Dec 1, 2009

A discussion of republic Vs democracy

From this website.

"Republic. That form of government in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whome those powers are specially delegated.

"Democracy. That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy."

From this website:


The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a Democracy is: Rule by Omnipotent Majority. In a Democracy, The Individual, and any group of Individuals composing any Minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of The Majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.

Direct Democracy:
In the direct type, applicable only to a small number of people as in the little city-states of ancient Greece, or in a New England town-meeting, all of the electorate assemble to debate and decide all government questions, and all decisions are reached by a majority vote (of at least half-plus-one).

In both the Direct type and the Representative type of Democracy, The Majority’s power is absolute and unlimited; its decisions are unappealable under the legal system established to give effect to this form of government. This opens the door to unlimited Tyranny-by-Majority. This was what The Framers of the United States Constitution meant in 1787, in debates in the Federal (framing) Convention, when they condemned the "excesses of democracy" and abuses under any Democracy of the unalienable rights of The Individual by The Majority.


Its purpose is to control The Majority strictly, as well as all others among the people, primarily to protect The Individual’s God-given, unalienable rights and therefore for the protection of the rights of The Minority, of all minorities, and the liberties of people in general. The definition of a Republic is: a constitutionally limited government of the representative type, created by a written Constitution--adopted by the people and changeable (from its original meaning) by them only by its amendment--with its powers divided between three separate Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Here the term "the people" means, of course, the electorate.

John Adams:
"By conventions of representatives, freely, fairly, and proportionately chosen . . . the convention may send out their project of a constitution, to the people in their several towns, counties, or districts, and the people may make the acceptance of it their own act."

James Madison:

"As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government (that of a Republic) presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another." (Emphasis added.)

It is noteworthy here that the above discussion, though brief, is sufficient to indicate the reasons why the label "Republic" has been misapplied in other countries to other and different forms of government throughout history. It has been greatly misunderstood and widely misused--for example as long ago as the time of Plato, when he wrote his celebrated volume, The Republic; in which he did not discuss anything governmental even remotely resembling--having essential characteristics of--a genuine Republic.

*OK, now I'm talking again.*

So, I think, in doing my reading (which I did back in my freshman year at BYU as well as in my Constitution class in 8th grade... but back then I think my brain was half-formed and only vaguely understood enough to get good test scores) I realize that I do not want a direct democracy. And never have.

But I think I have also realized that a lot of people misunderstand our government. They talk about it (libertarians in particular)being an "other." "Government taking over." "Government infringing upon our rights." Well, I understand that now, in a sense, because with a republic-form of government we have created something (the constitution) that is supposed to be the golden rule upon which all else hangs (we need to follow laws created by the legislative gov't. We need to abide by the rulings of the Judicial system. We need to obey executive powers, or expect consequences if we don't.)

SO is government really other? Or is it US? I realize nobody is alive now that signed the constitution. So you could effectively say that none of us alive have agreed to this implied agreement upon which our government is based.

What we should realize, though, is that we have slid a bit from the first picture that Madison had of government. The Madison compromise was the first bit. Madison wanted a true representative republic: the actual population represented proportionately in government. But the large, more-sparsely populated southern states were, of course, not OK with this... they felt themselves at a disadvantage if the legislators were chosen in proportion to population, and wouldn't effectively represent all states' rights, and if the state's rights were to be upheld, then there should be a governing body that equally represented each.

So, already, we have a contrived element to our government that has nothing to do with actual people, but instead an entity known as State.

This is not necessarily bad. But it's something to think about.

One of the biggest elements of our constitution was the resolution that the state's legislative bodies would elect our national representatives: senators, specifically, while congressmen were elected by the populous. This changed at the beginning of the 20th century, when the right to elect senators was passed on to the people in the state, to elect through majority. Thus, moving us closer to the idea of democracy as opposed to the Republic. Here's an article on how this happened and why.

Because Congressmen were already elected by the people, this made it so that our entire legislative body was elected by the people.

Our national judicial system is not representative... basically, we elect our president who will select the supreme court judges. So we're still a step removed from a more direct-democracy approach, there.

Our national executive branch is an interesting thing. The people don't directly elect the president. When we vote in the primaries, we directly narrow down the presidential candidates to two, who run against each other. But when it comes to the national election, the nationwide vote translates into electoral votes. These electoral votes are cast by the "electoral college", who are selected either by the state legislature or randomly (each state has its own system). Depending on the state, these electorate may not even have to vote the way the state itself has voted. Though a lot of states have changed that now because the populace gets upset (another example of our our republic system has shifted to a more representative-democratic system.)

The president selects his own cabinet, which makes up the rest of the executive branch. So this is a more republic aspect of our current system: the President, who the people halfway directly and halfway indirectly elect, is a representative who then appoints the rest of the executive branch.

The interesting thing about all of this, is that our government was formed four hundred years ago, when most people were not educated enough to know the information and understand what they would need to, to participate productively in the system. So all these Republican protections, eg, having the populous elect representatives instead of directly deciding who is in our government, may be somewhat unnecessary.

Of course there are lots of people out there who are apathetic, and those who are a tad crazy, and those who would like to promote their own, narrow interests as they decide who to elect. But in the end, aren't all these factions supposed to balance each other out in favor of what the majority would wish (assuming the majority of the population participates?) That's the beauty of democracy.

There is a scripture in the Book Of Mormon that says exactly how I feel about government:

Mosiah 29:

26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

When you read this chapter of scripture, you realize that Mosiah was also describing a system of electing representatives that then create law. Specifically, he was addressing the issue of Judges. Which, when you think about it, makes sense, because a judicial system governed by only the majority voice is a scary thing. Think what would happen to people like OJ Simpson and Charles Manson if the undefined majority (as opposed to a jury, selected by a judge and panel, who are elected by the people) sentenced them. Justice would not be served... it would be more like vengeance.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Figuring out what the beef I have with our current system is... because i feel like it's not nearly representative enough, but I'm not yet sure in what way. Just a vague but also powerful feeling that I need to put into actual political theory, just for my own benefit.


Steve said...

Very good post. I wish most people had your understanding!

Interesting note about how today's populace versus the general population from 400 years ago. I'm not so sure today's understands government and the discussion you present here anymore than they would have 400 years ago. Sure, there are more people informed now due to shear numbers AND the fact women and minorities and non-landowners can and are involved, but as you pointed out, most people don't realize that we are a republic, not a direct democracy and get wrapped up in 'freedom' jargon and all the BS pundits on TV that aren't any more intelligent or informed than most of us that pay an average amount of attention. To be honest, I'd much rather had been involved in politics years ago than today, where it seems to be more and more dumbed down and about scaring the voters into action instead of using facts and old fashioned debate.

Putz said...

nice history LESSON....give me a test and see if i can pass with the understanding you are a democrat....what happens when the president makes a decision that is against his platform????like last night????read my blog, PLEASE, i am so upset...will i ever get over the disappointment of being let down, betrayed....only with a theocracy whould i be hapopy and you did not talk about that in your blog...nothing politically is going right for me right now amnd yet the person who i voted for is in power.....i know i am very onesided and all that you talk about in your history lesson is for the majority of the people and i am certainly not with the majority...i is a putz, and i do want things my way as i idicated in my blog that so far has been crucified by anon...i love your fam, and especially yopur two newest daughters but many would hate them and muslims and others in the name of personnal preference

Nathan and Rebecca Scott said...

Nice post. I think a lot of people don't understand that we are a republic, not a democracy, and what that means.

I also would say that states rights are very important though because the state is closer to the people than the national government. Most problems are best solved on a local level rather than a national one. This is more efficient and helps tailor solutions to the needs of individual areas and communities. The states help break the nation into some such smaller areas for governance.

States rights were important when the founding fathers wrote the constitution as well. In fact, they were very concerned about the possibility of creating a government that was too centralized and powerful as many European countries had. They were so concerned about this that their first attempt at government for the U.S., the Articles of Confederation, failed because they did not give the central government enough power. There needs to be enough power in the central government to hold a country together and perform needed functions such as national security.

However, the constitution was still built to limit the federal government, since the founders were truly concerned about the consequences of it becoming too powerful. Over time they knew that political power would gravitate to the central government, and they sought to prevent that. They did not want the U.S. to become like Europe. That is why they included the tenth amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

NoSurfGirl said...

yes... that's one thing that Skywalker and I have frequent debates/discussions about. What you have described (more power to the states, and the local governments, because it's more efficient to run government from the "ground up", so to speak... where most issues are focused on at as local a level as possible, and each new level of overarching government becomes less and less structured with less vested powers over the people) is a libertarian veiwpoint.

A lot of people don't realize that the democrats and republicans are equally bad about limiting the federal government's powers, and equally bad about spending... each party just has its own issues it would like to write laws and spend money about.

I am honestly not sure what my viewpoint is. I feel there are problems with what we have become, but also problems with the libertarian viewpoint, as we are now a much more global, connected society and there are so many social, financial, and political transactions that cross communitites and states that we need more regulation overall. In fact, I was arguing just last night (to skywalker) that I think that states and communities almost have nothing to do with it at this point... communities have become global entities that geography has absolutely nothing to do with. Right now I'm a part of several communities: my own blogging community, which has several "regulars" and friends included, but also some who stop by less frequently, and some who just come once.

I'm a part of a homeschooling community, that spans several of the cities in the area I live in.

I'm a part of the Mormon Online community, which incorporates a constellation of very popular and less popular websites, as well as personal blogs.

I'm a part of a facebook community, which is a strange little microcosm in and of itself.

And of course, my family. Which spans several states as well (and at times, countries and continents, too.)

We're not nearly as community-oriented anymore, and so, to me, it makes less sense to have the main legislation be at the community level. WE're just not connected enough with our physical neighbors and communities to care, really. And that's sad.

Skywalker argues this came about BECAUSE of our current political system... I think it's just a natural shift that happened, starting with people moving to the cities during the Industrial revolution or moving to the suburbs and commuting to the cities for work.

Anyway, it's an interesting thing to think about... where should governmental power lie today? Stronger states? Stronger city governments? Or the national government? Or maybe something even more out-of-the ordinary... maybe online communities or activity-based communities should have the governmental power. HOw wierd and vague would that be.

Where do you think power should lie? I know what most of you will answer (since a lot of you guys are libertarian sympathisers), but I'm not sure I agree.

Steve said...

I guess I'd say it depends. I'm in favor of a strong REPUBLIC, where laws and regulations are created to allow for equal playing fields and prevent 'mob rule' that strips any minority of their civil liberties. For the most part, that relates to social issues. However, we also need clear and defined federal economic policies to keep the system going, which would have prevented this latest mess.

Nathan and Rebecca Scott said...

I definitely know that democrats and republicans are both acting badly with the spending and limiting federal power right now. Neither party seems to be listening very well to their constitutes either. They mostly seem to me to be playing political games and such.

But I still believe problems are best solved within local communities. Even other organizations and communities show this is true. You have named a few yourself. The LDS church is a good example of this principle (though there are many others). The church is made up of many varies smaller communities within itself. President Monson heads the church, but under him there are other apostles and general authorities. The church is further divided into areas, regions, stakes, wards, and branches. Then there are other organizations such as the Elders' Quorum, High Priests, Relief Society, Primary, Young Womens, and Young Mens. Then there are families and the individuals that make up those families. If someone has a problem that needs to be taken care of, he/she doesn't go directly to President Monson. He/she doesn't even go to the stake president! First he/she would go to whatever lowest/most local level makes sense. Perhaps it could be resolved within his/her own family. If not, maybe he/she goes to the RS or EQ president. Or maybe he/she goes and talks to the bishop, depending on the problem. If none of that works, then it might move up to higher authorities. But otherwise, it is taken care of at a more "local" level without ever having to trouble higher levels of authority. Can you imagine if everyone went directly to the First Presidency for every problem? Talk about inefficient...

This could be applied to a business too. If an employee has an issue, they go his/her manager first. If that manager can't fix it, he/she goes to the next up, etc.

This same idea applies to local communities too I think. The federal government cannot be expected to handle everyone's problems. It is too much. And it doesn't make sense. The problems a rural Wyoming town has are not the same problems that New York City has. And it doesn't make sense for the federal government to blanket regulate things that are going to vary a great deal in a given community. For example, to me it does not make a lot of sense for there to be a federal minimum wage. What works as a minimum wage in that rural Wyoming town would not work in New York city because the costs of living in those two places are vastly different. Therefore, it would make more sense for those the state of Wyoming and the Stake of New York to set their own minimum wage limits based on the needs of those respective areas.

Of course, as you have pointed out, not everyone will be equally involved in the community. But then, not all members of facebook are equally involved in facebook. Not all family members of a family participate equally in family activities. Not all members of a church participate equally in the church either. Yet, in each case, that doesn't mean less active members aren't still a part of that community. And, as members, they are still subject to the rules of that community as well. Furthermore, if they want something changed, they are equally able to follow through the proper authorities to try to change something.

Sorry I am writing such long comments! Man! In any case, I am trying to figure out how I feel about some of this stuff too, and so far these things make the most sense to me...

Tracy said...

Dustin (Tracy's husband) said...

I think when people in today's society worry about "the government taking my rights away," what they are worried about are politicians who were elected by the majority passing laws that the majority agrees with (at least in theory), but affecting everyone, including the minority.

I should like to point out that the Founding Fathers, specifically, James Madison, had two major concerns: (1) the infringement on the rights of the people by a governing body consisting of a person or group of persons with little or no accountability to the people (think the whole reason behind the American Revolution) and (2) the infringement on the rights of the people in the minority by the will of the majority.

As useful as a fully democratic government might have been (logistical issues aside) in preventing the first, it would have easily lead to the second. Madison's solution: Leave most of the power with local governments. Let people make most of the decisions within their own communities (where true democratic processes are more feasible), and limit the power of the central government to enact laws and regulations (usually, notably, favored by the majority) on everybody (including the minority).

It's not a perfect solution, of course. But it is the best they-or anybody today, I expect-could come up with.

This is the central idea behind the Constitution and, more explicitly, laid out in the Tenth Amendment, which very clearly delegates to the individual States all powers not specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution.

For example, if the people of Utah want to outlaw goatees, that's their prerogative. They cannot, however, have any say in whether or not the people in Kansas should outlaw goatees. Even if all 49 of the other states individually decided they don't like goatees, and elect congressmen and senators who are in favor of a national ban on goatees, such a ban would be unconstitutional, as regulating facial hair is not a power delegated to the federal government in the constitution. The good people of Kansas would be able to live happily knowing that their small, pointy soup-catchers are still perfectly legal in their state.

Now, whether or not the majority in Utah have the right to do that to the goatee sporting minority in their own state is an issue that should be addressed by Utah's state constitution. Ideally, I think it should be left to the individual communities
to decide what types of beards are unacceptable, if any at all. The smaller the units making these decisions, the less likely a minority is going to be forced into something they disagree with.

This opens the door more readily to the principle taught by King Mosiah, leaving communities responsible for there own decisions (and resulting destruction, if that's what God decides to do), instead of laying that responsibility at the feet of a centralized government (or king; see vs. 30-36).

The Book of Mormon doesn't exactly give details as to how the Nephite government worked, but I believe this was the principle they followed, given the various examples of different iniquitous cities (Ammonihah?) destroyed by God, without that destruction carrying over to the whole nation.

Sherpa said...

Okay, here's my two cents:

We are both a democracy and a republic. We aren't one or the other. For some reason, there's a group of people who are totally convinced we are a republic but not a democracy. They get hung up on the definition of a true democracy, and want to declare from the heavens that we're not a democracy. The thing is, there's more than one definition of democracy, and our form of government is a representative democracy which is also a republic. If you look at the definitions of both words, including the latin and greek roots of the words, you'll find that well,we're both. I could bring up several other points, but well..that's enough.
The founding fathers were afraid of mob rule or pure democracy. So they put in a system in check that protected from pure democracy. However, the system put in place by the founding fathers...well it's a form of democracy. If you read what they say, and study how close republic and democracy are, you'll see that what they created was a type of democracy....that allows for state rights, etc. etc. etc.

Tiger Woods said...

Right you are. Don't tell this to President Benson. He was very convinced that we were only a republic. That and democrats are of the devil.

Hannah said...

This is exactly what my husband and I discussed after our chat at the park the other day, when you said you liked the idea of pure democracy. It is clear in the Book of Mormon that it was a republic with democratic processes because there were judges and set laws that allowed for basic liberties. However, a democracy (vote) was used to determine the people's desires. A republic is "the rule of law." As LDS people, we believe that God is law (justice) and Jesus Christ is our Saviour and mediator (mercy). Thus, we need a blend of justice and mercy or none of us imperfect souls would be saved.

I believe that a republic and democracy blend is the BEST way to keep our civilization going the longest ... but not eternally since we are not yet celestial. God's will was for this country to stand for freedom long enough to get the restored gospel up and running and moved throughout the Earth ... the gospel is ALMOST in every country. Maybe that's all that is necessary? I'm not sure any earthly form of government is perfect.

BTW, I'm not saying that a republic represents God and that a democracy represents Christ. That might be a little blasphemous! I am just saying that compromise can be a good thing if the two things balance each other out and are one in purpose. The Constitution is meant to protect those basic rights no matter how cRaZy the majority of the people become. The democratic process is to help us have some mobility within the bounds of those laws. Gratefully, we were able to use that process to help blacks get equal rights.

There have to be fixed set laws so that we have some standard, otherwise we are all lost because the world always goes through fads and new ways of thinking. We'll be like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand if we have no sure foundation and shift with the whims of the people. We need some standard to hold to that can not be altered.

I hope that made sense. I'm going to bed! LOL!

Steve said...

Dustin - But what happens if I grow a goatee and visit Utah? Will I or should I be locked up? Isn't that local community then infringing on my Constitutional right to grow one! The federal system is also there to prevent local communities from doing anything too illegal. Although, there are state court systems which this would fall into and eventually, pentending enough appeals and the Supreme Court's willingness to hear the case, reach Federal jurisdiction, which is how and why we have Federal acceptance of abortion in certain instances, as an example of how the 'majority' doesn't get their way.

Nathan or Rebecca - What you are describing are soviets! The way communism worked, in theory, was each local community had it's local elected officials, the soviet. These local groups fed into regional ones which fed into the national one. This chain of command was referred to a union, thus the Soviet Union! Again, this was all in theory, but is essentially the tenants of communism (ie implementing the will of the masses locally). Our government is far removed from that system due to federalism. Both systems have their pros and cons, but it sure sounds like the Church (never thought about it before) is more communist than republic! ;-)

Nathan and Rebecca Scott said...

Steve - I am no expert on the Soviet Union, but it seems to me there have been many non-communist and non-socialist systems that have existed under this basic structure. I would hardly call a business or the LDS church communist communities.

I suppose this structure could be used for either freedom or oppression, if you simply are referring to the level at which problems are solved. An oppressive leader or ruling body can still send out people under him/her to take care of problems on more local levels and silence opposition or dissent (as more or less has occurred in many communist countries). Or, a system with laws guaranteeing individual rights (such as freedom to own property, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, etc.) and allowing for democratic processes and open debate will allow for the same type of structure to work among a free people.

From what I do know, I don't even think that the theory you describe is in actuality how the Soviet Union worked. That may have been the theory, but what real choice did did the people have in their elected officials when only one party was legal? And what freedom did they have to choose their own views when secret police were constantly on the lookout for dissent from the party's views?

As for this nation, the structure I described earlier alone does not bring people the liberties they enjoy here. Obviously, rights set forth in the constitution and other checks and balances in the system also come into play. It is still not a perfect system, but it is the best I know of.

Steve said...

Nate/Rebecca (still don't know who is posting! :)) - I didn't mean it as a slight against your comment, sorry. I was just inferring, as you do also point out, that a system in of itself does not make for ensuring freedoms and civil liberties. You are correct that under the Soviet system, it was more theory than actuality due to the other issues you pointed out. Although, the Communist Party in the USSR abandoned communism as early as 1922, but I digress. :) I think we all agree that our system is far from perfect, but the best anyone has yet really figured out. Although, I tend to favor European models such as what Germany has with coalitions, which also has several limitations. Regardless, the current political environment with today's Democrats and Republicans isn't doing any of us any favors with trying to protect our rights. We spend so much time talking about inane things and trying to win talking points on tv instead of what is important.

NoSurfGirl said...

And a big AMEN to that last sentence especially, Steve!!!

You guys have all given me some good new reading directions. I now need to read up on libertarian philosophy, the founding fathers and democracy and republic as equal perticipants in our founding (thanks Sherpa) Soviet theory and German coalitions.

Personally, Steve and Rebecca/Scott, I'm kind of Jealous of France's method of electing a president. What would it take to do that here?

Anonymous said...
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Tracy said...

Dustin says...


Two things: What you're saying does happen. In Montana, it is legal to drive as fast as you want during daylight hours on major rural freeways. In Illinios, you typically can't drive faster than 65. If a Montanan speeds in Illinios, he might not get locked up, but he will get the ticket. Is Illinois violating his/her right to drive as fast as he deems safe? People visiting different localities here in the U.S. are expected to obey the laws of the community they are in, provided those laws are constitutional.

Which brings us to the second point: Driving fast (or having a goatee), in my understanding, is not a constitutionally protected right. Freedom of speech, the right to bear arms (whatever you may interpret that to mean), etc, are. While a judge may try throw out such a law for being just plain stupid, the constitution doesn't give him the power to do so unless he can find something in the constitution that it goes against.

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