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Title: The Liberty Debate: Richard Price and His Critics on Civil Liberty, Free Government, and Democratic Participation
Authors: Elazar, Yiftah
Advisors: Pettit, Philip
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: Bentham
Subjects: Political Science
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In 1776, public opinion in Britain was stirred by the publication of a bestselling and controversial defense of the American Revolution, Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, written by the Dissenting minister, moral philosopher, and political economist Richard Price. In subsequent years, dozens of works had been published in reply to Price's Observations, many of them criticizing the democratic theory of liberty and government that he employed in defense of the American revolutionaries. The dissertation reconstructs and studies the exchange between Price and his critics on the relation between liberty and democratic participation. It pays particular attention to the constitutional Whig or neo-Roman language of civil liberty and free government, and argues that the rise of democratic ideas had spurred a reconsideration of this conceptual framework. Chapter 1 provides essential context for the debate by introducing the Observations, discussing its impact, and situating it in relation to Price's life and work. Chapter 2 surveys and analyzes the debate, interpreting it as a reexamination of the neoclassical conceptions of civil liberty and free government, and examining the relation of these ideas to democratic participation. Chapter 3 discusses the work of one of the participants in the debate, the historian and philosopher Adam Ferguson, arguing that his work successfully combined a commitment to reviving the spirit of classical republicanism with a defense of limited participation and elitist government in commercial society. Chapter 4 discusses the work of the philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham, arguing that his negative definition of liberty was an interpretation of Price's idea of self-government, which was intended to demonstrate its absurdity when divorced from Bentham's own framework of utility and security. Chapter 5 discusses Price's democratic reinterpretation of the neoclassical tradition, suggesting that one of his original contributions lay in insisting that the right of every individual to participate in politics is valuable, not only as an instrumental safeguard against arbitrary power, but also because the ability to exercise one's freedom in the public sphere is part of the concept of human dignity.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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