Contemporary republican strategies for ‘civic virtue’ and the notion of political obligation

Can we make successful normative arguments for enhanced participation in public life? Contemporary republican theories propose to do just that, and thus to incorporate elements of radical democracy in a liberal-democratic political framework, without exacting too high costs on individual freedom, sliding into oppressiveness or coming too close to liberal arguments. This dissertation enables us to explore the basic republican idea that individual freedom is dependent on citizens’ civic engagement in public life. By assessing contemporary republican themes and arguments of different varieties, I hope to determine republicanism’s normative salience and claim to distinctiveness. That is a simplification, for there is no single republican argument but a multitude of different strategies in arguing for some form of enhanced engagement in public life, from contestation of political decisions that do not track individuals’ interests to participation in diffuse deliberative fora of civil society. My aim is not to develop or reconstruct an institutional theory of republicanism, but to discern the normative arguments behind a republican political morality. It becomes apparent from my analysis that it is not to the notion of freedom as non-domination or the common good expressed in the form of national identity that we should look for normative support of a republican argument. Instead, the notion of participation in public deliberations on matters of shared concern, as the way to preserve the ‘justificatory’ character of a reasonably just democratic community emerges as the most salient form of republican ‘civic virtue’. I further argue that the most promising way to promote a republican theory along these lines is to construct an argument for republican political obligation that entails the obligations to deliberate, to do so from public reason, and to endorse a redistributive notion of equality. If republicanism is to be taken seriously, it needs to present a normative argument for the specific obligations that it promotes. Finally, I argue that a notion of political obligation understood in this thick, republican way could be justified as a form of role obligation constructed around the role of citizen in a reasonably just democratic society. By constructing a notion of political obligation from a republican perspective, we hope to contribute an overall normative justification to contemporary republican arguments.