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8 - Kant, the French revolution and the definition of the republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2010

Biancamaria Fontana
Affiliation:
Université de Lausanne, Switzerland
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Summary

As the task of this volume has been defined, the major problem of ‘modern republicanism’ after Hobbes and Montesquieu is ‘how to link the idea, the project of a moderate, limited, non-despotic government with that of a popular/national sovereignty and of juridical equality (in a society without a king and aristocracy)’. Such a task was confronted by Montesquieu, Madison and Sieyès, as Pasquino and Manin have demonstrated, and arguably by Benjamin Constant and Madame de Staël, as Fontana has revealed. But as the earlier discussion has shown, there has been a real difficulty, historically, in making post-eighteenth-century theorists answer the questions that a modern republican theorist might wish to put to them. As might be expected, the forms of republicanism thrown up by the French revolution possessed, in practice, little direct precedent in theory. Furthermore, if we move outside the frontiers of France, it becomes particularly important to disentangle what it was in the complex sequence of events that sympathisers sympathised with – a problem made more difficult by the ubiquitous term, Jacobin, used and often accepted to describe all who expressed sympathy with the revolution. And it is a difficulty which particularly arises in the case of Kant, both at a superficial and at a deeper level.

At the superficial level, we have the testimony of his friends and contemporaries and of his European reputation in the 1790s. According to his friend Jachmann, he remained hostile to the anti-revolutionary crusade throughout the 1790s.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1994

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