Is the United States a democracy or a republic? Unfortunately, the answer is politically and definitively confusing. Our form of government is both a democracy and a republic. Fortunately, the debate is beginning all over again and it was started by ordinary people who feel that our government is out of control.
Dictionaries contain slightly different definitions of a democracy and a republic. However, most dictionaries agree that a democracy is government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
A republic has two forms and definitions. A republic can be a form of government with an elected president instead of a monarch, or a form of government with an elected president and elected representatives responsible to the people.
Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language brings a democracy and a republic closer together by defining a republic as "a form of government in which the sovereign power is widely vested in the people either directly or through elected representatives."
Cuba's President Fidel Castro, Iraq's President Saddam Hussein and the presidents of many totalitarian governments fit the first definition of a republic. However, they are tyrannical presidents that wield the sovereign power of monarchs.
The United States fits the second description of a republic, which, combined with the definition of a democracy, makes us a republic of representative democracy or what some call a democratic republic.
In the definitions of both a democracy and the second definition of a republic, however, the supreme power is supposed to be widely vested in the people. But in our democratic republic, the power of the people has been compromised by those who have assumed greater powers.
The word "democracy" is not contained in the Constitution, yet it begins with the democratic statement, "We the people of the United States. do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. The only place the word "republic" is mentioned is in Article IV, Section 4. "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government."
Most people think of America as a democracy. However, social, educational and economic powers, and the unbridled growth of government have diluted the meaning. The public education establishment, colleges and universities have revised history. They have demeaned the word "democracy" as being majority rule, "mob rule" and the tyranny of the majority. The academic, political and media elite quietly condemn democracy and endorse the republic as a powerful central government, which must rule over us because we are unsophisticated and too ignorant to decide for themselves.
Indeed, the United States has become weaker on democracy and stronger on a republic of consolidated government power in Washington. Anti-democracy zealots detest majority rule by the people, but they believe in the majority when it comes to electing representatives, and they believe in the majority of those representatives who rule the Congress and state legislatures with laws passed by the majority. Indeed, the word "majority" is used and referred to in the Constitution several times.
Clearly, the irony of our so-called representative democracy has come to fruition. James Madison is considered the "architect" of the Constitution. He proposed a scheme of representation that would control the effects of factions and demagogues. But society is now inundated with factions, and government is controlled by the tyranny of the minority. Of course, the most glaring examples are the dominant Republican and Democratic Party factions, which control elections and government with the "two-party system."
Prior to the adoption of the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation were the laws of the land and they were filled with democracy and the sovereignty of the states. The confusion about democracy stems from the Founders of the Constitution. Madison, Hamilton and Adams argued in favor of federalism as opposed to state power and the "pure (direct) democracy" of ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy. Now, like then, the power of the aristocratic elite frowned upon the sovereign power of the people. And now, like then, they demonize democracy with lies, distortions and half-truths.
Madison and the others followed Plato's negative views on democracy and his positive views on a republic. But those views were elitist and wrong. Thomas Jefferson was considered the architect of the Declaration of Independence, and his dream for America was based upon the direct democracy of 5th century BC Athens, Greece.
Democracy detractors conveniently focus on the extreme violence of ancient times, which were simply uncivilized ways of life throughout the ancient world. But they purposely fail to evaluate the democracy of Athens fairly. The democracy of Athens was much less violent than anywhere else. Athenians built the greatest early civilization with pure democracy. Without the democracy of Athens over 2,500 years ago we would not be enjoying anything remotely like democracy or a democratic republic today.
The "politically correct" and "historical revisionists" have contaminated America with subtle but destructive tyrannies that have seriously damaged our free democratic society. Politicians use the word democracy when they want something from the people, and they use the word republic when they don't.
By definition, a Republican believes in a republic, and a Democrat believes in democracy, which can only lead ordinary people to believe that there is too much hypocrisy, too much power, and too little common sense in government.
Lest we forget, the word "republic" identifies some of the worst of dictatorships, authoritarian and tyrannical governments. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the People's Republic of China are two glaring examples.
And even though the word "democratic" is used by small dictatorships around the globe, "democracy" is nowhere to be found.
Frustration with society and government leaves most people feeling ambivalent or helpless. But we must not forget that the only thing standing between liberty and tyranny is the freedom to participate in democracy. We must use it or run the risk of losing it entirely.
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