G. Edward White


In a recent article in the Journal of American History, Daniel Rodgers attempts to sketch out the "career" of republicanism as an organizing historiographical concept. Rodgers is principally interested in establishing republicanist historiography as a "paradigm," a status comparable to that conventionally assigned to two other significant twentieth-century historiographical concepts, which he labels "Beardian" and "Hartzian," and which many other scholars have characterized as "progressive" and "liberal," or "conflict"-focused and "consensus"-focused.

According to Rodgers's historiographical chronology, the twentieth century has witnessed three conceptual paradigms: the "Beardian"/ "progressive" paradigm, dominant throughout the 1940s, which portrayed history as an unending series of conflicts among antagonistic "classes," "groups," and "interests"; the "Hartzian"/"liberal" paradigm, emphasizing the consensual values that defined America as a civilization and profoundly limited the course and pace of cultural change, predominating from the early 1950s through the late 1960s; and the "republican" paradigm, which Rodgers seeks to characterize in far greater detail, emerging in the late sixties and "perceptibly thinning out" by 1990.

My purpose here is not to critique Rodgers's historiographical synthesis, which I believe most historians would find useful and even illuminating. It is rather to explore, in more detail, a tiny episode in Rodgers's narrative. In that episode, as Rodgers describes it, "legal philosophers discovered the terminology" of the republican historiographical paradigm in the late 1980s.