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Influenced by Republicanism, but not a True Republican

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Influenced by Republicanism, but not a True Republican

The philosophy of a republican form of government was certainly not a creation of James Madison and the Federalists. The idea of such a government has been around since the beginning of political philosophy. While the definition has changed over the centuries, certain constants continue to define a strictly republican regime. The goals and priorities of a republic are distinct yet dissimilar from those of James Madison’s philosophy. Generally, a republican government is defined as one which idealizes the public interests as the highest good and imposes a duty on each citizen to work toward the public interests before individual ones. Due to the influence of natural rights philosophers, Madison’s ideas are not strictly republican despite the fact that he considers them to be so.

Not long before Madison, a French philosopher named Montesquieu wrote several works about classical republicanism. One major claim he stood by was the age-old idea that “political virtue means self-renunciation”. In other words, the goal of politics is for individuals to devalue selfish interests and instead work to achieve the interests of the entire community. Montesquieu believed that a just government should ensure the interests of the public and pay little attention to the concerns of the individual. This type of virtue is similar to that of ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle. While Madison strays from the goals of Montesquieu’s government, he adopts many of his ideas involving the creation of a just government that protects the public.

Montesquieu’s emphasis on the separation of government into three divisions is an idea that Madison adapted in the Constitution. In the “republican” government, checks and balances are necessary to keep the government working for the people instead of the reverse. The wisest of men are to represent the people’s interests and understand these interests to be those of the community as a whole. Madison may have adopted the separation of powers idea from philosophers such as Montesquieu and Locke, but there are several more prerequisites required to compose a truly republican government.

While the Anti-Federalists were not classical republicans either, they did make some valid arguments as to why the beliefs of the Federalists were not consistently republican. A core belief of the Anti-Federalists was the ideal of a small community whose representatives were directly involved with the people. This strong sense of community was believed to unite the people in common interests and therefore renunciate individuality.
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