Defining democracy and republicanism

I’d agree, if I didn’t think democracy lost long, long ago, if it ever was a thing in the first place, in this country. Remember, our “democracy” was initially founded on protecting ONLY the rights of landed, white men ^^’ . That’s a large part of why it’s a republic, not a democracy, in fact.


That’s meaningless. If you are not a democracy you are not a republic in modern usage.

In ancient usage both the Greeks (democracy) and Romans (republic) enslaved people and had aristocratic classes.


Republic in the modern sense means that there isn’t a monarchy or empire. Democracy means that people have a vote, that can be direct democracy (the people vote on everything, not used in many places on a large scale) or representative democracy (the people vote for representatives who vote on everything, like in the USA). For example, Great Britain is a democracy but not a republic while The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is what is technically called a lie as it is neither a democracy or a republic.

Trumpists and a lot of other Republicans are neither republicans or democrats any more.


By the definitions of the terms, yes, we ARE a republic (with some democratic mechanisms and trappings), and very much NOT a democracy, of itself. I don’t see the point of quibbling about it, frankly; the meanings are quite clear.

Furthermore, it’s pretty hard to deny the clear fact that it’s not very democratic, to set up your government very carefully and specifically to deny power to minorities, people whom don’t own land, women, and pretty much anybody whom isn’t relatively wealthy. What did you think the Electoral College was originally for? And do you really think things have changed all that much, since then…?

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Technically, the United Kingdom (hint) is not a democracy, it is a “constitutional monarchy”. In a democracy, the sovereign is “the people” but in a monarchy it is the monarch (i.e., Queen Elizabeth II).

The Brits have a very long parliamentary tradition even though their constitution is largely unwritten. There are certain limits on the monarch’s powers and, by convention, the monarch invariably goes along with whatever the parliament decides, but at the end of the day the monarch – and not the people – is still the formal source of all legal authority.

By contrast, in a democracy “the people” make their own laws either directly or by means of electing representatives who then get to legislate or govern on behalf of “the people”. Unlike monarchies, many democracies (incidentally not, for example, the UK) maintain a formal “separation of powers” where the legislature, administration, and judiciary are independent of each other and exercise control via a system of “checks and balances”.

As an illustration, if the UK parliament (a body only partly elected by the people) passes a new law, it doesn’t become official until the Queen signs off on it – which according to convention she invariably does, but the theory that all laws come from the monarch (acting “on the advice” of the government) is being maintained. OTOH, if Congress (a body elected by the people) passes a new law in the USA, it doesn’t become official until the President (an official elected, albeit indirectly, by the people) signs off on it – but (as we have recently seen) there is the constitutional option for POTUS to refuse to do this, and for Congress to override such a veto under certain circumstances; all of these entities derive their power from “the people”.


If there was any “monarchy” left in that “constitutional monarchy” the UK would probably still be in the EU.


It is an established principle of UK constitutional law that it is Parliament that is sovereign, not the monarch alone (Parliament technically includes the monarch). For example, the Queen cannot enact legislation on her own, except in instances where she (which in practice means a government minister) has been explicitly granted powers to do so by Parliament. (This isn’t a case of “she could but she chooses not to”: she does not have the legal power to do so.)


True, but that doesn’t make the UK a democracy (because the sovereign still isn’t “the people”). Still a monarchy.

No it’s a democracy but not a republic. The US is a republic and like all other republics on the planet it’s a democracy. A republic is a democracy without established religion or royalty.


“Republic” means “not a monarchy”. “Democracy” means “the people decide”. In the UK, the people get to vote for the House of Commons, but they don’t get to decide who the monarch is or who gets to be in the House of Lords. There are some democratic elements in how the UK is run, but the UK is not a democracy, it’s a “parliamentary constitutional monarchy”.

You could theoretically have a state where a governing council is formed by selecting 10 people from the general adult population at random. This would be a republic (because it is not a monarchy) but not a democracy (because the people have no input on who the rulers are).

Incidentally, not every republic on the planet is a democracy in the sense that the people actually get to make the decisions – many are borderline autocracies that run elections to keep up appearances but arrange for the desired results (think Belarus or the former GDR, which had “Democratic” and “Republic” in its name but wasn’t run as an actual democracy).

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Sure and the Democratic People’s Republic of Kampuchea was not a democracy, not a republic, not in Kampuchea etc.

If you are not a democracy you are not a republic. You may have some funny definition but that’s not the generally accepted one. The UK is a democratic state. So is the US. So are many monarchies like Denmark, Sweden etc. The UK is not a republic because it has a monarchy and also an established religion.


You are aware that there are many forms of democracy, and constitutional monarchy and sortition are considered to be among them?


It’s starting to sound a lot like the “Catholics aren’t really Christian” arguments.


I think these two definitions are defensible:

Democracy: a polity in which power is distributed without regard to class (in its most generic sense)-- all have an equal say in how things are run.

Republic: a system of government based on the proposition that no one class of persons can wield dictatorial control over the decisions of the polity.

In one sense, they are completely compatible, in another sense they are polar opposites. It depends on whether one fears the “mob”.

Appreciate the split; thanks!


“Defining Democracy and Republicanism”

They’re antonyms.

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Hm. Just a thought or two, to add to what you’re saying here:

It strikes me that a democracy in our modern parlance is less a specific form of government itself, and a specific kind of practice for choosing our governments that is now the generally commonly accepted global standard for doing so. As such it can be part of many different distinct kinds of governments, from republics, to constitutional monarchies, etc, etc. Even known actual anti-democratic governments often have a fig leaf of democratic practices to justify their rule (Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc).

It also strikes me that in actual practice, there is no pure form of government of any kind that completely adheres to what people have theorized on paper. Real life is messy, and as a result, our governments are hardly pure examples of whatever kind of system they represent.


Perhaps so – it’s a good argument – but given your examples, I’d say we’re pretty far into “fig leaf” territory, at the moment.

It seems to me that the argument that the “golden age” of civil rights in the US was an aberration, not the normal state of affairs going forward, was fundamentally correct. I really hope I’m wrong, but it’s very difficult to be optimistic.

Just a few months ago the civil rights of LGBTQ people were recognized on the federal level. Just a few years ago the right to marry was made law.