British Academy Programme Republicans without Republics: International and National Networks in Europe

“Republicans without Republics: National and International Networks”, a four-year British Academy Network programme, created a network of scholars tracing lost patterns of thought and practices of republicanism in the late 18th and 19th century Europe. It also brought together political philosophers and historians of republicanism to explore and frame the broader questions these cases raised.

The closing workshop of the network was held in June 2008 at the European Studies Centre, Oxford. The workshop also marked the beginning of a new phase of the programme, which expanded both temporal and geographic scope to explore and include practices of republican liberty in the creation of republics on an international scale from 1800 onwards to the present, and to include other regions of the world.

The workshop discussed European groups and associations engaged in struggles for the establishment of democratic republics alongside those from Latin America, North America, Africa and the Middle East, and focussed on their role during times other than the ‘crucial moments’ or ‘critical junctures’ that are the usual subject of scholarly attention. The workshop emphasized the practices, tools and techniques (both organizational and ideational) used by republican associations and individuals in the quest for liberty in combination with intellectual frameworks that draw from these practices.

The closing workshop explored these periods of preparation – the moments ‘in between’ – during which republican movements lay the foundations for the future and established the essential methods of participatory practices. The workshop discussed the excessive attention that has been paid to a small number of relatively short periods of time which afforded rare opportunities for individuals and groups to alter the prevailing political order. This focus has tended to obscure the positive (and critical) role that actors, associations, parties, and movements play in the years both before and after such moments present themselves and has led scholars to overlook the possibility that such activities might be responsible for the creation of these crucial political moments of heightened progressive change.

Earlier Themes

Four themes were addressed at earlier workshops of the programme held in Paris, Florence, Grenoble and Oxford:

  1. The structure and power of organisation, including the questions of internal divisions, of representativeness, and of the choice of strategy of tools and techniques. Underlying these discussions are central controversies. One is the elitist character of movements. Under what conditions were these organisations democratised or not and how many levels of hierarchy and leaderships existed? How militarized were they and how adaptable were they to political shifts? When was political and military violence used, against what form of enemy, and which tools was the enemy using? In which forms did the core principles of liberty and equality develop over time?
  2. Exile groups and solidarity networks. Most republicans worked to construct the republic in exile. Various host capitals at different periods throughout the nineteenth century provided a safe haven for these republicans, and a complex network of solidarity associations emerged in capitals and provincial towns wherever there were large republican exile communities. London, Paris, Strasbourg, Geneva, Marseille, Brussels, Jersey, all were, at specific times, the arenas where the utopias of future European democracy was imagined, created and debated. Republicans were assisted by solidarity and support networks of humanitarian assistance, political lobbying and practical aid in terms of arms, money, and false papers. The multi-layered relationships between the hosts and their foreign visitors were explored in earlier workshops with regard to the nineteenth century and will be returned to here.
  3. The instrumentalisation of the sacred: doctrinal rules and rituals. Arising of necessity out of revolutionary action, mobilisation, whether orchestrated in Rome, Paris, or Berlin. Drawn from theophilanthropy, carbonarism, saint-simonism and other lay orders, each of these secular movements derived strength from their spiritual character. Rites, initiation ceremonies, code words, virtues: these structural tools of mobilisation and dedication were at the centre of important debates over the means of transmission and the preservation of the essential values of their commitments, core principles, and transmission of ideology. More crucially, oaths, codes, and initiation ceremonies were created to guarantee the identities of their members, safeguarding their organizations and their planning from Empire's spies, police, and agents.
  4. The construction of a repertoire of means of dissemination, including the methods that these movements and individuals used in order to spread doctrines and promote slogans, looking primarily at printed brochures, songs, poems, emblems, flags and badges, educational circles, recruitment methods, signs of affiliation, and associational practices.