That the classical republicans often expressed these veryunappealing views is not disputed. But what are we to make of thisfact? There are two possibilities. On the one hand, the parochialismof the classical republicans might reflect logical consequences oftheir core value commitments, in which case we cannot adopt the latterwithout taking on board the former. On the other hand, it might merelyreflect the accidental prejudice of their day, in which case it caneasily be dispensed with as we modernize the republican program. Nowaccording to the civic humanist reading of the tradition, theclassical republicans were committed to a perfectionist conception ofthe human good as active citizenship and civic virtue. On this view,it is clear that some individuals will be more successful than othersin attaining the good so understood—some are more adept atpolitics than others, some are more capable of heroic displays ofvirtue than others, and so on. Indeed, political power and publichonor are, to some extent, positional goods, meaning that theirdistribution among the members of a community will necessarily beunequal. It follows that, on the civic humanist reading of thetradition, the elitist bent of the classical republican writings is aconsequence of their core values. As Arendt writes, it is “thesign of a well-ordered republic” that only the politicallyvirtuous elite “would have the right to be heard in the conductof the business of the republic” (1963, 279).


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