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  • I can't tell you how many times I have told people we are not a "democracy" but a "republic". *sigh*
    • Why does that matter? No offense, but I've always viewed that as a pedantic point that merely detracts from the argument at hand.

      • by pudge (1) on 2005.05.16 16:26 (#40448) Homepage Journal
        Why does that matter?

        As Madison wrote in Federalist 10, "The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended."

        Basically, he was saying the difference is representation. Of course, today, we mean "representative democracy" when we say "democracy." But are those the only differences?

        To some degree, the difference is a matter of emphasis. My favorite example, because I think it illustrates the difference so elegantly: a Democracy might say that Senators should be popularly elected, but a Republic will say no, there are very good reasons Senators are (were) not popularly elected, and despite it detracting slightly from the democratic power of the people, it is important to maintain that separation.

        One reason for this was given by Madison in #51: the legislature is more powerful than the executive and judicial branches, and one way to moderate this influence -- and thereby render the people more protected from tyranny -- is to make the legislature work against itself, by having the two houses have different modes of operation and election. There's more, but that's just one example to allow the argument to proceed.

        So, in other words, a Republic is free to recognize that the best way to preserve the liberty of the people is sometimes by denying them. A Democracy is more bound to the principle of the voice of the people, instead of the liberty of the people. A Republic still recognizes that the government derives its entire set of powers from the consent of the governed, but it attempts to moderate the influence of the populace for the purposes of stability, preservation of liberty, and so on.

        This difference becomes most evident when people say, "this is the will of the people!" -- such as gay marrage (pro or con :-) -- to support the view that something should happen because the people support it, even if it defies republican principles, which should be predominant.
        • Yeah, as I posted in a follow-up, I was far too hasty in asking that question and I'm rightfully taking my lumps for it. What gets my goat is how often I hear conversation along the following lines:

          Person1: we shouldn't have to put up with XXX in a democracy!
          Person2: we're a republic, not a democracy.

          All too often the latter statement is a knee-jerk comment and sidesteps the actual issue rather than a attempt a legitimate discussion. Ironically, my response was a knee-jerk comment in turn.

          • But I am never one to avoid discussion of Republics when given the chance, so I don't care if you DID post a disclaimer, you opened the door and I stepped in! :-)
          • I actually thought that is what you were referring to but thought I would give you an opening to expand on your thought. : )
          • Yeah, as I posted in a follow-up, I was far too hasty in asking that question and I'm rightfully taking my lumps for it.

            I don't think you should take any lumps for it. That question befuddled me for years. As I noted, I finally understand the distinction people were trying to make, though I'm still not satisfied that Republics are the be-all and end-all answer to the preservation of liberty.

            J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers