Republic? Democracy? What’s the Difference?

It has become annoyingly commonplace for republics, whether they are the United States or the State of Nevada, to be referred to as democracies, without regard to the meaning of the word or the implications it brings with it.

What is a republic? What is a democracy? And why am I so angered that people use the words interchangeably? I’ll answer the last question first. It is illogical to use two words that mean two different things to mean the same thing. This would be like me using the words orange and apple to mean the same physical object. I would be derided as an idiot and rightly so. This situation is the same in principle to the republic/democracy problem, but the importance of the orange and apple comparison is infinitely smaller.

A republic is a government in which a restricted group of citizens form a political unit, usually under the auspice of a charter, which directs them to elect representatives who will govern the state. Republics, by their very nature, tend to be free polities, not because they are elected by the citizens of the polity, but because they are bound by charters, which limit the responsibilities and powers of the state. The fact that people vote for representatives has nothing to do with making anything free. The logical consistency and rationality of the charter, as well as the willingness of the people to live by it, is what keeps people free.

A democracy is government by the majority. There is still a restricted group of citizens in a democracy, but this group rules directly and personally runs the state. The group may delegate specific tasks to individuals, such as generalships and governorships, but there is no question that the ruling force in a democracy is not a charter (if there even is a charter), but the vote of the majority. Democracies are free only if the people know what freedom is and are consistent in their application of it. If they don’t know this, or more appropriately, if a majority of the people don’t know this, then a democracy could be just as tyrannical as the worst dictator (see Socrates’ forced suicide by the Athenian democracy.)

As should be plain, there is a giant difference between the two systems of government. One of the main fears at the Constitutional Convention of the United States was that the government they created would be too democratic (causing Alexander Hamilton to suggest a restricted monarchy), because it was quite obvious, then and now, that any majority could vote itself anything it wanted, be it property or executions. That is why it irks me so much when politicians (who have no excuse not knowing what kind of government they serve in) and ignorant people say that this country is a democracy; it does a tremendous disservice to all of the people whose thought went into creating our republic.

But the more pernicious effect is that people actually begin to attribute and incorporate tenets of democracies into our republican structure. Things like referendums and ballot initiatives. These are not only irresponsible but entirely illogical. Why should we be making decisions we elect people to make? What legitimacy is gained from getting a majority of voters to pass anything? If 70% of voters vote to ban gay marriage, does that make it right? If 51% of voters vote to ban smoking, does that make it right? If 99.99% vote to redistribute property, does that make it right? The answer to all of these is “NO!” absolutely not. Truth isn’t determined by how many adherents one can get to go along with you. This is why democracy should be fought off wherever it shows its ugly face, it can and will be used to justify anything a majority of voters wants. Theoretically, a majority could vote for selective free speech, or to have certain unpopular people thrown out of the country or killed. There is no law in a democracy except whatever the majority of people say is the law.

Why is it so popular then? Because idiots think they will benefit from having “more of a say in how things work.” True, if you’re in the majority that is. Advocates of democracy are either those who are really advocates of republics and are ignorant of the difference, or they are those who think they will be in the majority and will be able to vote themselves benefits. A quick example would be wealth. Those who admire people like Michael Moore and Ralph Nader would advocate a democracy because then they could steal the money of the rich and give it to themselves (Moore and Nader wouldn’t support such a scheme, because then they would no longer be rich.)

In the long run though, a democracy will always become a tyranny, either by majority, or if the majority screw things up so badly and a tyrant seizes power from the ensuing chaos. The overriding characteristic of democracy is subjectivism and that is its fatal flaw. In other words, reason is irrelevant, whatever the majority wants, it gets and regardless of how unprincipled or objectionable it may be. Rights cannot exist in such a system in the long run because they can be voted away on a whim at any time. So if you’re interested in freedom at all you must cast away an ugly term like democracy and accept that freedom requires reason, objectivity, and law, which can only be satisfied by a republican government.

  • Ebraheem Alsaeed

    You put too much faith in the charter and too much distrust in the opinion of the majority .

  • kelly m

    AMEN.. you said it all.. ..the constitution and bill of rights is what keeps us as a Republic from being taken down the democracy to civil unrest to totalitarian takeover in time of chaos (with homeland security forces). which IS what is happening right now with obummer leading the entire agenda as the UN has in plans for him and our country. We need to get out of the United Nations crap too. no no no no no MORE. I read the saddest most immature responses from people who are CLUELESS as to how our government is supposed to work. They DONT see the difference and often describe our democracy… it boils my blood.. we all have ancestors that have fought for the rights we have… and the blind sheep being led to the slaughter do not see it at all… will actually try to either argue their point ..less and less now.. as obummers scandals are showing the truth in his actions and lack of care for our people and lack of respect for our constitution.. or they will just drop down to name calling or believe the main stream media and obummer about how ANYONE WHO BELIEVES IN OUR CONSTITUTION must be either crazy or some kind of domestic terrorist or what ever other labels he has come up with to try to DISCREDIT people WHO TELL THE TRUTH.

    its nazi germany all over again… go read all about it.. see how it compares.

  • kelly m

    so we should have no faith in our constitution and bill of rights (which neither are dirty words or terroristic flag words like patriot.. which is defined as a person who believes in their form of government.. as obummer and IRS like to tell people to think all these people are bad and have ill intent and are domestic terrorists.. well thats because he defines anyone who does not go along with his totalitarian dictatorship PLAN .. and homeland security has been set up .. brainwashed with education by him, and ARMED TO THE TEETH to shoot us to death if we do not agree.. go along with.. mind his rediculous rules.. gun ban crap.. limit our speech and ideas.. hmmmm and we the people will give away our guns when homeland security and cops and government military give up theirs.. why can we not all just have them and get along.. OH theres that PLAN TO tear down our country and ruin it and take it into a totalitarian / communistic / socialistic.. we are almost there now.. / or DEMOCRACY.. and we will need our weapons to protect ourselves from the big gov coming to drag us off to concentration camps and crazy institutions.. he treats our country like a democracy.. manipulating minds to control the popular vote.. to sway it to what he wants.. . BUT WE HAVE A REPUBLIC people….we can take back the power from the gov to the people when it gets abused like this and TAKEN ILLEGALLY as he illegally avoids obeying our constitutional rules .. it kills me too… i have typed it on blogs before .. having to remind them we live in a republic.. they know no better because main stream media brainwashes them per obummers instruction …thru education and other forms of propaganda .. to not focus on our constitution.. but to put our LEADER the president and our GOV as the ones with all the answers.. NO NO.. its supposed to be MUCH less powerful.. WE can think for ourselves.. AND the agencies he has hired wasting billions and billions of dollars because he does not care about anything related to the way our country is supposed to be run. He only cares about staying on track to ruin us.. that is his goal.. thats it. DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND how majority rule follows no law.. so only the greedy ugly ways of humankind end up winning by majority vote.. LEAVING OUT WHETHER THE MAJORITY IS RIGHT OR WRONG at all! If the majority decides it is okay to murder people for no reason…then it is okay.. (drones).. with NO LAW attached to the process at all.. like proof and a court of law.. capture and detain (NOT INDEFINITELY) but then give them DUE PROCESS..
    I think it is YOU that does NOT understand the dangers of just using the opinion of the majority WITH NO ‘CHARTER’ which is our constitution.. DUH!!

  • Georgios Gkekas

    Very nice article and well articulated. However, I would like to question your theory by posing some questions.

    Who tells me that the elected representatives will defend values like reason, objectivity and law? Aren’t these representatives usually the ones, who under the pressure of the rich and powerful people, take decisions in favour of the last? Believe me, it is much easier to manipulate a charter or a very small bunch of people that the majority. If you have a really good educational system in place, which can teach people the values of freedom and law, then that educated majority will tend to take decisions, which are based on objectivity and natural laws. And if it happens and there is one majority in a country, which does not believe in gay marriage (this is just an example), then let it be that way. Why not? I don’t get why this should not be right? You should let the people decide about their way of life and this is what freedom is about. And who can decide that something is objectively right or not? Where is it written and by which narutal law it abides? Is it OK to pass a law about something, just because it feels more “right” while it makes the majority unhappy on the same time? What kind of freedom is that then?

  • m1

    What if the same majority decided to enslave a very small minority? Should they be allowed to do so? What if they decided to confiscate the possessions of a small minority? What if they decided to kill the members of a small minority?
    Majority rule is a dangerous slippery slope. After all Hitler robbed, enslaved and killed Jews and he was supported by a majority.
    Black people were enslaved for centuries with the consent of a majority of the US population.
    Furthermore, manipulating large sectors of a society is the easiest thing in the world. The larger the group of people, the easier it is to scare them and manipulate them.

  • Ralfine

    The charter cannot regulate everything.
    It might say that people are allowed to marry, but the ruling government will decide whether Jews are allowed to marry non-jews, whether men can marry men, whether muslims are allowed to marry christians, etc.

  • jkirksings

    Republic and democracy are not mutually exclusive, which makes this entire argument pointless. The United States is a democratic republic, or you could say a republic where there the leaders are elected through a democratic process. Democracy comes from the Greek words “demos” and “kratia”, which are “people” and “power”, respectively—meaning that people have a direct influence on their government.The democratic process evolved toward total equality. Democracy assumes the idea of equality, where if you are a person, you deserve to have an equal rights and equal say in the republic, and when that is not true, we have civil rights issues.

  • jbkd

    Mob mentality is a big threat to freedom.

  • BeccaLeigh

    “From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

    The Federalist #10

    Our founders intentionally dismissed the idea of setting up a purely democratic government. The foundation of our system of government is the individual which is in stark contrast to a democracy where collective rights took priority over individual rights and liberties.

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