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American civic republicanism, Political relativism, American republicanism


Law and Society | Property Law and Real Estate


Modern historians including J.G.A. Pocock and Gordon Wood have demonstrated the degree to which revolutionary American political discourse incorporated "civic republican" notions of virtue, property, and citizenship that promoted stable land ownership and active political participation. These historians also have argued that the republican view soon gave way to the now-dominant liberal view that champions the alienability of property and private over public life. Professor Alexander argues that this history is too neat. In fact, American republicanism contained unreconciled "dialectical" tensions—between individual rights and societal goals, stability of ownership and wealth redistribution, historical continuity and change—that, though now expressed in a different vocabulary, continue to plague American political thought. Focusing on the concept of property as it appeared in the thoughts of Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, and Webster, Professor Alexander details the ways in which these otherwise diverse thinkers attempted to confront and reconcile a common set of dialectical concerns.

Publication Citation

Published in: New York University Law Review, vol. 66, no. 2 (May 1991).