There is a lot of confusion on the use of the term republic vs democracy. Some confuse one over the other, while others simply thought they are just the same thing.
In the United States, these terms have been a topic of debate and the cause of heated discussion in politics for the past few years.
But if you live in a country outside the US, the term “republic” often gets thrown around with the word “democracy.”
People living outside the US or non-native English speakers do not necessarily put a lot of weight into it. Since both terms are not exactly stated in their pledge of allegiance like the US, it is no longer surprising why they do not dwell on it too much.
With that, we tried our best to explain the difference between democracy and republic as well as why they are often inseparable or labeled similar.
What is a Republic vs Democracy?
To put it simply, a republic is a form of democracy.
The common definition of democracy is
“government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”dictionary.com
That being said, democracy can either be a direct democracy (where policies are decided by them or the people) or representative democracy (where policies are decided by their elected agents or representatives)
Republic is a representative democracy. In a republic government, representatives are elected by the people and the elected representatives are the ones making the decisions, rules, policies, etc.
So differentiating democracy and republic can be misleading.
Given that republic is a form of democracy, it is wrong to box them separately and compare them as if they are in the same category.
Historically, the confusion between these two words stems from centuries ago.
Former President James Madison and the US founding fathers commonly use “democracy” when referring to direct democracy.
That being the case, some people automatically equate direct democracy to the term ‘democracy.’ They also view democracy and republic as independent entities even when they should coincide with each other.
The term comes from the Greek word dēmokratiā, coined from dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”). Democracy literally means rule by the people.
Throughout history, the word democracy has undergone changes and has been used in different contexts.
However, up until now, the main idea and intent behind it remains the same.
Democracy means having a government in which the supreme power is held by the people.
Having a democratic system of government means the people can exercise their power directly or through elected representatives.
The Greek word dēmokratiā remains true, but the way in which people exercise their power now varies from country to country.
Nowadays, the most prevailing form of democracy is through elected representatives. Many countries have adopted this system, allowing the people to exercise their power through voting.
With that, the most basic and universal meaning of democracy today is a government in which the people choose their leader by voting.
As a result, majority rule becomes an integral part of democracy and it has been the pervasive system that facilitates people’s power nowadays.
This alone already proves that the notion of democracy has evolved through time.
Although the people’s power remains as the supreme power, democracy nowadays comes in different forms, models, systems, and so on.
That being said, it is no longer surprising why people view the word “democracy” differently.
Top Democracy Ranking Countries
According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the top democracy ranking countries are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland.
|United States of America||7.96||25|
|Trinidad and Tobago||7.16||43=|
|Papua New Guinea||6.03||74|
Basic Principle of Democracy
The most basic principle of democracy is people’s power. In a democratic government, the people are the ultimate authority and source of power.
But with several notions of democracy cropping up, it is important to identify some of the essential principles shaping a democratic government today.
- Free and fair elections and civic participation
The people should be allowed to vote for their representatives and participate in other forms of civic dialogue.
Since the marginalized are also part of the people’s power, having a system of representation would prevent centralization of power and oppression.
- Rule of law
The powers vested on the representative should be based upon the consent of the governed.
- Political Equality
All people must be free to vote, have easy access to the place of voting, and votes should be given the same weight.
- Economic Security
The people must be guaranteed a minimum level of economic security so that they can continue to be fully active citizens who regularly participate in elections or civic dialogue.
- Natural Rights
The people should be able to exercise their natural rights such as the right to vote, freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement.
- Civil Rights
The people must be guaranteed equal opportunities and protection under the rule of law.
The People do not give power to the government to oppress or abuse. Therefore, constitutions are placed to limit government power and protect the people.
Main Types of Democracy
As we have briefly mentioned, democracy is a form of government in which the people exercise their power directly or through elected representatives.
- Direct or Pure Democracy
It is a form of democracy in which the people decide on policy initiatives directly. Rather than voting for a representative, the people directly vote on issues and other policies. Pure democracy works even without the intermediary of an elected representative.
The people’s power is facilitated by means of direct legislation, either through referendums or initiatives. Such government system is particularly popular among countries with relatively small populations.
- Indirect or Representative Democracy
In contrast to direct democracy, a representative democracy needs to elect a representative or government authority. The core principle of democracy is still present, however, the people exercise their power through their elected representatives.
So rather than directly voting on issues and other policies, the people under this type of democracy vote for an intermediary who would represent them in these issues and other policies instead.
Keep in mind that aside from these two main types of democracy, there are also other types of democracy such as constitutional democracy and monitory democracy.
Constitutional democracy is any democracy that follows a constitution while monitory democracy is centered on modern means voting or polling.
Pillars of democracy
Given that most countries now use representative and constitutional democracy; the power of the government has been divided into three main parts.
The legislative branch is commonly enacting legislation, controlling taxes or government expenses, declaring war, and so on.
It is composed of legislators who can question or scrutinize other government officials about their actions or decisions. Each legislator act based on the general welfare of the people.
In a modern democracy, an executive authority stems from either a presidential or parliamentary system.
The president or the prime minister is primarily responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. They hold the highest position in the government and they are elected or partly elected by the people.
It is a brand of the government that adjudicates legal disputes. The conflict brought before the judiciary can comprise of individuals, corporations, groups, government bodies, and so on.
They are considered the guardians of the constitution and the protector of the citizens’ rights. The judiciary is mainly responsible for the interpretation and application of laws in each case presented to the court.
The fourth pillar of democracy is not included in the main branch of the government because they are usually an independent entity or organization.
It is commonly referred to as the “fourth estate.” Media plays an important role in democracy because they act as the government watchdog.
The press is viewed as the defender of truth and freedom. They helped frame political issues more clearly and promote healthy dialogue between the government and the people.
The republic comes from the Greek word res publica which means the public affair.
In a democratic government, a republic has a representative government, which means the state is ruled by an elected representative voted by the people.
Rather than acting on a policy or issue directly, the people vote and elect government officials to represent them.
Many democratic countries today are considered republic or democratic republic.
In a republic democracy, the people exercise their power through various electoral representation.
For instance, the United States elect their executive branch through the electoral college while the French votes for their president, who would then appoint a prime minister
Keep in mind that both countries are a republic, however, they have a different process of electing their representatives.
Since some democratic countries transition from a monarchy system, the distinguishing factor often associated with a republic government is the election and not hereditary lineage.
For a country to be considered a republic, the head of the state needs to be an elected official.
That being said, even if the country has an acting president, it can never be a republic if its head of the state is not elected by the people.
Any republic country remains true and loyal to democracy. With that, a republic country is also a democratic country.
Types of Republic
Just like democracy, there are also different types of republic.
In relation to that, a country can also run under more than one type of republic. For example, Pakistan is an Islamic federal republic with a multiparty parliamentary system of government.
For easy reference, we have listed the different types of republic as well as listed some examples
- Federal Republic
A type of government system in which some states or regions have some autonomy from the national government.
Example: United States, Germany, and Brazil
- Unitary Republic
A country governed by a single unit with one legislature
Example: Haiti, Malta, and Georgia
- Islamic Republic
A country that values the fundamental core democracy whilst also having a constitution based on Islamic law
Example: Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan
- Presidential Republic
A representative democracy in which the president is considered the head of the nation or state.
Example: Philippines, Mexico, and Venezuela
- Parliamentary Republic
A representative democracy in which the nation is led by the parliament and the prime minister.
Example: Albania, Czech Republic, and Germany
What is the Difference Between an Independent Country and a Republic Country?
An independent country and a republic country is not under the same category.
In a sense, an independent country can also be a republic country and vice versa
To help you understand the difference between the two, let us look at their individual definitions.
- Independent Country
Historically, independent countries stem from colonialism and imperialism. When countries start to self-govern, be autonomous and free from any foreign influence in their government, it becomes an independent country.
- Republic Country
Being a republic country means having a government in which the people exercise their power through elected representatives.
Just by simply looking at the definition of these two terms, you can already see the stark difference between the two.
Independent country is a term used to describe the state of colonialism in a country; while republic country is a term used to describe the government system in a country.
Both are adjectives used to describe a country, however, they serve a different purpose.
That being said, a country can both be an independent and a republic country.
Type of Government the United States Use
The United States is a republic and a democracy at the same time.
As we have established before, republic and democracy often go hand-in-hand.
Separating and putting them in a different box can mislead other people and even ruin the true essence of democracy.
The US is not a direct democracy because it is a representative democracy, or in other words republic.
To be more specific, the US is a federal republic, which means states have some autonomy over the national government.
Despite that, the form of government is still considered a democracy because the people hold the highest power and they are the ones electing their representatives.
What makes the US different from other democratic or republic countries is its two-party system and the way they elect its representative through the electoral college.
When you look at other republic countries, the presidential election is pretty straightforward. They vote for the candidate of their choice and whoever wins gets elected.
But in the case of the US, their founding fathers have made a complex electoral system called the electoral college.
Rather than counting the popular votes, the electoral college instead counts the votes of each state’s electors.
Their electoral system is a complex process so we highly suggest you read more about it here
The important takeaway here is that the US is a federal republic that values the essential principle of democracy.
Purpose of government
The true purpose of a government in a democracy is to safeguard the individual right of its citizen.
The government is created to empower and better the lives of everyone. They are created and elected by the people not just to maintain law and order, but also to be representative of their ideals and beliefs.
We hope we managed to clear up the confusion on republic vs democracy by answering some of your most frequently asked questions such as
- What is a Republic vs Democracy?
- What is the Difference Between an Independent Country and a Republic Country?
- Type of Government the United States Use
- Purpose of government
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