14 - The ethos of the republic and the reality of politics  pp. 283-292

The ethos of the republic and the reality of politics

By Werner Maihofer

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The famous speech which Thucydides places in the mouth of Pericles, which we usually regard as his political testament, summarises the basic features of the constitution of a polis. These are what Aristotle later called Politeiai and Cicero res publicae, and their survival and resumption in Renaissance republicanism, not least in Machiavelli, is one of the principal concerns of this volume. ‘Love of freedom’, ‘respect for the law’, ‘equality before the law’, ‘rule through agreement’ of the ruled, and government through the consent of the governed, are the decisive characteristics of Attic democracy at the very birth of Europe's political culture, as opposed to the Asiatic despotism that faced it on the other side of the Aegean. Rejection in principle of despotism, of rule through the enslavement of the ruled as a possible constitution of a state, is something that continues to operate even in Montesquieu's opposition to despotism, and it echoes throughout the republican tradition of the Italian Renaissance.

Whilst we have been concerned with reconstructing the origins of this tradition of the republic, a tradition that includes Machiavelli and from which, as Quentin Skinner has so impressively shown, he decisively departs in relation to both pax and iustitia, what concerns us also is the future of this conception of the republic, in an extrapolation, as it were, of the stimulus Machiavelli gave to political thought at the threshold of the modern era.