There’s a segment of conservatives who like to make the argument: “We’re a republic, not a democracy?”
This is, of course, absurd. Let’s look at the meaning of the two words from Websters:
- Democracy: A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
- Republic: A government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.
So they both are a form of government where the power resides the in people (or citizens) who vote. In a democracy, that may or may not be through representatives, but in a republic it must be through representatives.
Ergo, a republic is a democracy. In fact, it’s impossible to be a republic without being a democracy. By definition, every single republic is a democracy. To say, “We’re a republic, not a democracy” is like saying, “It’s spaghetti, not pasta.”
Now you can be a democracy without being a republic. You can be what’s called a direct or true democracy, where people vote directly on the issues. No country is really a true direct democracy because it would close to impossible to run.
However some states have elements of one. When you vote on ballot propositions, that’s true democracy.
The Swiss are probably as close to direct democracy as we have in the world. They vote four times a year on an average of 15 referendums. But even they still have a parliament and elected representatives.
So practically speaking, when people are talking about a democracy, they’re talking about a republic. No one is confusing it with a direct democracy when they’re talking about one.
But the “not a democracy” crowd feels the need to make this distinction. And it’s just weird. No matter how many times you show them the definition of the word, they just cling to their cognitive dissonance.
So why are they so weird about it?