Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 December 2020
The revolutions that swept through Europe and the Americas in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries transformed republicanism as a political language. By the end of the Age of Revolution, the early modern classical-republican tradition had, on the whole, given way to ‘modern republicanism’ in one form or another. Modern republicanism, limned more than established in the crucible of revolution, would ultimately provide the dominant framework of modern political legitimacy. As the essays by Wyger Velema and Urte Weeber in this section demonstrate, the end of the Old Regime meant the transformation of republicanism as a political category.
It is important to emphasize in this context the central role of republicanism as an overarching political category during the Age of Revolution. To properly understand the Age of Revolution, as Franco Venturi argued in 1971, historians need to ‘follow the involvement, modifications and dispersion of the republican tradition in the last years of the eighteenth century.’ The early modern republican tradition was far from monolithic. Nonetheless, despite its manifest heterogeneity, it revolved around a number of identifiable concerns, values, and political axioms that, collectively, most often functioned as a language of opposition to the modernizing states of the eighteenth century. In their treatments of pre-revolutionary republicanism, the two essays in this section each emphasize the importance of ideals of the public good, civic virtue, and patriotism – in other words, citizen commitment to public life and to the maintenance of the republic itself. On the eve of the Age of Revolution, republicanism as a political language entailed a dual emphasis on citizenship and on the body politic: the body politic would allow or even compel people to become citizens, who, in turn, would serve the body politic.
The early modern republican tradition was profoundly transformed during the Age of Revolution. The elaboration of new forms of republicanism, however, did not entail the rejection of older themes, values, and tropes. The transformation of republicanism during the Age of Revolution in fact produced a number of hybrid forms, diverse among themselves, that combined old and new political languages.