Women and Republicanism in the Eighteenth Century
Symposium at APSA, San Francisco 3-6 September 2015
Co-organisers: Sandrine Berges (Bilkent), Alan Coffee (King’s College London)
Feminists have had a long history of suspicion of republicanism. This has not been surprising given how its principles have been used to support patriarchy and to exclude women from the benefits of citizenship. In recent years, however, this stance has thawed somewhat with a number of republican feminists emerging.
The history of republicanism, however, remains resolutely male. Its widely accepted canon of writers – from Machiavelli to Milton, and from Madison to Mill – includes no women. Female writers, however, have long used republican principles in support of their arguments. A central but little known figure of eighteenth century republican thought is Catharine Macaulay who was a strong influence on the political thought of Mary Wollstonecraft, but also across the continent and on the political writers of the French revolution. The panellists discuss this influence, both by looking at Macaulay’s own work and that of those she influenced – Mary Wollstonecraft and Marie-Jeanne Phlippon Roland.
1. Alan Coffee (King’s College London)
2. Karen Green (Melbourne)
3. Sandrine Berges (Bilkent)
4. Madeline Cronin (Notre Dame)
5. Martina Reuter (Jyväskylä)
Alan Coffee: “Catharine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraft: Two Concepts of Neo-Roman Liberty”
Although she is often mentioned by political philosophers for her influence on Mary Wollstonecraft, Catharine Macaulay produced a rich and detailed account of freedom as independence from arbitrary power that deserves to be studied as one of the important historic sources of republican theory. Both Macaulay and Wollstonecraft regard the widespread social acceptance of corrupt ideas that support the interests of the powerful as the greatest threat to political freedom, but they employ very different frameworks in how they analyse its effects.
Macaulay argues that the solution must come through the design of political institutions, and especially in improved education, whereas Wollstonecraft identifies the fundamental problem as a cultural rather than institutional one. At stake is the issue of whether it is possible for a population to arrive at an inclusive and viable idea of the common good through processes of rational deliberation. Macaulay believes it is. She shares this conviction with modern republicans such as Philip Pettit (albeit by a different route) and I show how her work contributes to contemporary republican debate on this subject. Nevertheless, I conclude that ultimately Macaulay is vulnerable to Wollstonecraft’s objection that entrenched and pervasive cultural prejudices will prove too strong for the measures she proposes.
Karen Green: “Reassessing the impact of the ‘Republican Virago’”
In November 1790 a young Mary Wollstonecraft reviewed Letters on Education, one of the last major works of the celebrated and execrated republican historian, Catharine Macaulay, whose eight volume history of the Stuarts and the English Civil War had begun to appear in 1763. Immediately after completing her review, Wollstonecraft penned her response to Burke, the Vindication of the Rights of Men. Wollstonecraft admired and was profoundly influenced by Macaulay, and it is argued in this paper that a full understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Wollstonecraft’s feminism is impossible without an acknowledgement of the influence of Macaulay. More broadly, this paper sets out to demonstrate that Macaulay was an influential advocate for a central strand of enlightenment radicalism, which has been lost sight of, as a result of the concentration of contemporary political theory on the philosophies of Hobbes, Bentham and Kant. Her synthetic approach, which was grounded in intellectualist theism, in Locke, and in seventeenth-century republicanism, appealed to reformers in both America and France. It constitutes an important, influential strand of enlightenment political thought which deserves to be more fully recognized by contemporary political philosophers.
Sandrine Bergès: “From Housewife to French Macaulay”
Marie-Jeanne Phlippon Roland was a prolific writer who chose only to publish a few texts anonymously because she did not believe authorship was suitable for women. Yet as she waited for her death by the guillotine she wrote that had she lived, she would have wished to become a French Macaulay. In many of her texts she defends the people’s place in the revolution, in particular their moral claim to have a say in the drafting of their rights. In unpublished texts written before the revolution, she defends a republican concept of liberty, which she draws from her readings of classical texts and Rousseau. While women are conspicuously absent from her revolutionary writings – in contrast to Olympe de Gouges, Condorcet, and Etta Palm D’Aelders, who all argued that women should be included in discussions of rights – she applies her discussion of liberty to the whole of humankind, and in particular to herself. In this paper I try to resolve this apparent contradiction.
Madeline Cronin: “The Politics of Taste in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Egalitarian Educational Ideal”
Is taste a part of moral and political judgment? Especially if it is, political theorists might also ask if it matters that the education of citizens of a liberal democracy be attentive to the refinement of their tastes. For Mary Wollstonecraft and many of her contemporaries the formation of taste—understood not as pure aesthetic judgment but as a spontaneous sense of what is fitting with regard to an array of objects and practices—became increasingly significant for ethics and politics. This paper identifies one set of causes for this sudden increase in attention to taste by outlining what I have termed the “politics of taste.” Proponents of the “politics of taste,” such as Edmund Burke and David Hume, in their own ways propose the perpetuation of existing standards of taste as a palliative to the modern democratic ills that they diagnose. Wollstonecraft is an immanent critic of those positions because she proposes a dramatic revision of the extant model of taste driven by the spread of rational co-education. Though she is intensely critical of false refinement of taste, I conclude that A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution (1794) propose the spread of what Wollstonecraft calls “true taste”— extracted from its class based and gendered context — in its place.
Martina Reuter: “Wollstonecraft’s concepts of Virtue and Duty”
The paper discusses Wollstonecraft’s concept of duty by emphasizing (a) the distinction she makes between virtue and duty, and (b) the ways in which these two core concepts are connected. It is argued that Wollstonecraft’s views were firmly anchored in the republican, originally Ciceronian, conviction that the fulfilment of public duty has to be grounded in the fulfilment of private duty. Wollstonecraft gives the idea a specific twist by explicitly emphasizing the primacy of private duty in the case of men as well as women.
While Wollstonecraft argued that virtue must be the same for men and women, she did acknowledge that there is a difference between the maternal and the paternal duties. Duties differ, but they are all human duties and anchored in the same rational principles as virtue. Thus Wollstonecraft conceptualizes duties as parallel rather than complementary and she stresses their equal civic impact. I will argue that she is consciously, in her discussions of universal virtue as well as of particular duties, developing an alternative to Rousseau’s complementary model, where women are responsible for the private and men for the civic duties. The paper will close by discussing the plausibility of Wollstonecraft’s account from the perspective of 21st century feminist theory.