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Is Democracy the Problem?


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Is Democracy the Problem?


FEBRUARY 17, 2016 Ryan McMaken

Back when I taught collegiate political science, one of my pet peeves was the habit of some students to treat republics and democracies as if they were opposites. "The founding fathers wanted a republic, not a democracy," it was often said.

This sentiment, I suspect, has permeated some sectors of the general population thanks to years of usage by mostly conservative writers and talk show hosts who use the two terms for mostly the rhetorical purpose of condemning "too much" democracy.


"Republic" Defined


Historically, however, almost every scholar of politics and history has used the the term "republic" to mean simply a type of regime that is not a monarchy. As I suspect most school children even today learn, the word "republic" merely comes from the Latin for "public thing" or "public affair."Scissors-32x32.png


What Is Democracy?


Nowadays, though, when Americans use the term republic, they often mean "limited democracy." So, in a phrase like "the American founders wanted a republic and not a democracy" the sentiment being expressed is the idea that the US Constitution is designed to limit the excesses of majoritarian rule. This latter sentiment is a historically accurate one, although it would be wrong to say that the "founders" opposed democracy in all its forms. Scissors-32x32.png


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