James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, July 22, 2005

So It's a Republic, Not A Democracy, Big Deal

Often, when reading blogs and columns, I come across, "We live in a REPUBLIC, not a democracy!"

True, but why do we make a big deal of it? In common language and rhetoric, "democracy" isn't precise, but it's accurate.

Several places in the Constitution either mention "elected by the people" or extend voting rights. This is certainly "democratic," even though we don't have pure majority rule.

And on a relative scale, when our government was formed in an age of monarchical empires, it most certainly was a "democracy" in the real world sense if not in an ideal sense.

I think when someone, especially a published writer or politician, uses "democracy," we can still presume that they understand that the Senate represents states, not the people in equal proportions, and that the electoral college isn't purely democratic.

We never hear, "Canada is a Constitutional monarchy, not a democracy!" Why? It's correct, but useless and trivial statement.

In practical terms, they are both among the democratic nations of the world.


  1. Point well made, but I still get annoyed by the constant reference to "democracy" I hear all the time. I suppose that's because so many that use the term seem to think there's some collective wisdom the masses have and that if "the people decide", everything will be hunky dory.

  2. I think that quote was originally a Bircher talking point. It's true given a very idiosyncratic definition of both "republic" and "democracy," but not necessarily true otherwise.

    A "republic," loosely defined, is a non-monarchical government--which could include a direct democracy. And a "democracy," loosely defined, is simply popular government--which can include a representative system.

    Birchers tend to get wrapped around the axle with their house definitions, anyway. Another Bircher talking point I've heard numerous times is that "socialism is the first step toward communism"--which is true only if your definition of "socialism" is based on a Leninist reading of "Critique of the Gotha Program." There were plenty of socialists, historically (Proudhon, Hodgskin, and Tucker come to mind), who did not favor collectivism in any form.