Political Liberty as Legal Equality: Rousseau and Roman Constitutionalism
Most theorists of republican (or “Neo-Roman”) liberty identify direct citizen participation in lawmaking as the defining feature of “freedom from domination.” In this paper, I uncover a different history of political liberty which instead privileges legal equality. Originating in Roman constitutional thought (Cicero and Livy in particular), it claims that the defining feature of liberty lies less in lawmaking, than in the equal application of the law to all. This theory of liberty was revived by Machiavelli, but finds its most sophisticated expression in Rousseau.
Dan Edelstein is the William H. Bonsall Professor of French, and Professor of History, by courtesy, at Stanford University. He is the author of The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution (2009), The Enlightenment: A Genealogy (2010), and On the Spirit of Rights (2018), all with the University of Chicago Press. He recently co-edited Networks of European Enlightenment, with Chloe Edmondson (2019), in the Oxford Studies in the Enlightenment series. He is currently writing an intellectual history of revolution.