The principles of classical republicanism are as follows:
- Governance for the public good (res publica)
- Governance by the rule of law
- Mixed government (regimen mixtum)
- Self-governance and active citizenship (vita activa)
- Separation of the public and private realm
The primary concern of classical republicans is to prevent tyranny, i.e. arbitrary rule and the oppression of the citizens. The above principles are concerned to be fundamental to fight tyranny.
The pursuit of the public good is what legitimizes the existence of the government. By definition a republic is the opposite of tyranny, which is the use of state power for the private interests of public officers. The question what constitutes the public good is the essential question of politics.
Rule of law means that the government is bound by its own laws and laws can only be changed through pre-established procedures. If the government would violate the law, citizens are entitled to sue the state in court. Tyrants usually ignore the law when they see fit in order to pursue their own agenda.
Political power should not be concentrated in one person or one group of people. Republicans are aware that power corrupts and hence power should be spread over multiple persons and groups. The idea of the regimen mixtum is that any position of power should be balanced by counter-power, i.e. checks and balances.
No institutional design alone will be able to resist the emerging of tyranny. Citizens need to actively resist tyranny and this means that citizens should participate in politics. Self-governing citizens are one of the strongest measures against tyranny. Education of the youth is essential for self-governance.
The scope of government power should be limited to the public realm and interference with the private realm is only acceptable to the extent as is required to maintain the public realm. Within the private realm the individual citizen is sovereign, whereas in the public realm sovereignty is shared by all citizens. Traditionally the household is seen as the basic unit of the private realm.
Republicanism is the absolute opposite of totalitarianism, which is the most extreme form of tyranny, since totalitarianism seeks to abolish the private realm altogether. It is also incompatible with those ideologies which denies the very existence of the public realm.
The principles discussed in this article will be further explored in upcoming articles.