United States: Republic or Democracy?

There is a lot of debate on this topic, especially in recent years. While some people regard the US as a Democracy, others call it a Republic. What is the difference, and to be honest, why does it matter? So, here are a few points to resolve this question and hopefully paint a clearer picture.

Why is it a Democracy?

The word “Democracy” derives its root from the Greek words “demos” meaning “the common people” and “kratos” meaning “strength or rule” which together became “demokratia” or “popular government”.

Proponents of American democracy pinpoint a few fundamental rules common to democracies. These include “the rule of law, constitutional protections and democratic representations”, which is in accordance with Aristotle’s primary criterion for a democracy.

 

The modern US government has scrapped the limited definitions of pure and direct democracy for an improved and expanded version. Ultimately, “regular free and fair elections open to a country’s citizens of voting age” is the norm of democracy. And this is indeed applicable to America and each of it fifty states. Therefore, under the modern definition of the term democracy, the United States qualifies.

Why is it a Republic?

Advocates of the “Republic” theory define Democracy in its authentic form. Also called “Direct Democracy” or “Pure Democracy”, it involves giving a vote to each citizen instead of having representatives vote and decide on laws etc., and the majority makes the decision.

Although on the local and state level citizens can vote directly on legislation occasionally, like referenda related to legalising marijuana or ballot initiatives involving bond issues. But on the whole, very few things are decided this way. Even the President of the United States is determined by the votes of “electoral representative” rather than the collective votes of the individual citizens.

This straying from the traditional form of democracy in America is the direct result of its founding fathers. The primary concern they had was that in a pure democracy, all the powers of government, legislative, judiciary and executive was in the hand of the legislative body. This concentration of power was practically the definition of a despotic government, with the exception that such a government would have not a single despot but 173 of them. Many saw it as a form of government that advocated “mob rule”, that is, the will of the majority could be thrust over the minority in such a system. Fearing this tyranny of the majority, the founding fathers incorporated a “Constitutional Republic”, where representatives made and administered laws and had their powers limited by a written constitution. Hence, from the viewpoint of being a republic, the United States meets the qualifications.

Ultimately, the US is both a democracy and a republic. It is an evolved form of both, known as a “Representative and Constitutional Democracy”, a term first used by John Adams in 1794.

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