The Tragedy of the Republic: The Decay of Political Culture in the West

Manent, Pierre.  "The Tragedy of the Republic: The Decay of Political Culture in the West." First Things: May 2017.


“We French have for some years been overcome by a furor for republicanism and for citizenship. There is no activity so humble that it cannot take on an intimidating nobility as soon as it is associated with citizenship. The republic calls us, besieges us, smothers us—but where is the republic? Are we part of a republic, or does our intemperate usage of the term mean only that we have forgotten its meaning?

I raise these questions in a nonpartisan, non-polemical way. I do not mean: Our republic is no longer republican enough; we must try harder! I mean: This collective body that we make up together, is it still legitimate to call it a republic? This question can only be raised seriously if we suspend our participation in the current political debate and strive to grasp “republic” as a discernable and shareable object of thought and subject of action.

The idea of a republic as a way of life that can be described and evaluated is not easy to grasp. The republican idea seems so near and familiar to us, it envelops us to the point that we would experience it as a kind of impiety to hold it at a distance in order to describe and judge it; its “value” paralyzes us. Moreover, we are heirs to a very long history, in the course of which different political bodies have grown and declined under the same name of “republic.” How, then, might we extract ourselves from the grip of the word?”

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