counter-productive to make the deliberative experience’s threshold of moral admissibility too restrictive. Through its effects of dissuasion and exclusion, this constraint would run the risk of limiting the contribution of the deliberative process to the search for non-domination, and in particular its possible transformative effects on the preferences and interests of those who did not initially display an acceptance of republican values. In order to maximise non-domination, Pettit’s approach seems to be more appropriate. In presenting republican freedom as a primary good, we can hope to increase the attractiveness of the ideal to be pursued whilst protecting the diversity of perspectives expressed in deliberation. Through more pronounced respect for axiological pluralism, we can at the same time rely on a much broader range of motivations to support the development of capacities, aptitudes, and qualities of public spiritedness.

31Overall, it seems that Maynor has republicans running unnecessary risks. If we look for the real advantages that his approach would have over Pettit’s, instead we clearly see its potential disadvantages. Once again, we must bear in mind that to limit the risks of paternalism, it is not sufficient to simply declare that the affinities (be they partial and indirect) of republican theory are ultimately compatible with pluralism. It is also necessary to provide all means possible to contain the possible negative effects that certain theoretical configurations are liable to justify in the political space. Like Weithman, Maynor commits a “double mistake”, so to speak: on one hand he overestimates the ability of his theory to work with the fact of pluralism, and on the other he underestimates the motivational resources that political republicanism makes available to individuals to encourage their inclination to follow and defend freedom as non-domination.

Active citizenship: the blind spot in Pettit’s republicanism?

32Up until now I have sought to demonstrate that Pettit’s political republicanism contains many more motivational resources for supporting its development than its perfectionist and quasi-perfectionist adversaries would suggest. Should we thus conclude that these resources are sufficient for the formation of the civic virtues required for the defence of social and political republican relations? To respond adequately to this question it is necessary to examine the exact extent of what is required of citizenship in Pettit’s theoretical model. It is only when these requirements are brought to light that it will be possible to evaluate political republicanism’s ability to provide the means necessary to accomplish its own ends.

The extent and fragility of republican virtues

33In the context of Pettit’s contestatory democracy, citizens are called on to play a crucial but limited role. Other than their participation in the election of their representatives they are also invited to remain vigilant and to resist all arbitrary interference that may emanate from the state. [63] However, the operationalisation of contestation itself is not due to direct or active participation of citizens in public affairs. If “contestatory citizenship” appears necessary, no additional participation is required to defend the ideal of non-domination. Pettit even demonstrates rare obstinacy in distinguishing his vision of citizenship from that which is traditionally associated with participative democracy. Contestatory democracy validates a division of labour that would allow for a break with the romanticism and lack of realism of a political culture inspired by Rousseau. As such, it is achieved through a broad range of channels for consultation and appeal, such as the courts, independent organisations and ombudsmen, as well as counter-powers and other organisations specialised in the defence of rights. Setting to one side the important question of the extent of popular participation in state institutions, [64] I would like to examine the internal coherence of Pettit’s theory, and question its capacity to provide the resources that are necessary for the development of the dispositions required for limited participation. Yet, even supposing that this restriction is accepted, political republicanism gives rise to significant issues that must be addressed.

34As minimalist as it might seem, this conception of republican citizenship calls on a series of habits and abilities that are apparent in different spheres of collective life. [65] Yet Pettit seems to underestimate their extent, and the significance of the requirement for their development and their diffusion. To take stock of this limit, it may be useful to return to the reasons, discussed above, that Pettit invokes in justifying the need to count on civic virtue in a republican context. For institutions to conform to the requirements of non-domination there must be, “people who are virtuous enough to press appropriate claims” and “to maintain the eternal vigilance that constitutes the price of republican liberty”. [66] Similarly we have seen that in order for interpersonal relations to line up with the spirit of non-domination, everyone must attempt to understand and honour the normative reasons for this mutual respect. In all likelihood, the republican ethos combines different components that express and fulfil themselves both in the political sphere and in the individual and social sphere. Taking certain liberties with the argument presented by Pettit, we could say that ultimately civic virtue articulates: a political disposition to defend free institutions, a social disposition to not dominate the other, and a personal disposition to regulate one’s own interest according to the common good of freedom.

35By all accounts, each of these aspects of republican virtue supposes the development of aptitudes and sensibilities. Somewhat characteristically, however, Pettit fails to propose a precise description of them. Having said that, we can no doubt hypothesise that in order to accomplish their political responsibilities, individuals must demonstrate critical thinking and a certain intellectual integrity. Similarly, to respect the requirements of non-domination in their relations with others, citizens must develop various qualities of listening, empathy, consideration, deliberation, and show a sense of justice that integrates the disposition to rationally justify their requirements. [67] Finally, on a personal level, individuals must develop a certain number of capacities that will enable them to determine their interests and the best ways of satisfying them in light of the common good of non-domination. Overall, even if the specifically political participation of citizens is limited, the realisation of political republicanism nevertheless requires dispositions that are more demanding than Pettit implies.

36Moreover, Pettit tends to underestimate the fragility that is at the heart of republican virtue, and the gravity of the threats that it faces today. It is important to emphasise that the development of republican dispositions has to contend with intrinsic fragility. Like any virtue, civic republican qualities are not innate; they are the result of a delicate learning process and require the support of a favourable environment. Sociologists continue to repeat just how much the development of democratic competence and other abilities supposes a complex long-term learning process that is only possible in a supportive social, economic, and cultural environment. [68] They also demonstrate the importance of the institutional context and the concrete political opportunities that must be available to the individual for these qualities of public spiritedness to develop durably and effectively. [69] Overall, even if it is instrumental, civic virtue appears to be so fragile that it requires the ongoing support of institutions. Moreover, we could add that, as a disposition that implies active awareness of its own vulnerability and that of the other, republican virtue presents a further degree of fragility and, because of this, depends even more on external circumstances in order to emerge, consolidate, and spread itself in the social body.

37Yet at the very least we can say that the current context is hardly favourable to the development of republican civic virtue. The symptoms of this difficulty are as diverse as they are unequivocal. Numerous empirical studies in recent decades have drawn attention to the fact that most individuals have a limited comprehension of the problems and functioning of political institutions [70] and that they have a marked inclination to de-politicisation and indifference when faced with various important social issues. [71] However, as certain sociologists have shown, particularly regarding apathy, it is not so much the individuals themselves that are to blame, as the social context and diffuse political culture. [72] It is the same for certain forms of action that overlook the common good and that cannot be understood independently of the existence of an economically inspired hegemonic rationality in which the maximisation of self-interest and individual responsibilisation appear as the alpha and omega of ordinary morality. Once we attempt to consider the conditions for the formation of republican virtues, it is important to pay scrupulous attention to the dynamics and other social phenomena that may influence the behaviour of individual and collective agents.

38Of course, Pettit is aware of the decisive importance of context in the development of republican mores and institutions. This is what leads him to emphasise the role played by institutions in bringing together and protecting the conditions to encourage large-scale non-domination. This is also why he declares that contestatory democracy supposes the existence of a “contestatory culture” which renders individuals inclined to resist any form of abuse. [73] His approach appears very limited however in accounting for the fragility that is constitutive of republican virtue and the structural, institutional, and informal interferences that it is liable to encounter in the current context. In a period when neoliberal positions seem to prevail and spread irresistibly, new obstacles, coming from the state as well as from the market, risk impeding or penalising the establishment of social and political relations in keeping with non-domination. Increasing socio-economic inequalities, the crumbing of public solidarity institutions, increasingly precarious working conditions, and the free reign of financial capitalism are just some examples of the general trends that accentuate the fragility of republican virtue. Yet by his almost exclusive attention to institutional issues, Pettit’s approach risks preventing our recognition of other elements of context which the republican project is obliged to cope with today and which should encourage us to be more vigilant. [74]

39Political republicanism must acknowledge the intrinsic and contextual fragility of republican virtue. By neglecting this problem, or by approaching it with excessive optimism, perfectionist opponents are given an unjustified monopoly on the critique of the social phenomena that feed the inclination of individuals and groups to maximise their own interests at all costs and at the expense of the common goods of freedom, equality, and solidarity. Can we address this flaw and still resist the temptation of perfectionism or quasi-perfectionism? An affirmative answer seems possible on the condition that the theory of citizenship which underlines Pettit’s republicanism is revised.

The hypothesis of a convergence between republicanism and associative democracy

40To address the shortcomings of Pettit’s approach without altering the nature of his political republicanism, it may be useful to examine the possibility of opening up Pettit’s model of contestatory democracy to infra or extra-state spaces of citizenship. It would then be opportune to ask whether these spaces provide additional resources which might support the development of the republican ethos.

41The existing literature in social sciences is rich with instructions on the role that different citizen practices and initiatives might play in the formation of aptitudes and other democratic capacities. For example, recent studies on different participative budgeting experiments in Europe and South America have shown how opening up shared institutions to direct citizen participation was able to contribute in certain cases to the development of civic attitudes among sectors of the population that have been traditionally marginalised. [75] A similar observation runs through studies on various recent deliberative experiences, such as citizens’ juries and deliberative opinion polls. [76] In these different cases, a broad range of civic virtues is stimulated without it being necessary to promote a given way of life or set of moral values in particular.

42The development of civic virtue also appears to be one of the main issues linked to associative democracy. As Mark E. Warren has noted in a book entitled Democracy and Association, there is a remarkable consensus today in democratic theory around the Tocquevillian idea that the virtues and the viability of a democracy are dependent on the health of its associative sphere, which is seen as a “school for democracy”. [77] Among other benefits, associations are said to contain precious resources for the formation and consolidation of the capacities and dispositions of democratic citizenship. [78] At odds with the multisecular mistrust of Rousseau or Madison regarding a sphere of action associated with factions and considered as a potential threat to the unity needed for the defence of shared institutions, most contemporary political theories see civic associations as fertile ground for the growth of a democratic ethos. [79] It is curious that political republicanism has not shown any particular interest in these practices; it has left the way clear for its communitarian opponents, who have since made community life and associations the prerogative of perfectionist republicanism. [80]

43To my mind it is therefore worth re-examining this position. Of course, associations are liable to real diversions and excesses; [81] sometimes their virtues are extolled with unjustified enthusiasm. Must political republicanism deprive itself of resources, however, below Grand Politics and above the sphere of family and friends, which could contribute to instilling in the individual a taste for freedom as non-domination and the desire to develop abilities that support this common good? This is far from certain, given how promising the convergence with associative democracy seems. By making various opportunities and frames of action more available and accessible, associative democracy could undoubtedly contribute to increasing the resources that political republicanism could use to encourage non-domination in different spheres of life, without succumbing to the temptation of perfectionism. At the same time, these resources could help increase the ability of republican antibodies to fight against corruption in institutions and mores.

44In order to test such a hypothesis it would be necessary to complete the programme proposed by Pettit. An initial research project would set out to think about the institutional conditions that would allow us to experience freedom in these contexts of cooperation and solidarity. As associations could potentially be vectors of domination, this would aim on one hand to identify the requirements that they must satisfy to participate in the pursuit of the republican ideal. On the other hand it would mean asking how institutions should intervene in this area both to encourage the creation of networks where non-domination is felt as a concrete individual and collective experience and to reinforce the existing networks which often fall prey to significant structural threats.

45Complementary to this, the research programme that I advocate would seek to specify how the community sphere would benefit from greater proximity with political republicanism. If the latter is likely to benefit from associative democracy in extending support for non-domination, the former may also be reinforced by an articulation with Pettit’s political grammar. In referring to the primary common good of non-domination, republicanism can work to federate, on the discursive, normative, and political levels, individual and collective actors who are involved in the combat against what increases individuals’ vulnerability and limits the equal development of their capacity for autonomy. This shared orientation exists in latent form between different sectors of “civil society” and it seems to me that political republicanism is well-equipped to reveal and reflect on the conditions that make such a convergence possible. It is able to do so without detracting from the irreducible plurality of motives for action that are compatible with non-domination. Up to a certain point, the use of normative republican language may also contribute to limiting the centripetal tendencies of the associative sphere and the various risks of instrumentalisation to which the market and the state expose it. It would therefore be useful to think about the institutional conditions that are required for these different agents to recognise their common goal and work together with concerted effort to implement the ideal of non-domination.

46For the hypothesis of a convergence between political republicanism and associative democracy to be conceivable, it is important to review in detail the conception of citizenship upon which Pettit’s theory is implicitly based. Of course, the complementarity of these institutional and extra-institutional spheres of citizenship is evoked here and there in his work. He takes care, for example, to note that the “channels of contestation” that he defends “will be more effective to the extent that there are social movements, such as the green movement, the women’s movement or the consumer movement”. [82] From Pettit’s perspective, these movements have two main qualities: on one hand they “help keep the channels of complaint free of noise since they can serve as an initial clearing-house where complaints are sifted and consolidated”; on the other hand they can “be very effective in pressing those complaints that they do take up, since they command an audibility which individual citizens cannot hope to match”. [83] Pettit also emphasises in passing the proximity between his theory and the studies in social sciences that insist on the beneficial effects of trust connections in civil life. [84] Finally he tries to demonstrate that the “overtures of personal trust” that are made at different levels of social life are not incompatible with his theory because it is only in a context of non-domination that they are likely to encourage equal freedom between individuals. [85] But it is ultimately only in excessively general and abstract terms that Pettit addresses these infraor extra-state spheres of citizenship.

47This shortcoming can be explained by a characteristic difficulty conceiving of these spheres outside of the antinomy between the institutional and global approach that Pettit says he defends, and the strategies of “decentralized pursuit of non-domination” that would in his eyes necessarily make the mistake of cutting individuals off from the support of shared institutions. [86] This difficulty in conceiving of complementary relations between the different spheres of citizenship can be more fundamentally explained by Pettit’s marked tendency to limit himself to the statutory dimension of citizenship. The risks of a near-exclusive attention to the legal and/or political status of citizenship are well documented today. [87] In particular, this leads us to overlook certain crucial aspects of citizenship, including a fundamental horizontal dimension that covers not only practices (social, political, cultural, symbolic, etc.) but also “acts”, often neglected by political theory and social science, which play a crucial role in citizen subjectification. [88] To support the convergence between political republicanism and associative democracy, it is also important to free up the traditional analysis of citizenship, so that its historicity, its contingency, its exposure to conflict, and the diversity of its manifestations can all be taken into account. Ultimately, this change in approach seems to be indispensable as a way to mobilise and optimise the catalysts of civic virtue that are compatible with non-domination, which contain the different experiences to be drawn from infra- or extra-state spheres of citizenship.

48* * *

49Is Philip Pettit’s republicanism able to ensure the contemporary development of the civic virtues it supposes, in order to maximise non-domination? This is the question that underpins the reflection in this article. Having sought to demonstrate that this theory contains many more resources to achieve this than its perfectionist and quasi-perfectionist detractors suggest, I have argued that theoretical complements are necessary to extend support for non-domination and to meet the challenge of its implementation in a context that is recalcitrant to say the least. I have defended the hypothesis that, instead of succumbing to the temptation of moral perfectionism, a perspective that is far from presenting the political advantages its defenders claim, it would be better to encourage the emergence and the protection of diversified frames of action that are favourable to republican freedom.

50Rather than giving the state the role of instructing citizens in virtue, by promoting a particular way of life, it would be preferable to encourage political, social, cultural, and probably also economic, contexts in which individuals can experience and learn cooperation, solidarity, deliberation, and contestation in a spirit of non-domination. As well as guaranteeing the rights of each other and ensuring the empire of laws, and not of men, republican institutions would aim to provide individuals and groups with the symbolic and material resources to overcome the obstacles that detract from the development of democratic passions and inclinations that they have in reserve. It is with a view to considering the conditions of complementarity of these different contexts of civic action and subjectification that the hypothesis of the convergence of political republicanism and associative democracy has been put forward.

51Through the reformulation of Pettit’s republican project that I have proposed here, the point is to minimise domination through maximising the opportunities available to agents to exercise their republican freedom in extra- or intra-state spheres of citizenship. This orientation would enable a reconnection with the republican tradition’s requirement relating to the conditions of development of civic virtue which has tended to become atrophied in Pettit’s work: virtue needs to be practised to exist. Associative democracy can contribute to affirming and reactualising this requirement, which republicanism has long borne within itself. It is not because a virtue has an instrumental value that its conditions of expression and exercise must be left to chance. Reflecting on the way in which institutions can provide individuals with the resources necessary to exercise their freedom and resist domination, without compromising their equal freedom, should be a top priority for political republicanism.


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    Philip Pettit, Republicanism. A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 82.
  • [2]
    For example, Jean-Fabien Spitz recently wrote that “virtue has never given rise to anything but the oppression of the greater number by the elite, and the theme of civic participation, always fantasised as part of modern conditions, paves the way for all manner of repression” in “Originalité et pertinence contemporaine du langage politique républicain: une approche historiographique et analytique”, Raisons politiques, 36, 2009, 131-49 (149).
  • [3]
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), sections 51 and 66; also Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 194-95 and 205; and Justice as Fairness (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2001), section 33; Stephen Macedo, Liberal Virtues. Citizenship, Virtue and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); William A. Galston, Liberal Purposes. Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal Sate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Will Kymlicka, Wayne Norman, “Return of the citizen: A survey of recent work on citizenship”, Ethics, 104, 1994, 352-81; Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 79ff; Alan Pattern, “The republican critique of liberalism”, British Journal of Political Science, 26, 1996, 25-44; Eamonn Callan, Creating Citizens. Political Education and Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); Richard Dagger, Civic Virtues. Rights, Citizenship and Republican Liberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Jürgen Habermas, “Pluralisme et morale”, in Joseph Ratzinger and Jürgen Habermas, “Les fondements pre-politiques de l’État démocratique”, Esprit, 306, July 2004, 5-28 (10); Maria Victoria Costa, “Political liberalism and the complexity of moral virtue”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 42, 2004, 149-70.
  • [4]
    In L’Ethique aujourd’hui: maximalistes et minimalistes (Paris: Gallimard, 2007), Ruwen Ogien proposes a useful and specific definition of these three terms: “moralism” corresponds to the interventions that aim to protect people from themselves in the name of the positive morals of a given society (129); “paternalism” has the same objective but mobilises principles that are not specific to a particular society, such as human dignity or human nature (129); and “perfectionism” claims to know what is good for others without taking into account their opinion, by developing theories based on the idea that there exists a form of human excellence of which they hold the criteria (R. Ogien, L’Ethique aujourd’hui, 136-7).
  • [5]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 245. In the same vein he writes: “But these institutions cannot walk on their own. They are dead, mechanical devices, and will gain life and momentum only if they win a place in the habits of people’s hearts.” Republicanism, 241.
  • [6]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 280.
  • [7]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 280.
  • [8]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 280. These reasons are developed in Pettit, Republicanism, 245ff, and in “Reworking Sandel’s republicanism”, The Journal of Philosophy, 95, 1998, 87-8.
  • [9]
    “Like the liberal project, our proposal – our republican proposal – is motivated by the assumption that the ideal is capable of commanding the allegiance of the citizens of developed, multicultural societies, regardless of their more particular conceptions of the good.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 96.
  • [10]
    See P. Pettit, Republicanism, 195-7; “Reworking Sandel’s republicanism”, 73-96; P. Pettit, F. Lovett, “Neorepublicanism: a normative and institutional research programme”, Annual Review of Political Science, 12, 2009, 12. As Richard Bellamy wrote: “The main achievement of Philip Pettit’s account of republicanism, along with that of Quentin Skinner from which he took much of his initial inspiration, has been to save the tradition from the communitarians.” Richard Bellamy “Being liberal with republicanism’s radical heritage”, Res Publica, 8(3), 2002, 269-73 (269).
  • [11]
    This association constitutes one of the most recurrent topoi in contemporary political philosophy. See, for example, Jean-Fabien Spitz, “Humanisme civique”, in Philippe Raynaud and Stéphane Rials (eds) Dictionnaire de philosophie politique (Paris: PUF, 2005), 328; J. Rawls, Political Liberalism, 205-6.
  • [12]
    On the specificity of Pettit’s republicanism, see Iseult Honohan, Civic Republicanism (London: Routledge, 2002); Vincent Bourdeau, “Un républicanisme du gaz et de l’eau courante”, in Vincent Bourdeau, Roberto Merrill (eds), La république et ses démons. Essais de républicanisme appliqué (Maisons-Alfort: Ère, 2007), 13-41; Christian Nadeau, “Republicanism”, in Gerald F. Gauss, Fred d’Agostino (eds), Routledge Companion to Political and Social Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2012), 255 and 258-9.
  • [13]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 245ff.
  • [14]
    For an analysis of this definition of liberty and of the conceptual, moral and political issues that it raises, see Jean-Fabien Spitz, Philip Pettit. Le républicanisme (Paris: Michalon, 2010), chapter 2.
  • [15]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 270.
  • [16]
    See for example, J. Rawls, Justice as fairness, 153 (section 47).
  • [17]
    Pettit emphasises the risks associated with any political initiative aiming to “ensure that the education system holds out the required civility as something to be admired”: “it is painfully obvious in most societies that those measures easily deteriorate into the sort of propaganda that bores or alienates”. P. Pettit, Republicanism, 253.
  • [18]
    “The intangible hand helps to nurture a pattern of behaviour by holding out the prospect that its manifestation will earn the good opinion of others and/or the failure to manifest it will earn the bad.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 254. On this model, see Marie Garrau, Alice Le Goff, “Vulnérabilité, non-domination et autonomie: vers une critique du néo-républicanisme,” Astérion [online], 6, 2009, par.17-22; Alice Le Goff, “Républicanisme et distribution de l’estime sociale: lectures croisées”, Les ateliers de l’éthique, 4, 2009, 102-10.
  • [19]
    Paul Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, The Review of Politics, 66, 2004, 285-312.
  • [20]
    In this respect, neo-republicanism must be “politically adequate”: “It must be capable of serving as a self-sustaining public philosophy for a pluralistic democracy. This requires that it be capable of informing the habits of thought and conduct that enable citizens and public officials to sustain the political practices the theory identifies as republican, and to realize freedom and the public good as neo-republicans conceive them.” P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 290.
  • [21]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 286 and 295.
  • [22]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 306.
  • [23]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”.
  • [24]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 306-7.
  • [25]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 300-1.
  • [26]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 304.
  • [27]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 305-6.
  • [28]
    “The constitutionalist and democratic principles that have been described are designed to reduce the room for arbitrary decision-making in government – thus they would be necessary even if people were as public-spirited as angels – but we need also to consider what steps can be taken to place checks on those who run the republic, given the imperfections of human nature.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 278. On this theme see also José Luis Marti, Philip Pettit, A Political Philosophy in Public Life. Civic Republicanism in Zapatero’s Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 144. For a more in-depth reflection on the social justice advantages of an approach that aims to require virtue from political institutions rather than from individuals, see Christian Nadeau, “Démocratie de contestation et perfectionnisme institutionnel”, in Hourya Benthouami, Christophe Miqueu (eds), Conflits et démocratie. Quel nouvel espace public? (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010), 163-76.
  • [29]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 309-10.
  • [30]
    P. Weithman, “Political republicanism and perfectionist republicanism”, 307.
  • [31]
    “Government must be carried out by means of an empire of law; the powers recognized under that law must be dispersed across different individuals or bodies; and the more basic and important laws must not be subject to straightforward majoritarian amendment.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 183.
  • [32]
    “The idea of contestability gives us a cue for the right response to our question. What might enable one of us to own a public decision? What might make it possible for such a decision not to have the aspect of an arbitrary act of interference? The answer which suggests itself is: the fact that we can more or less effectively contest the decision, if we find that it does not answer to our relevant interests or relevant ideas. The decision may materialize, like most public decisions, on a basis that is consensual only in a vanishingly weak sense. That does not matter, provided that it materializes under a dispensation of effective contestability. The non-arbitrariness of public decisions comes of their meeting not the condition of having originated or emerged according to some consensual process, but the condition of being such that if they conflict with the perceived interests and ideas of the citizens, then the citizens can effectively contest them. What matters is not the historical origin of the decisions, in some form of consent, but their modal or counterfactual responsiveness to the possibility of contestation.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 185. In his later texts, Pettit proposes a number of modifications to this formulation of contestability, including the distinction between the author and the editor of the law. See “Republican freedom and contestatory democratization”, in Casiano Hacker-Cordon, Ian Shapiro (eds), Democracy’s Value (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 163-90; also “Democracy, contestatory and electoral”, Nomos, 42, 2000, 105-44. A summarised presentation of the model of contestatory democracy is provided in Philip Pettit, On The People’s Terms. A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 213-29. For an in-depth analysis of this model and its implications for deliberation see Nadeau, “Republicanism…”, 260-1.
  • [33]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 82-92.
  • [34]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 89.
  • [35]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism.
  • [36]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 89.
  • [37]
    J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 62 and 92.
  • [38]
    “Short of embracing some religiously or ideologically motivated doctrine of self-abasement, people will surely find their ends easier of attainment to the extent that they enjoy non-domination. Certainly they will find those ends easier of attainment if they are ends conceived and pursued under the pluralistic conditions that obtain in most developed democracies and of course in the international world at large. Freedom as non-domination is not just an instrumental good, then; it also enjoys the status, at least in relevant circumstances of a primary good.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 90-1.
  • [39]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 82-3.
  • [40]
    John W. Maynor, Republicanism in the Modern World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003).
  • [41]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism in the Modern World, 54, 57-8 and 98-9.
  • [42]
    J. Rawls, Political Liberalism, 200.
  • [43]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 89-99.
  • [44]
    “But though the relation between the state and non-domination is not causal, neither is it mysterious. The presence of certain antibodies in your blood makes it the case that you are immune to a certain disease, but it does not cause your immunity, as if the immunity were something separate on which we had to wait. The presence of these antibodies constitutes the immunity, as we say. By analogy, the presence in the polity of such and such empowering and protective arrangements makes it the case that you are more or less immune to arbitrary interferences, but it does not cause that immunity; it constitutes it.” P. Pettit, Republicanism, 107-8.
  • [45]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 34 and 57-68.
  • [46]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 7-8.
  • [47]
    On Maynor’s re-orientation of Pettit’s approach, see the review of Republicanism in the Modern World written by Iseult Honohan in Contemporary Political Theory, 4, 2005, 90-2.
  • [48]
    Maynor’s approach is similar in many ways to Axel Honneth’s attempt to articulate his social philosophy with an “ethical conception of social normalcy”. He writes, “This ethical condition is formal in the sense that it only normatively emphasizes the social conditions of human self-realization, and not the goals served by these conditions.” Axel Honneth, Disrespect: The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 2007),
  • [49]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 99; see also “Another instrumental republican approach?”, European Journal of Political Theory, 1, 2002, 71-89, 83-4.
  • [50]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 56.
  • [51]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 103-4. On the difference Maynor claims regarding perfectionist liberalism, see “The scope and robustness of modern republicanism: a reply to Langlois”, Politics, 28, 2008, 112-17.
  • [52]
    See in particular J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 61-89.
  • [53]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 99-100.
  • [54]
    J. W. Maynor, Republicanism…, 7-8.
  • [55]
    See, in particular, Jean-Fabien Spitz, La liberté politique. Essai de généalogie conceptuelle (Paris: PUF, 1995); Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Christopher Hamel, L’Esprit républicain. Droits naturels et vertu civique chez Algernon Sidney (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2011).
  • [56]
    On the unhappy philosophical effects of this kind of quarrel see Ruwen Ogien, L’Etat nous rend-il meilleurs? Essai sur la liberté politique (Paris: Gallimard, 2013), 119.
  • [57]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 138-46.
  • [58]
    For a documentary study of these risks see Cécile Laborde, Critical Republicanism. The Hijab Controversy and Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Français, encore un effort pour être républicains! (Paris: Seuil, 2010).
  • [59]
    For a critical analysis of Pettit’s theory on this point, see Christian Lazzeri, “Repenser le concept républicain de domination”, Diacrítica, 24, 2010, 129-64; “La reconnaissance entre échange, pouvoirs et institutions: le républicanisme de Philip Pettit”, Les ateliers de l’éthique, 4, 2009, 81-101; M. Garrau, A. Le Goff, “Vulnérabilité…”.
  • [60]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 124.
  • [61]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 191.
  • [62]
    Cécile Laborde’s usage of the principle of non-domination demonstrates the heuristic virtues of Pettit’s approach. Based on this principle she seeks to demonstrate how to protect republicanism against the danger of an “ethnicization” of social and political relations. For a related perspective aiming to combine republicanism and multiculturalism, see Sophie Guérard de Latour, Vers la république des différences (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2009).
  • [63]
    Here I am following the presentation proposed by Pettit in On The People’s Terms…, 255ff.
  • [64]
    See, for example, the critique of John P. McCormick, Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), particularly chapter 6.
  • [65]
    For example, Pettit writes that “while not everyone need be an activist, vigilance requires a high aggregate level of civic engagement”, On The People’s Terms…, 226.
  • [66]
    Pettit, Republicanism, 280.
  • [67]
    We could go further and say, with Iris Marion Young, that “the emblematic norm of democratic communication” is not based only on these deliberative qualities but also on “an exhaustive comprehension of the formation and the influence of public opinion”. Iris Marion Young, “Activist challenges to deliberative democracy”, Political Theory, 29(5), October 2001, 57.
  • [68]
    For example, see Julien Talpin, Schools of Democracy. How Ordinary Citizens (Sometimes) Become Competent in Participatory Budgeting Institutions (Colchester: ECPR Press, 2011); Dwight D. Allman, Michael D. Beaty (eds), Cultivating Citizens. Soulcraft and Citizenship in Contemporary America (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002); Stephen L. Elkin, Karol Soltan (eds), Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions (Philadelphia: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999); George E. Marcus, Russell L. Hanson (eds) Reconsidering the Democratic Public (Philadelphia: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993).
  • [69]
    “An implicit assumption shared by many political and social theories is, therefore, that citizens are not naturally born competent or public-spirited; they have to become so by participating.” J. Talpin, Schools of Democracy…,
  • [70]
    Among the extensive publications on this point, see Philip E. Converse, “The nature of belief systems in mass publics”, in David E. Apter (ed.), Ideology and Discontent (New York: The Free Press, 1964); Daniel Gaxie, Le cens caché, Inégalités culturelles et ségrégation politique (Paris: Seuil, 1978); Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry E. Brady, Voice and Equality. Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).
  • [71]
    See John R. Hibbing, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Stealth Democracy. Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  • [72]
    See Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics. How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  • [73]
    P. Pettit, On The People’s Terms…, 225.
  • [74]
    In particular Pettit pays little attention to the risks of a certain economic rationality on the safekeeping of republican institutions as well as on the formation of a republican ethos. Although he does recognise the negative effects of economic inequalities on institutions and electoral logics (P. Pettit, Republicanism, 202-5), he generally overlooks the effects of neoliberal inspired economic rationalism on the way individuals perceive their interest and the common good. This issue is not raised in Pettit’s recent study on the relationship between republicanism and the market (“Freedom and the market”, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 5, 2006, 131-49). For attempts to address this blind spot in Pettit’s theory see: Richard Dagger, “Neo-republicanism and the civic economy”, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 5, 2006, 151-73; Jean-Fabien Spitz, “Le marché est-il une institution républicaine?”, Diacrítica, 24, 2010, 165-92; Vincent Bourdeau “Citoyenneté et propriété: une conception républicaine de la propriété privée”, Diacrítica, 24, 2010, 113-28; and “Le marché des égaux: un aspect socialiste de l’échange républicain”, Revue de philosophie économique, 13, 2012, 3-23.
  • [75]
    See J. Talpin, Schools of Democracy…; Yves Sintomer, Marion Gret, The Porto Alegre Experiment. Learning Lessons for Better Democracy (London: Zed Books, 2005).
  • [76]
    Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright provide an overview in the introduction to a collective volume on some of these initiatives: “Individuals’ capacities to deliberate, and make public decisions, atrophy when left unused, and participation in these experiments exercises those capacities more intensely than conventional democratic channels. […] Beyond the proximate scope and effect of participation, these experiments also encourage the development of political wisdom in ordinary citizens by grounding competency upon everyday, situated experiences […]. Since these experiments rely upon practical knowledge of, say, local needs or school operation, and provide opportunities for its repeated application and correction, individuals develop political capacities in intimate relation to other regions of their professional and private lives.” Archon Fung, Erik Olin Wright, Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance (New York: Verso, 2003), 28-9.
  • [77]
    Mark E. Warren, Democracy and Association (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 3.
  • [78]
    M. Warren, Democracy and Association, 72-3.
  • [79]
    J. Rawls, Theory of Justice, section 71; Joshua Cohen, Joel Rodgers, “Secondary associations and democratic governance”, in Erik Olin Wright (ed.), Associations and Democracy (London: Verso, 1995), 7-98; Paul Hirst, Associative Democracy. New Forms of Economic and Social Governance (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994); S. Verba, K. Lehman Schlozman, H. E. Brady, Voice and Equality; Michael Sandel, Democracy and Its Discontents. America in Search of a Public Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Nancy Rosenblum, Membership and Morals. The Personal Uses of Pluralism in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); thematic issue edited by Alain Caillé, Jean-Louis Laville, “Une seule solution, l’association? Socio-économie du fait associative”, La Revue du Mauss, 11, 1998; Iris Marion Young, “Polity and group difference: a critique of the ideal of universal citizenship”, Ethics, 99, 1999, 250-74; Michael Saward (ed.), Democratic Innovation. Deliberation, Representation and Association (London: Routledge, 2000); Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone. The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000); Stephen Elstub, Towards a Deliberative and Associational Democracy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
  • [80]
    See in particular M. Sandel, Democracy and Its Discontents.
  • [81]
    See notably M. Warren, Democracy and Association, 215-16.
  • [82]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 193.
  • [83]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism. On this question, see also On The People’s Terms…, 227.
  • [84]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 262.
  • [85]
    P. Pettit, Republicanism, 267-70.
  • [86]
    See, for example P. Pettit, Republicanism, 92-5.
  • [87]
    See John Clarke, Kathleen Coll, Evelina Dagnino, Catherine Neveu, Disputing Citizenship (Bristol: Policy Press, 2014).
  • [88]
    See Engin F. Isin, Greg M. Nielsen (eds), Acts of Citizenship (London: Zed Books, 2008).

This article pursues the debate on civic virtues opened up by the work of Philip Pettit. On the basis of a critical examination of perfectionist-inspired objections raised against him, it seeks to determine whether his brand of political republicanism is sufficiently equipped to allow for the development of the civic qualities necessary to support the institutions that he recommends. Although Pettit’s approach makes it possible to envisage broader attachment among individuals to the ideal of non-domination, whilst limiting abuses of the language of virtue, it could be enhanced by greater vigilance to the conditions under which freedom is exercised in the extra-state spheres of citizenship. With the aim of remedying this weakness, this article proposes a convergence of political republicanism and associative democracy.

Jérémie Duhamel
Jérémie Duhamel has a doctorate in political studies from the EHESS, and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Université de Montréal (2013-2015). His principal publications include: Les vertus à l’épreuve de la politique. Dispositifs et dispositions de la liberté chez Machiavel (Paris: Garnier Classiques, 2015); “Machiavel et la vertu intellectuelle de prudence: étude du chapitre XXV du Prince”, Revue canadienne de science politique/Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46, 2013, 821-40; “Fondements et statuts des vertus guerrières chez Thomas Hobbes”, in Ninon Grangé (ed.), Penser la guerre au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 2012) (Culture et société), 117-37; “Vers une politique de l’inquiétude: crainte et espoir chez Thomas Hobbes”, Klesis. Revue philosophique, 14, 2010, 31-56. His areas of research cover the history of modern political ideas and contemporary political philosophy and ethics (Université de Montréal, 2910 bd Edouard-Montpetit, Montréal, Québec H3T I J7, Canada)
Translated from French by
Katharine Throssell
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