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  • Is America a Democracy or a Republic?

    According to the Wall Street protesters, American representative government has failed and therefore they are replacing it, “Since we can no longer trust our elected representatives to represent us rather than their large donors,” the Zuccotti Park occupiers explain, “we are creating a microcosm of what democracy really looks like.”

    In order to prevent corruption “from people behind the scenes,” the protester’s democracy allows everyone to participate, speak, and vote in a general assembly, where no decisions are made unless there is a consensus. This decision making process becomes especially silly and tedious when the whole assembly participates in debates over trivial issues, such as, how much money to allocate to the purchase of trash cans: “deliberations dragged on as people offered amendments,” which a Zucotti protester explains, “made it effectively impossible to get the funding they needed”.

    Essentially, Occupy Wall Street has rejected republican self government in favor of a pure democracy: no officers, leaders, or hierarchy, just mob.

    But what is a republic and how is it different from a pure democracy?

    When Americans pledge allegiance to the “flag of the United States of America,” they uphold “the republic for which it stands.” Unlike a democracy in which the citizens themselves pass laws, in a republic such as ours, citizens rule through the representatives they elect.

    The Framers founded a republic because they recognized that mob rule could be just as great a threat to liberty as the rule of a king. Representation, Madison explains in Federalists 63, is “sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.” America’s constitutional framework thereby seeks to protect the people from the dangers of unchecked popular democracy. The people’s representatives, of course, remain ultimately accountable to the people who can vote them out of office as they see fit.

    In everyday speech, people praise democracy as the most just form of government. What they mean by “democracy” is a regime in which free elections regularly take place and a government that protects the rights of all. Understood this way, America is a democracy, or to be more precise, a democratic republic.

    This question was reprinted from Heritage’s new First Principles page at Heritage.org. For more answers to the frequently asked questions check visit http://www.heritage.org/Initiatives/First-Principles/basics.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to Is America a Democracy or a Republic?

    1. DanJ1 says:

      I get into the Democracy vs. Republic argument with Libs all the time. Most recently with two Leftist attorneys, one of whom has argued a case in front of the US Supreme Court. You would think they would know better.

      A great quote attributed to Ben Franklin that seems appropriate in light of the OWS-ers: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”


    2. West Texan says:

      Your article goes to the heart of my earlier comments in a SCOTUS decision making course. We're a dual sovereign democratic republic, where people have a voice in who their state and federal representatives are.

      " … Colegrove v. Green, was rightfully dismissed by the Supreme Court. In his opinion, Justice Frankfurter wrote that reapportionment was best served by the democratic process. …This didn't stop the later Warren Court from ruling in favor of population reapportionment cases. His rational choice being " … one person, one vote". … But Warren and his supporters failed to see the larger qualitative picture of representative government. Not only did they cross over a political barrier, they legitimized the irrationality of mob rule"

      "To reapportion an entity (community) into smaller parts only multiplies that entity's mob power, unintentionally adding to the very problem it tried to solve. Our dual sovereign … form of government was quite capable of giving equal voice to individual voters regardless of demographic disparities. At least that was the plan until judicial activists [social progressives] changed the rules. "

    3. Bobbie says:

      the government of authoritative abuse is ignoring and disengaging the republic by conduct alone! only deceptive, corrupt leadership would govern toward 100% democracy knowing government can abuse their power to snuff out the people and call by one voice from the power of government: of, for and by the people.

      As we experience daily it isn't a good idea to have government in control of our lives and call it "all Americans" in favor when it's a lie and ignorant to "all Americans." The disrespects of the current government needs disciplinary action.

      People in 3rd world countries might not know the dangers of 100% democracy but the leadership of this country does and should respect the fact that we the people, ALSO do!

    4. Sam Sheetz says:

      A recent survey conducted by ABC news in Zuccotti park found that 55% of people polled had not voted in the last election. Maybe that's why they feel so left out. Republican government really does work, but only if people participate. Otherwise they have nothing to complain about….

    5. thelairdjim says:

      This is a sore point for me as well. A republic always incorporates some democracy along with the other basic forms of government, but there's never been a true democracy thank heaven! Of course in the larger sense all governments are democracies, because power derives from the consent of the governed: they get just as bad a government as they'll tolerate. Once the people decide a government is intolerable, it falls–every time. Doesn't matter the form of tyranny, from theocratic monarchies to socialist dictatorships, they always go down once a preponderance of the people decide 'we're not going to take it anymore.' I reckon that's the reason that liberty is always attacked with ignorance. To be free, you need knowledge, authority and responsibility: you have to know there is a choice, you need to right to make it, and you must suffer the consequences of your choice. Deceiving people into believing there is no choice is the best and most effective way to keep them unfree. Witness the education system in the inner cities, telling black kids they're 'acting white' if they study hard. Ignorance is NOT bliss. It's slavery.

    6. lights on says:

      that's what I don't like about democracy in America. It's conveniently separating Americans according to skin color and race while society and celebrities abet individual perceptions of democracy. It will only work under common law not individual laws pertaining to race, creed or culture. That's socialism and massive amounts of other "isms" with no reflection of the founders.

    7. Peter says:

      It is ALSO important to remember that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by on Francis Bellamy — a committed SOCIALIST and cousin of utopian socialist novelist Edward Bellamy. Bellamy was a Christian Socialist[ who, according to a biographer "championed 'the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources, which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.'" but he was forced to leave his Boston church the previous year because of the socialist bent of his sermons. As many of his day and at the time of the founding of the nation, Bellamy used the terms "democracy" and "republic" interchangeably w/o distinction.

    8. Michael says:

      You have completely failed to address the point, which is that politicians and representatives are controlled by big business. You can vote them out, sure, but then you have to vote someone else in who is barely dissimilar. There is no option for getting rid of representatives permanently. There is no option for getting out from under the power of big money, big business, big corporations. To me, there is no ambiguity; if it comes to a conflict between popular democracy and the constitution, the constitution loses. The constitution is a document drawn up by a group of wealthy merchants, lawyers and slave-owners who wanted to maintain and increase their own wealth and power. They were a wealthy class, an elite who wanted to monopolise power. There is nothing sacred about the things they wrote.

      • Charles says:

        Michael is absolutely correct. I have studied, participated in, and taught (at the university level) American politics for thirty one years and, based on that experience and knowledge gained, I conclude that what we have with regard to a political system and what the American people generally believe we have are two very different things. The politicians and the economic elite know better.

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