Archives for posts with tag: Republic versus democracy

I keep hearing that “America is not a Democracy, it is a Republic if you can keep it“.

Well, if nothing else, this is yet another example of how dangerous it is to give up studying ‘humanities’. As in classical languages, history…

‘Republic’ comes from Latin. Res Publica. Meaning a sociopolitical arrangement, a.k.a. country, ‘where “things” – “res”, in Latin, are decided upon by the “public” or the representatives that they elect.

Democracy comes from Greek. Demos Kratos. Meaning a sociopolitical arrangement where ‘power’ – ‘kratos’, belongs to ‘the people’ – demos.

Starting from here, it becomes a lot easier to understand that it doesn’t really matter whether the guy sitting at the formal top of a country calls himself king or president.
It’s who calls the definitive shot which determines whether a country is run as a democracy or is being ruled as an authoritarian regime.

“Government is suppose to be a negative force that leaves people alone.”

I’m afraid this would make any of the Founding Fathers weep.
It’s the ministers – secretaries of state, as the Americans call them, who need to be kept in check, not ‘Government’.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” means that the people governs itself. The people determines its own future. All the people …. not just ‘the government’. Extracting, at the conceptual level, ‘the government’ from ‘the people’ means freeing those who happen to be ‘the government’, at any given moment, from their responsibilities. Telling ‘the people’ that ‘the government’ should leave them alone actually means that the people should also leave the members of the government to do as they please.
Really? Would any of you be comfortable with such an arrangement?

“Once Rome left the tenets of their Constitution they adopted Democracy and soon people were left demanding more from the Gov’t. A Gov’t that could not provide.”

In reality, Rome had thrived for only as long as it had managed to preserve the truly democratic features of its government. As long as the citizens went to the Forum – the Roman Agora, and voted their true minds. As long as the Senators did their jobs honestly and decided for the future of the entire city.
Only after the Roman People had given up and stood idle while their democracy was corrupted into ‘mob-rule’ by the bribe-greedy senators, the Roman Empire had started to crumble. The Roman Empire was no longer a true republic nor a functional democracy when it was abolished by Augustus being proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers.
And the final nail was beaten into the Roman coffin when the people itself had started to accept bribes.
When Rome had started to be ruled according to the ‘panem et circenses’ principle. When the people had let himself be bribed by those who wanted to stay in power and when the people had stopped censuring those who determined the fate of the entire social organism.

When ‘the government’ had extracted itself from the people.

And yes, Republic has to be kept. Only not for its own sake. For ours.

It doesn’t matter whether a country calls itself a kingdom or a Republic, it’s how the shots are called which is really important. By the People or by a small number of individuals. While it is true that the Roman Empire had to devolve from a Democratic Republic to a dictatorial kingdom before crumbling, let’s not forget Germany and Russia.
Both had thrown out their rulers – Kaiser and Tzar, only to fall under the spell of dictatorial ideologies which had led both of them to ruin.
To republican ruin.
Both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had been ruled as republics by small coteries of callous manipulators.

For more than a year now I was struggling to understand the circumstances that have produced the current political mess in America.

I finally figured it out.

Confusion and dissatisfaction!

If you have enough people that are both confused and malcontent then all kind of ‘strange’ things will happen.

Only one of them won’t be enough to explain the whole gamut of what’s going on and that’s why I wasn’t satisfied by any of the many articles that pointed out one reason or another for the ‘popular discontent that brought the Donald to the White House’.
In fact no amount of ‘unhappiness’ can explain how two mature parties can nominate such lousy candidates. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump fit, not even loosely, the profile of a decent President. That’s why the voter turn-out was the lowest in the last 80 years or so.

But if you add ‘confusion’… things begin to clear out.

And no, I’m not speaking here about the regular people being confused as a result of the ‘politicos’ having misbehaved horribly.
I’m afraid things are way deeper than this.
Even those who believe themselves to be educated in these matters seem to be swimming in a sea of thicker and thicker fog.

Take, for instance, the current debate about the differences between ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’.

A republic is a representative type of government, and its goal is to simultaneously control the majority while protecting the minority. For example, in the republic of the United States, the government is limited constitutionally, and power is divided between the three branches of government.

A democracy is a type of government that grants eligible citizens the right to equal participation. This right is provided directly through the creation and development of laws or through elected representatives. The interest of the majority is the most important aspect in a democracy.

A republic is a representative form of democracy. A republic has an elected head of state, such as a president, that serves for a specific period of time. In a republic, the interest of the majority rules through its elected representatives. However, a republic has a constitution that protects the minority from being entirely overruled or unrepresented.

See what I mean? Adding insult to injury this definitions were published by a site which calls itself ‘‘ …

I’m not going to pick truth from fiction in that quote, that would only add to the already too thick confusion.

Enough for me to say that ‘republic’ is indeed a manner in which societies are organized (a.k.a. ‘governed’) while ‘democracy’ is a manner in which societies decide for themselves. Yes, these two things have a lot in common but we should not confuse them.

There are republics which only pretend to be democratic – like the late Soviet Union or the current Democratic Republic of Korea, some which are democratic in a rather strange way – Iran for example, or which are slowly ‘loosing’ democracy behind – like Orban’s Hungary or Putin’s Russia. History has also a few examples of republics which had given up democracy all together. Hitler’s Germany, for instance.

On the other hand there are monarchies (OK, constitutional monarchies) which are perfectly democratic. The British Commonwealth, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium…

What can explain the current confusion?
‘The interest of the majority is the most important aspect in a democracy’?!?
A major lack of understanding about what democracy really means?

A terrible confusion between the formal aspects of democracy – freedom to vote for what ever candidate accompanied by a fair account of the ballots – and the really important tenets of democratic behavior – honest, open and mutually respectful exchange of ideas about the current state of affairs between the interested members of the society?
My point being that true democracy is about the opportunity to rationally convince those around you/making yourself available to be convinced by rational arguments, not about the majority imposing its view on the minority. That is nothing but mob rule, a horrid perversion of what democracy was meant to be.

Basically, what happens – under all forms of social arrangements/forms of government: republic, constitutional or absolute monarchy – in a society is that people need to know where that society is headed to. Authoritarian societies are run by the ruler – and the people, willingly, unwillingly or with mixed spirits, agree for the time being – while the democratic societies entertain a certain ‘effervescence of ideas’ which bring forward the important problems that need to be resolved and what would be the socially acceptable manners for those problems to be fixed.

But in order for that ‘effervescence of ideas’ to be efficient, the ordinary people have to contribute in earnest to the exchange and the politicians need to pay close attention and to cooperate among themselves and with the rest of the society towards solving those problems.

That’s why I’d like you to remember when was the last time that people on the different sides of the political divide have actually talked together?
Why do we have a ‘political divide’ in the first place?

Aren’t we supposed to be ‘all together’ in our respective countries?

What’s gotten into us that made us fight each-other so bitterly?

Why do we succumb so easily to ‘divide and conquer’?

Why are there still so many politicos who keep using this method, despite the ample proof that has been provided to us, through out the history, that ‘divide and conquer‘ inevitably ends up in disaster?

When your own rhetoric gives you license to commit mayhem. And worse


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Our nation did not become great because our form of government was created as a socialist, communist, or any form of democracy; it was specifically created as a constitutional republic.

I’ve been trying for some time now to figure out the origin of this huge confusion.

Yesterday, during an exchange on this subject, a FB friend of mine used this link to prove her argument:

An Important Distinction: Democracy versus Republic


And there it was, laying in plain sight, THE explanation I was too blind to find it by myself.

It is important to keep in mind the difference between a Democracy and a Republic, as dissimilar forms of government.

Come again?!?

Since when democracy has become a “form” of government?
If you want to discuss about forms of government you have basically two: republican and monarchic. In a republic the head of state is changed from time to time, sometimes in a more or less democratic manner, while in a monarchy it is customary for that head of state to be replaced only after his death and by a person which has already been known for quite a while.

That was not what you had in mind? You meant what kind of interaction exists between the governed and the government?
‘Cause only in this realm we may speak about the difference between democracy – where the population has a say about its fate – and dictatorship – where the rulers don’t give a damn about the wishes of those who allow themselves to be ruled from above.

Don’t believe me?
Then please consider the British Empire. It is headed – nominally – by a monarch who has had no power for the last two hundred years or so and has NO – absolutely NO – constitution. Yet its democratic traditions can be traced down to the Magna Carta – a ‘compact’ signed in 1215 between the King (John of England) and his ‘free subjects’.

I used ‘ ‘ around ‘free subjects’ to highlight the fact that this is an oxymoron AND that the basic function of Magna Carta was to solve that oxymoron.
It actually doesn’t matter much what was written in that compact. The very fact that the King – erstwhile considered an almost divine person who until then had absolute power over his subjects and the land under his control – sat down at the same table with some of his erstwhile subjects and by his own signature conceded that they were “free” (‘all free men have a right to justice and a fair trial‘) signifies the dawn of a new kind of interaction between those at the no longer opposed ends of the society.

OK, things didn’t evolve smoothly. The Magna Carta wasn’t enforced in earnest until a lot later but still, the bird was out of the cage.

My point being that until we understand that the difference between ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’ is the same as the one between apples and oranges – and that we should stop comparing them – we are stuck.

So, am I somewhat implying that John Adams was wrong?


Not at all. All I’m saying is that he used a poetic license and that the quote is not only incomplete but also used in a misleading way.

“I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”

OK, he made the same confusion between ‘forms’ of government and social relationships between the people and those in power, only this is an understandable mistake. But, to his merit, he made it amply clear that it is the very “passions” of the people that “when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty”!

This is precisely the job that every constitution – not only the republican ones – is called to fulfill. Or a powerful enough tradition – please remember that the British ‘Empire’ has no constitution to this day.

Coming back to the notion of democracy I must add that it might not work properly, no matter how well written the constitution that presides over the process, unless the people who uses this form of collective decision making entertains the proper mental and moral attitude.
If the entire society isn’t permeated by enough mutual respect among its members then what Adams had warned us against is about to happen – regardless of any constitution. Or even under the cloak of the existing one.

You see, proper democracy works because it creates a frame where all those interested in the matter – all stake-holders – have the opportunity to express their grievances. This way the society is able to find out what doesn’t work properly and to take the appropriate measures.
But if there is not enough mutual respect going on around, things may become ugly, eventually. Just as Adams told us. When mutual respect weans out we stop caring about anything else but our own personae and ‘passions’ are no longer ‘checked’.
Society no longer acts like an organism and people become divided into smaller ‘mobs’ whose leaders fight each-other – sometimes under a democratic disguise – for followers.

That’s when democracy ceases to be a venue for a civilized debate about ideas and become an arena for the bloodiest sport of them all. Politician-ism.

That’s when some people start thinking like this.
democracy, bikes

Or even like this:

Let me tell you something.
I’ve been living under a republican regime for all my life. Only for the first 30 years that republic was a communist one. It even had a constitution – and at the first glance it wasn’t such a bad one. But believe me, you don’t want to experience that kind of republic.

What you really want is true democracy, the one where people respect each-other. It doesn’t matter if that happens in a republic or in a kingdom. It is enough that it works, and for that to happen it is enough for the people to ‘check their passions’.

And mind you!  Whenever 51% of the voters band together to confiscate the bikes that the others have acquired through honest means, that’s no longer democracy but mob rule. Something that could very easily degenerate into communism. That’s what you want to avoid, not bona fide democracy.

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