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Rethinking the Political Thought of James Harrington: Royalism, Republicanism and Democracy

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel Hammersley


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Traditional accounts of seventeenth-century English republicanism have presented it as inherently anti-monarchical and anti-democratic. This article seeks to challenge and complicate this picture by exploring James Harrington’s views on royalism, republicanism and democracy. Building on recent assertions about Harrington’s distinctiveness as a republican thinker, the article suggests that the focus on Harrington’s republicanism has served to obscure the subtlety and complexity of his moral and political philosophy. Focusing on the year 1659, and the pamphlet war that Harrington and his supporters waged against their fellow republicans, it seeks to re-emphasise important but neglected elements of Harrington’s thought. It suggests that the depth and extent of Harrington’s sympathy with royalists and royalism has been underplayed, while too little attention has been paid to the fundamental differences between his ideas and those adopted by other republican thinkers at the time. In addition it brings to light, for the first time, Harrington’s innovative endorsement of both the term and the concept of ‘democracy’ and draws attention to his intellectual and personal affinities with the Levellers. Finally it outlines some implications of these findings for understandings of English republicanism and the republican tradition more generally.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Hammersley R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: History of European Ideas

Year: 2013

Volume: 39

Issue: 3

Pages: 354-370

Print publication date: 22/08/2012

ISSN (print): 0191-6599

ISSN (electronic): 1873-541X

Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd.


DOI: 10.1080/01916599.2012.703458


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