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Monday, March 26, 2012

Classical Republicanism Versus Perfectionism

Previously I sought a label for my political views: people seem to like labels. Perhaps a good one would be that I am a "classical republican": I think the best constitution is a mixed one, that balances the monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements, and checks the parochial tendency of localism while also checking the totalitarian tendencies of centralization.

Often, it is perfectionism, or "politics as the crow flies," as Michael Oakeshott liked to put it, that is the greatest enemy of republicanism. It is often apparent that some immediate good can be achieved by disrupting the republican balance. Perhaps if only the president could simply unilaterally impose some virtuous policy, or the federal government ignore state's rights, we can achieve some true political good faster than otherwise imaginable. The Gracchi brothers threw Roman republican institutions into turmoil by trying to short-circuit them to achieve admirable policy aims in terms of land reform.

The problem is that, once we begin to accept that achieving a particular policy aim overrides the importance of republican political forms, it won't be long before someone, such as Sulla, employs the precedents set to do much more nefarious things, such as proscriptions. And pretty soon you have Marc Antony and Octavius murdering Cicero.

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