“Fusion republicanism” is a fluid mix of democratic ideology, potential militancy, and invocation of civic virtue prevalent in American political life, a conglomeration of disparate elements of political thought and practice, manifest in many quarters of political life: it is institutionalized in “our localism,” for example; it is latent in the conduct of juries with their potential for nullification; and it is overt in self-styled citizen militias permanently poised for armed resistance. Perhaps the most important question raised by Sandel’s stance as an advocate of a public philosophy is what responsibility he has to acknowledge the spectrum of related ideas, to recognize convergence between the republican high ground he stakes out and its dangerous, improbable expressions, and to draw sharp moral and political distinctions. Three recognizable themes provide points of convergence among advocates, and give fusion republicanism its emotional force: a perception of powerlessness, a perception of political demoralization, and a propensity for direct political action. Understandably, even leaders who indulge in republican charges against their political opponents do not want to be held to account for excesses and abominations committed in the name of democratic discontent. We should not permit ourselves the comforting assumption that fringe groups are responsible for the climate of hostility that transforms democratic discontent into anti-government hatred; “extremists” are the beneficiaries of a diffuse climate of hostility and of widespread agitation to correct the sense of disempowerment.
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