Filename Size Access Description License


This dissertation examines the relationship between wealth inequality and virtue in republican theory and practice. In the wake of the republican revival, contemporary political theorists seeking to reform liberal democracy generally accept the republican claim that freedom depends on the commitment of citizens to certain values and to the institutions that instantiate them. In this dissertation, I consider the source and nature of this public commitment. I challenge the claim I find implicit in contemporary republican scholarship that civic virtue is fundamentally a matter of moral strength and moral education irrespective of social conditions. I argue, instead, that the social relations and power dynamics dictated by the distribution of wealth in a society condition the possibility of virtue. In particular, I identify the effects of inequality on the associational life of a polity as a source of political corruption. , The project emerges from an engagement with the concept of corruption in Machiavelli’s political thought. Machiavelli, of course, stands at the epicenter of today’s republican revival. His republican theory has directly or indirectly inspired much of the contemporary scholarship connecting individual liberty with a politics grounded on the rule of law and a virtuous citizenry committed to upholding it. In the dissertation, I argue that this literature is built on a misinterpretation of Machiavelli’s conception of corruption fixated on human selfishness and, in turn, misconstrues the role of popular participation in his republicanism. Based on a close reading of Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories, I argue that Machiavelli uses the concept of corruption to identify the relations of dependence generated in conditions of inequality and their deleterious effect on the political identity and activity of non-elite citizens. When inequality prevails, according to Machiavelli, ordinary citizens become accustomed to pursuing personal security and social advancement through dependence upon the private favor of wealthy patrons rather than, as civic freedom demands, through law and public institutions. Armed with this sociological conception of corruption, I enter the current debate regarding Machiavelli’s praise of Roman poverty and class conflict arguing that he understood them as a source of plebian virtue in Rome. , In the contemporary, policy-relevant chapters of the project I explore the possibility of civic virtue in an age of increasing inequality and declining political engagement. In the third chapter I draw on Machiavelli’s sociological conception of corruption to challenge the principles of individualism and political equality guiding contemporary republican and democratic theory. I argue that a politics capable of checking social and political domination cannot begin from a set of socially agnostic principles. Rather, I contend that republicans, like Philip Pettit, who rely on a vigilant citizenry to prevent domination, must recognize the ineradicable consequences of social inequality both at the institutional level and at the level of citizen engagement and pursue institutional reforms and public policies that correct for it. To that end, in the final chapter I explore the contemporary relevance of Machiavelli’s radical suggestion that a republic must institutionalize class distinctions and cultivate an ethos of suspicion if it is to foster the kind of vigilant and public-oriented citizenry capable of pursuing and maintaining a republican form of politics. Drawing on Machiavelli’s praise of Roman “poverty,” the “disunion” between the nobles and plebs and the “suspicion” manifested by the Roman plebs, I develop a theory of civic culture that counts suspicion of concentrated wealth as an integral component of non-elite identity and virtue.


Additional Details


Download Full History