For RTE, in 2005, The Thomas Davis Lecture Series to re-address the concept of The Republic.  What do we mean when we say that Ireland is a Republic?

From republican theory to public policy

Philip Pettit

Philip Pettit teaches political theory and philosophy at Princeton University, where he is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics and Human Values. Irish by background and training, he began his professional life in University College, Dublin, where he taught in the late 1960's to mid 70's. His recent books include Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (OUP 1997), and a collection of his essays, Rules, Reasons and Norms (OUP 2002).


Excerpt 1: The republican idea of freedom

" Imagine that your welfare depends in some important way on the decision of others and you have no come-back against that decision.  You are in a position where you will sink or swim, depending on their say-so. And you have no physical or legal recourse, no recourse even in a network of mutual friends, against them. You are in their hands, at their mercy. They can deal with you just as they will, depending on their arbitrary whims. In such a case you will suffer what the Romans called dominatio or domination; the persons on whose mercy you depend will be a dominus or master in your life.

The experience of such domination by another comes in many forms. Think of the child of the emotionally volatile parent; the wife of the occasionally violent husband; or the pupil of the teacher who forms arbitrary likes and dislikes. Think of the employee whose security requires keeping the boss or manager sweet; the debtor whose fortunes depend on the caprice of money-lender or bank-manager; or the small business owner whose viability depends on the attitude taken by a bigger competitor or even a union boss. Or think, finally, of the welfare recipient whose fortunes turn on the mood of the counter-clerk; the immigrant whose standing is vulnerable to the whims that rule politics and talk-back radio; the older person who is vulnerable to the unrestrained gang of youths in her area; or the young offender whose fortunes depend on the whims of a judge or the choices of a vengeful lobby group.

In all of these cases a person is exposed to an arbitrary power of interference — a power of interfering at their own arbitrium or will — on the part of others. They suffer the presence of a master in their lives, even if not a master with a legal claim. I mention these instances of domination because if you concentrate your mind for a moment on what the experience of such domination is like, and if you let yourself imagine or remember the bitter taste of such subjection, such exposure, then you will put yourself in a good position to understand the core idea in republicanism. For the central theme in republican concerns throughout the ages — the theme that explains all their other commitments — has been a desire to arrange things so that citizens are not exposed to domination of this kind. They do not live, as the Romans used to say, in potestate domini: in the power of a master.

Roman republicans recognized that there were two sorts of power or mastery that could induce domination, turn you into a slave or servant or subject, and induce the slavish, ingratiating mentality that they associated with such lack of standing. The one is the private power of other persons or groups, which the Romans called dominium. The other is the public power of the state itself, a power that they described as imperium. What they looked for was a dispensation of public power — a pattern of government — that would guard people against the private power of others, and so against domination by others, without itself becoming a dominating power in their lives: without itself having the aspect of a master. "

Philip Pettit


Excerpt 2: Differences

" The difference between the richer, republican understanding of freedom and this later, liberal construal of the ideal comes out nicely in the metaphor of free rein. For liberals freedom comes with not being reined in by any restraints on your activity. For republicans, however, free rein is the sort of thing that a rider gives a horse. It falls well short of freedom in the proper sense, because it implies that there is still a rider in place.

From the very beginnings of the tradition, republicans were outspoken in condemning the idea that you might achieve freedom just by courtesy of getting or winning such free rein. According to their way of thinking, to be in reins is already to be unfree, no matter how much slack is left in those fetters. It is to be in a position where you will inevitably have to keep a weather eye open for the moods of your masters; where you will have to practice self-censorship, even sycophancy, in order to keep them sweet; where, in short, you will have to live with the shoddy profile of deference and degradation that has been long associated with slavery, subjection, second-class citizenship. Freedom in the republican key is a rich and demanding ideal that is inconsistent with any such form of subjection. "

Philip Pettit




book2Click below to obtain a copy of  The Republic, Essays from RTÉ Radio’s The Thomas Davis Lecture Series, pub 2005.



Zawartość tej strony wymaga nowszej wersji programu Adobe Flash Player.

Pobierz odtwarzacz Adobe Flash

Contact details

3 Lower Mount Street,
Dublin 2

Tel: +353 1 644 9858

Email: info@arkhiveproductions.ie