This essay argues that the “republicanism versus liberalism” debate that came to prominence in the 1980s – especially in the historiography of the birth of the United States – was largely an artificial construction made possible by the recent genealogies of its constituent terms. The first section suggests that the idea of “early modern liberalism” took shape from the 1930s, and identifies three broad schools of thought: Marxist, democratic and classical. Despite their differences they pioneered a stereotype of “liberalism” that was well established – especially in the United States – by the 1950s. The second section examines the so-called “republic tradition”, arguing it did not acquire that identity until the early 1970s, and that earlier work excavating the “commonwealth tradition” did not intend it as an alternative to liberalism. That only came into focus as a result of Wood’s work. The third section looks at elements of the debate in the 1970s – stressing the attempt to displace Locke and exploring the contribution of Pocock. He increasingly argued for the complex and interwoven nature of both “republicanism” and “liberalism” – partly as a response to revisionist work on the natural law origins of liberalism. By contrast, Appleby restated the older “liberalism” and pitted it against “republicanism” thereby reinforcing the binary.
Craig, D. (2022). Republicanism versus Liberalism: Towards a Pre-History. Intellectual History Review, 33(1), 101-130. https://doi.org/10.1080/17496977.2022.2148324