As described in David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, Liberalism and Republicanism both have agreeable similarities and stark contrasts. Fleming compares both schools of thought to a time in world history (Republicanism to Golden Age Athens and Liberalism to 18th and 19th century transatlantic enlightenment) (Pages 25-26.) The Golden age of Athens refers to a time in Athens, Greece where government became increasingly more democratic, departing from the old ways of strictly aristocratic and elitist rule. This period gave more power to the general public than ever before in Greece. Similarly, the transatlantic Enlightenment refers to the period in 18th and 19th century Europe and United States, where the great minds of the time drafted such documents like the United States Constitution post U.S. revolution and the August Decrees during revolution-era France.
Republicanism promotes self-governance in a small community, including direct democracy where the people directly elect officials to office. As a result, people in a Republican community are expected to be extremely involved in their respective political climates. There is a huge focus on the community as a whole, and how each member of the community contributes to the greater good. Fleming criticizes republicanism for its’ overzealous use of involvement in politics, calling it “too demanding, too consuming… stifling” (Pages 25-26.) He claims that the over-involvement can create a lack of individualism through lack of “difference” or “anonymity.” Comparisons to republicanism can be drawn—funny enough, to the Republican Party of the United States of America today. The Party favors small government, with the creation state laws that are enforced over collective, federal law. Also, Republican voters tend to be older, more conservative, and more involved in politics than Democratic voters, who tend to be younger, less involved, and more Liberal, which will be discussed later. As a result of the republican focus on small, community-based governance, there can be problems. Going back to the example of Greece, Athens was regularly at war with neighboring city-states like Sparta due to differing ideals.
Liberalism, in contrast to Republicanism’s controlled, community-based ideology, is a school of thought built around the principle of individuality. As opposed to Republicanism’s community based, hyper-involved style of civilization, Liberalism is far more relaxed. Individual rights are placed on the highest run of the political and ideological ladder in a Liberal society, meaning government has little control over day to day activities, besides major overlaying tenets that ensure no group is favored over another. A comparison can be drawn between this definition of Liberalism and today’s Democratic Party in the United States. The Democratic Party strives for laws and regulations that blanket all fifty states, so there can be no way to dispute the basic rights that citizens of all fifty states hold, while protecting privacy. The problem with Liberalism is that rules that are often instated are so general, that they leave far too much to interpretation. Also, with Liberalism focusing more on individual rights instead of community based involvement, there is often nowhere near enough political involvement. In contrast to the older, highly involved Republicans discussed in the previous paragraph, Democratic voters are typically younger, and have a significantly lower voter turnout than their Republican counterparts.
The concepts of Republicanism and Liberalism are applied to the United States bipartisan system on a regular basis, even if it’s only through the abstract ideas of small, community based government or individualism applied through law. These concepts are reflected in the minds of the great thinkers and the important documents of periods like the Golden Age of Athens and the Transatlantic Enlightenment during the birth of the United States and French Revolution.