Political Republicanism and Perfectionist

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    Political Republicanism and Perfectionist RepublicanismAuthor(s): Paul WeithmanReviewed work(s):Source: The Review of Politics, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Spring, 2004), pp. 285-312Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review ofPolitics

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    Political Republicanism andPerfectionist RepublicanismPaul Weithman

    In recent years, a number of political thinkersin philosophy, political theoryand law have defended political theories which are deeply indebted to classicalrepublicanism. Like classical republicans, these thinkers have claimed that aflourishingpolity dependsuponcitizens' exerciseof the civic virtues.Unlikeclassicalrepublicans,some of these thinkershave defended what might be called "politicalrepublicanisms"-republicanisms which are also indebted to the methodologicalrestraintof Rawls'spoliticalliberalism.The articlearguesthatpolitical republicanismsuffers froma viabilityproblem.Its list of civic virtues s too short.Moreworrisome,the publicjustificationsthatwould be available to a political republicanregime arenot sufficient to motivate the developmentof the civic virtues.Therefore, f we areto be republicans,we should be "perfectionist republicans" nstead.

    Whenwe call some trait of character ike patriotisma civic vir-tue, we typically mean that it suits its possessorto contribute o hersociety's good. But when we shift our attention-and emphasis-to the claim that it is a civic virtue, what we mean is ambiguousbetween two possibilities. We might mean that someone must bepatriotic if she is to be a good human being. Or we might meansimply that she must be patrioticif she is to be a good citizen.Someone who means the first thinks of the civic virtues as hu-man excellences, as traits which make their possessor a good or anexcellent or a flourishingmemberof her kind. This contribution ohuman flourishing, she thinks, is what makes patriotism a virtue.She also thinks that that excellence has salutarysocial consequences,at least in favorablecircumstances.A person possessed of it is dis-posed somehow to contribute to the good of her society. She isthereforea good citizen. The proponentof this view does not typi-cally think the connection between the virtues, humanflourishing,and good citizenship is mere happenstance. Asserting a strongerconnection is partof what is meantby philosopherswho claim thathuman beings are naturallypolitical: because human beings needto live politically, the qualities that make them good citizens andenable them to live political life well are partially constitutive ofhuman excellence.

    This article was originally drafted for a symposium on neo-republicanismsponsoredby the EasternDivision of the AmericanPhilosophicalAssociation. I amgrateful o Dan Brudney,FrankMichelman,PhilipPetit,Phil Quinn,David Solomon,MichaelThrushand audiencesat the Universityof ChicagoLaw School and the NotreDame Center for Ethics and Culturefor helpful comments on earlierversions.

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    Someone who means the second commits herself to a muchweaker thesis. Waryof the philosopher's ability to identify humanexcellence, she does not commit herself to the claim that contribut-ing to human excellence is what makesa trait a civic virtue.Rather,what makes a trait a virtue is ultimately its relation to somethingthe value of which is, she thinks, far less controversial.In the caseof civic virtues, what makes these traits virtues is that they are thequalities a person must have if she is to satisfy the demands of acertain civic role, that of the citizen. However the value of being agood citizen in a decent society is cashed out -if it needs cashingout at all-it will not be by drawingon a robustconceptionof hu-man flourishing of which good citizenship is a part. If someoneelse wants to make the further claim that these qualities or civicvirtues are genuine human excellences, the advocate of this latterview may not protest.But she does not go so far herself.A number of contemporaryrepublicanshave allied themselveswith the second view. Mindful of republicanism'straditionalinvo-cation of a virtuous citizenry, they have argued that republicangovernmentdepends upon citizens' possession of certain civic vir-tues.Mindful, oo, of moralpluralism,hey avoidbasingtheirpoliticaltheories on controversialpremises about the human good. Insteadthey invoke what they think are less controversialpremises aboutthe public good. They thereforeomit some of the traditionalcivicvirtues from their lists. And they refrainfrom claiming that the vir-tues they do include are genuine human excellences. Instead theyclaim only that these traits are derivativelyvaluable statesof charac-ter, countingas virtuesbecausethey suit theirpossessorsto takepartin republicangovernment.They decline to make the furtherclaimthat doing so is partof a good human life. For reasonsthatwill be-come clear,I shall referto the version of republicanismdefendedbythese contemporary hinkersas "political republicanism."I will suggest that the political republicanlist of civic virtuesshould be longer. Furthermore, he reasons a political republicanregime would give us for thinking some trait worth having wouldaffect our motives to develop and act from it. The problem withpresentingthe civic virtues as virtues in the weaker sense is that itmakes our motive to cultivate and sustainthem too heavily depen-dent upon our identificationwith our citizenship.This is too frail areed to support republican government in contemporary liberaldemocracies.It is also considerably railer a reed thanthat on which

    1. The phrase"decentsociety"is taken fromthe title of AvashaiMargalit,TheDecent Society (Cambridge,MA: HarvardUniversityPress, 1996).

    286 THEREVIEWOF POLITICS

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    PERFECTIONISTREPUBLICANISM 287many classical republicansrested their hopes. If political republi-cans are correctin claiming that republicangovernmentreally doesdependupon citizens' possessing the civic virtues, then my claimsimply that political republicanismdoes not adequately secure theconditions of its own success. I shall suggest that if we are to berepublicansat all, we would do better to embracewhat I shall call"perfectionist republicanism,"2This is a republicanism hat valuesand promotesthe civic virtues as genuine excellences of character.I will not arguefor the superiority f republican oliticaltheorytoalternativepolitical philosophies such as classical or contemporaryliberalism.My conclusioncan thereforebe cast as a conditional:f re-publicanism s the best political philosophyavailable,then we shouldbe perfectionist ather hanneo-republicans. or will I lay out the per-fectionistargumenthat civic virtues contribute o humanflourishing.These argumentsare familiar enough from the tradition.I want toestablishthe need for such arguments,rather than to rehearsethemhere.Thusmy primaryaims are to identifyand settlea disputewithincontemporary epublicanism.This is a significant enough enterprisein its own right. Republicanismhas provena very attractive ntellec-tual paradigm n a numberof disciplines, providinga framework orefforts which are constructiveas well as historical.It is importantosee what formof republicanisms most defensible.Currentinterest in republicanism reflects a broader trend. Inrecent years political thinkers have turnedincreasingly to the his-tory of their disciplines in hopes of recovering political theorieswhich might-with suitable adaptations-be serviceable undercontemporaryconditions. This turn to history has resulted in theserious discussion of views which are variously Aristotelian,Thomist, Hobbesian, Lockean, Rousseauian, Kantian, Millian,Hegelian or republican.It is far from obvious, however, that politi-cal theories which were framed to addresspolitical circumstancesquite different from our own can be recoveredand refurbishedforcontemporaryuse. The best way to assess these recovery efforts isby fine-grained analyses of the views that result, analyses which

    2. The word "perfectionist" s meant to recall both John Rawls's use of theterm and descriptions of Joseph Raz's view as "perfectionist liberalism." Noconnection