The Historiography of America’s Founding: Lockean Liberalism versus Republicanism

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Michael Millerman looks at Luigi Marco Bassani’s “The Bankruptcy of the Republican School,” from Telos 124 (Summer 2002).

Luigi Marco Bassani’s essay “The Bankruptcy of the Republican School” (2002) consists of an overview of the conflict in American historiography between two schools of thought. The first—Lockean liberalism—insists that America was founded on principles that recognize an abstract, natural right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of one’s private happiness. These natural rights are liberties that define a private sphere, to be protected from government interference. By contrast, the second school proclaims that not Lockean liberalism, but rather republicanism informed the Founders’ vision of what America is and should be. Republicanism elevates such notions as “the common good” and “the public sphere” above those of “individual liberties” and “private happiness.” Indeed, it can justify infringing on the latter for the sake of the former. Hence, it is in conflict with Lockean liberalism.

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