In the eighteenth century, the vibrant republics that had inspired Renaissance theorists—Florence in particular—had either disappeared from the political scene or fallen into politico-economic slumber. When eighteenth-century authors wrote about republicanism, it was from a very different perspective than Niccolò Machiavelli or James Harrington: they were describing less a reality than an imagined past or future. While there may not have been a “republican party” in pre-revolutionary France, there certainly seems to have been a republican cultural imagination that would be fired up by revolutionary events, even if it did not contribute to their advent. This chapter examines works of the imagination in order to elucidate the eighteenth-century history of republicanism. It looks at the state of nature and the myth of the golden age, focusing on writers such as Michel de Montaigne and François Fénelon. It also discusses Montesquieu's classical republicanism, as well as the link between classical republicanism and natural right as seen in the works of Gabriel Bonnot de Mably and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
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