SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Republicanism, empire and revolution

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

This course will familiarise students with debates on republicanism and revolution in both early modern western thinking and 19th to 20th century anti-colonial thinking. The course will focus on the ‘republican revival’ in western political thought of the 1960s to 80s that occurred in the context of decolonization and postcolonial republican foundings. It will examine the language of political activism and anti-colonial revolution and consider how this language constitutes republican theory both in the western canon and anti-colonial backlash against imperial domination. This rich language of republicanism based on virtue, self-rule, the public thing, freedom and the mixed constitution underpins two views of the republic as (1) an expansive state that pursues empire in order to maintain itself and benefit from global trade by incorporating the people in representative government and (2) a form of political rule that promotes self-government and freedom from imperial and monarchical domination.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • republicanism and debates on democratic theory
  • different conceptions of the republic (ideal, conservative, expansive and radical)
  • republican political vocabulary (virtue, self-rule, the public thing and freedom) 
  • political transformation and revolution
  • the mixed constitution and divided sovereignty
  • comparative and contextualist methodologies for studying concepts in history and geographies, across time and space"


2 hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction:  Revolutions and republics
  2. Western interpretations:  classical republicanism, civic humanism and neo-roman freedom
  3. The mixed constitution in ancient Rome
  4. Roman republican grandeur and empire
  5. Separation of powers, commerce, colonialism and empire
  6. Reading Week
  7. Revolutions and republics: Haiti
  8. Anti-colonial republican thinking:  Turkey
  9. Anti-colonial republican thinking:  India
  10. Revolution and republican foundings:  Tunisia
  11. Conclusions Republican types:  small classical, colonial expansive, radical postcolonial     

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% coursework (one 1500 word essay worth 20% and one 2500 word essay worth 30%), 40% unseen examination (3 hours) and 10% oral presentation.


Suggested reading

  • Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (Penguin, 1963) chapter 1
  • J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton UP, 1975), chapter 1
  • Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism (Cambridge UP, 1998) chapter 1 and conclusion
  • Cicero, De Republica (CUP or Loeb, excerpts)
  • Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (Penguin, 19??), Book 1, chapters 1-6; Book 2, chapters 1-3; Book 3, chapters 1-3
  • Montesquieu Spirit of the Laws (CUP, 1989) Book I, Introduction, chapters 1-5, Book 11, chapters 1-6, Book 20, chapters 1-3, Book 21, chapters 20-21
  • C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (Penguin, 1938 (reprinted 2001), extracts
  • Banu Turnaoglu, The formation of Turkish Republicanism (PrincetonUP, 2017)
  • J. Nehru, Glimpses of World History (London: Penguin, 2004)
  • B. R. Ambedkar, “A Plea to the Foreigner:  Let Not Tyranny have Freedom to Enslave”, in What Gandhi and Congress have done to Untouchables, in ed. V. Moon. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 2. Bombay: Education Department. Government of Maharashtra, Vol. 9, pp. 199-238


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules