“Constructing a Humanist Politics”


                                                    Issue No 28 Friday 20 March 2009





This week


·        The Future of Politics: Why we need a Republican Party


·        The Three Meanings of “Republicanism”




What is happening now of interest to Civic Republicanism



The following are extracts from the new Republican Party website currently being set up at





·        The Future of Politics: Why we need a Republican Party


Britain will one day be a Republic. No one believes the monarchy will last for ever. In an unpredictable, ever-changing world this day may come sooner than anyone thinks.

But one thing is certain. Come it will.

No current major political party is capable of facing up to this fact. We are ill-prepared to transform Britain into a republic. That is why we need to have a mature debate about the nature of the future British Republic. That is why we need a British Republican Party

Republicanism is an ancient tradition. From the beginning its purpose is above all to prevent any leader having excessive power. The Republican solution to this problem was to separate power at the top so that no one individual could accumulate too much power. This is the solution that almost all republics have always adopted.

The other great Republican invention is to proclaim that the state does not consist of a person or an office. The constitution is the state. In republics citizens have a powerful sense of their constitution. It is the constitution that protects the people from authoritarianism.

In Britain today we need more than ever that protection. Because of our lack of a republican constitution, successive Prime Ministers have assumed more and more dictatorial powers. As long ago as 1978 Lords Hailsham said that the office of Prime Minister is an "elective dictatorship". Since then things have worsened.

As they have assumed more and more power, New Labour and Prime Minister Brown have created an ever more far-reaching bureaucracy to control our lives and have ridden roughshod over the House of Commons. But they have just been continuing a process set in train by the Conservatives before them.

As historian, David Starkey, said in December 2008, on Andrew Neil's This Week programme:

"The House of Commons, is now managed by the government totally, absolutely and completely."

This could not happen under a Presidential Republican constitution as power at the top has to be shared.

In theory, the British Prime Minister, shares power with the head of state, the monarch. But because a hereditary monarch cannot exercise its considerable powers, all of its power goes to the Prime Minister. This is why we must replace the monarch with an elected President with full powers to balance those of the Prime Minister and Parliament.

This is sometimes called the American system. But that is wrong. The American founding fathers based their Constitution on the British system substituting the monarch with an elected President. Fundamentally the American system followed the British model.

Nowadays there is a widespread feeling that there is something radically wrong with British political life. We have lost faith in our politicians. Voter turnout is at an all time low. The major political parties have played out all their political ideas and in the process heaped destruction on the social, cultural and economic lives of many. The sense of failure, hopelessness and lack of direction is all-pervading.

The Republican Party is the party of constitutional change but it must be more than that. It must have a full set of policies to challenge the old defunct parties.

We need a programme that recognises what is of immense value in our society and seeks to refashion it according to the republican principles of virtue, freedom, opportunity, prosperity and peace




·         The Three Meanings of “Republicanism”


The word "republicanism" has been used at various times to mean different things, but there remain three essential usages.

The three usages are not mutually exclusive but indicate the a successive narrowing of the scope. Starting with the broadest meaning, these are:

1. Civic Republicanism.  Civic Republicanism is an ancient concept of republicanism that goes back to Cicero and Aristotle. Civic Republicans start by arguing that in order to achieve a good society we need to encourage virtue. This begs the question: how can we create virtue in a secular society? In religious societies virtue was encouraged by the expectation of reward in the afterlife but clearly this will not do in a "modern" secular society. Civic Republicans argue that virtue can be encouraged in a secular society by correctly designing our institutions. These institutions can be divided into (a) institutions that make up the government and (b) the institutions that make up the civil society.

2. Constitutional Republicanism. Constitutional Republicanism concerns itself primarily with (a), the institutions that make up the government, that is to say, the constitution. Its goal is to design the constitution so as to create a just relationship between all citizens. Constitutional republicans recognise that a primary danger all societies face is the development of excessive power in the hands of its leader or leaders (executive) which then threatens the goal of justice. This concentration of power is avoided (a) by creating separate institutions of government having separate powers and (b) by rotating executive offices. Monarchy is incompatible with (b) and so anti-monarchism inherently forms part of constitutional republicanism.

3. Anti-Monarchist Republicanism. Anti-Monarchist Republicanism confines itself to this last aspect of constitutional republicanism, the desire to abolish the constitutional position of the monarchy. It is usually little concerned with the constitution that will follow abolition. If it has a view on the future constitution it will tend to favour one that preserves as much of the pre-abolition constitution as possible. Thus it can maintain a narrow focus on the single issue of abolition without addressing the wider concerns of either constitutional or civic republicanism.

Single issue parties exist. But, for a party to be long lasting and for it to lay down a tradition, it must embrace the whole range of issues that society faces. For this reason the Republican Party must include Civic Republicanism and Constitutional Republicanism. It must advocate the abolition of the constitutional role of the monarchy, but its primary focus has to be the construction of the society and the constitution that follows abolition



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……. …….until next week