Republicanism and Markets

In Yiftah Elazar & Geneviève Rousselière (eds.), Republicanism and the Future of Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 207-223 (2019)
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The republican tradition has long been ambivalent about markets and commercial society more generally: from the contrasting positions of Rousseau and Smith in the eighteenth century to recent neorepublican debates about capitalism, republicans have staked out diverse positions on fundamental issues of political economy. Rather than offering a systematic historical survey of these discussions, this chapter will instead focus on the leading neo-republican theory—that of Philip Pettit—and consider its implications for market society. As I will argue, Pettit’s theory is even friendlier to markets than most have believed: far from condemning commercial society, his theory recognizes that competitive markets and their institutional preconditions are an alternative means to limit arbitrary power across the domestic, economic, and even political spheres. While most republican theorists have focused on political means to limit such power—including both constitutional means (e.g., separation of powers, judicial review, the rule of law, federalism) and participatory ones (democratic elections and oversight)—I will examine here an economic model of republicanism that can complement, substitute for, and at times displace the standard political model. Whether we look at spousal markets, labor markets, or residential markets within federal systems, state policies that heighten competition among their participants and resource exit from abusive relationships within them can advance freedom as non-domination as effectively or even more effectively than social-democratic approaches that have recently gained enthusiasts among republicans. These conclusions suggest that democracy, be it social or political, is just one means among others for restraining arbitrary power and is consequently less central to (certain versions of) republicanism than we may have expected. So long as they counteract domination, economic inroads into notionally democratic territory are no more worrisome than constitutional ones.

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Robert S. Taylor
University of California, Davis


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