Social Question

starshine's avatar

How do you define democracy? Do you believe the United States is a Democracy?

Asked by starshine (576points) March 3rd, 2010

I am taking political Science in college this semester, and my professor keeps saying that the United States is a democracy, it might be democratic now, but it was set up as a republic originally. Why has it changed? She (my professor) frustrates me to no end! How can you study and teach political science and not know the origins of your own country?!
—what I am asking:
Do think the US is currently a repubilc or a democracy?
Why do you think this?
How do you define Democracy?—
Maybe I am being old fashioned or something, I don’t know, but I pay to learn things that are true, not some normative garbage.

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35 Answers

davidbetterman's avatar

Democracy is rule by the mob…The US is a Republic.

Steve_A's avatar

“It’s a democratic republic. Pure democracy requires a vote on everything. In a republic the citizens elect representatives to speak for them.”


ragingloli's avatar

Democracy is a general form of government where the people, either directly or indirectly via election of representatives by the people, decide the politics of the country. A republic is a form of democracy. Your professor is right.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

See davidbetterman’s answer :)

Blackberry's avatar

According to wiki, they are the same with variations, a republic being more of a representative democracy, as opposed to direct democracy, but it says democracy can also be a representative democracy. So it looks like it doesnt even matter anyways because they both don’t have a monarch. Does it really even matter(that is a serious question)?

starshine's avatar

yes, @Blackberry , it does. A republic is supposed to be a government which focuses on the individual, while in a democracy it is more of a majority rules type thing. If an angry mob wanted to take your house in a democracy, if enough people voted to take it away from you, you would lose it. But hopefully, in a republic there would be support for you as an individual.

ragingloli's avatar

“A republic is supposed to be a government which focuses on the individual”
I have no idea where you got that from…

davidbetterman's avatar

Although wiki defines a Republic as a Democracy it really isn’t. The Roman Republic was not a Democracy, and the US Republic is not a Democracy, even if they portend it to be so.

Steve_A's avatar

I think in this case democratic republic and republic have the same meaning.

“In contemporary usage, the term democracy refers to a government chosen by the people, whether it is direct or representative.[71] The term republic has many different meanings, but today often refers to a representative democracy with an elected head of state, such as a president, serving for a limited term, in contrast to states with a hereditary monarch as a head of state, even if these states also are representative democracies with an elected or appointed head of government such as a prime minister.[72]
The Founding Fathers of the United States rarely praised and often criticized democracy, which in their time tended to specifically mean direct democracy; James Madison argued, especially in The Federalist No. 10, that what distinguished a democracy from a republic was that the former became weaker as it got larger and suffered more violently from the effects of faction, whereas a republic could get stronger as it got larger and combats faction by its very structure.
What was critical to American values, John Adams insisted,[73] was that the government be “bound by fixed laws, which the people have a voice in making, and a right to defend.” As Benjamin Franklin was exiting after writing the U.S. constitution, a woman asked him Sir, what have you given us?. He replied A republic ma’am, if you can keep it[74]”

If America was a true democracy as it says above it would be crazy really!

U.S. is at heart a republic

A republic is a form of government in which the head of state is not a monarch[1] and the people (or at least a part of its people)[2] have an impact on its government.[3][4] The word “republic” is derived from the Latin phrase res publica, which can be translated as “a public affair”.
Both modern and ancient republics vary widely in their ideology and composition. The most common definition of a republic is a state without a monarch.[5] In republics such as the United States and France the executive is legitimated both by a constitution and by popular suffrage. In the United States, James Madison defined republic in terms of representative democracy as opposed to direct democracy[6], and this usage is still employed by many viewing themselves as “republicans”.[7] In modern political science, republicanism refers to a specific ideology that is based on civic virtue and is considered distinct from ideologies such as liberalism.[8]
Most often a republic is a sovereign country, but there are also subnational entities that are referred to as republics. For instance, Article IV of the Constitution of the United States “guarantee[s] to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government.”[9] The Soviet Union was a single nation composed of distinct and legally sovereign Soviet Socialist Republics.
Niccolò Machiavelli described the governance and foundation of the ideal republic in his work Discourses on Livy. These writings, as well as those of his contemporaries such as Leonardo Bruni, are the foundation of the ideology political scientists call republicanism.[10][11] – Wikipedia.

PacificRimjob's avatar

It’s supposed to be a democratic republic.

Recently it seems more and more like a monarchy as Obama does everything he can to grow the executive branch.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Whatever it is… It’s Broken

ragingloli's avatar

The USA however is only a democracy on paper. Practically, the representatives people can vote for are provided and decided on by the corporate elite. Probability of successful election is directly proportional to the amount of campaign funding you receive from the corporate elite and the political support you receive from the corporate media, a circumstance reinforced by the recent decision by the US supreme court.
The US is a corporate oligarchy.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The US is a Capitalist Republic in contrast to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic.

Much of what various levels of government do is done without the direct support of the populace.

Mayors, Governors and Presidents can give orders that are carried out without any ratification by elected officials, let alone votes by the general public.

Steve_A's avatar

@ragingloli I wish I could say no to that…...

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

The only place I know of that uses a directly democratic system within the United States is Nantucket, MA, where a town meeting is held several times a year. People debate over proposed ideas/laws and a majority vote decides them.

Having had to endure one of these town meetings I’m personally glad the whole country doesn’t work like that.

suncatnin's avatar

Just remember the saying: the more you learn, the more you realize how much there is that you do not know. If you already knew all the answers, then you wouldn’t be in the class.

At the origins of our country, not all individuals even had the right to vote, so I do not see how you could call it a ‘democracy.’ If you take the definition of a democracy as being a system in which all individuals are free and equal under the law, then we certainly did not have a democracy. You had to be a land-owning white male 21 years of age or older (the elite) to even vote for whom would represent you. Even then, you did not vote on every single issue, from the creation of roads and schools to declarations of war. Enfranchisement slowly extended over the course of ~200 years, with Jacksonian democracy removing the land ownership requirement in the 1820s, the 15th Amendment post-Civil War removing the racial limitation (on paper), the 19th Amendment removing the sex limitation in 1920, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that actually extended voting rights to non-white citizens, and the 26th Amendment in 1971 that lowered/standardized the voting age to 18. Even today, however, not all citizens of age can vote. Many felons are stripped of their voting rights, and in Virginia and Kentucky, those rights can only be restored individually by decree of the governor.

A republic is still a system in which the people have an impact on the government. It might be helpful for you to explain how you think a republic differs from a democracy. James Madison, a prominent Founding Father, described our country as a republic, which he defined as being a representative democracy. We elect people to represent us, but we do not vote on individual issues ourselves. Our country is too large and complex to handle the minutia individually, so we elect people who make it their full-time job to make these decisions for us.

starshine's avatar

@suncatnin actually its a required class…ifI had the choice I wouldn’t be in it.

suncatnin's avatar

@starshine So does that mean that you think you know all the answers already? You’re in college to learn new things (at least that is the purpose of college if not the reason you are there). It’s not a question of whether or not you want to be in the class though I think that all individuals should know about the country in which they live but whether or not you feel that the information being conveyed is accurate. What evidence did the professor offer in support of her claim that our country was a republic?

From my perspective, our country was not a democracy at its founding, but it has been a progression in the direction of democratic ideals (at least in terms of extending voting rights for a representative democracy, not direct democracy) over the course of more than 200 years.

Disclaimer: All of my post-baccalaureate work has been in Public Policy/Public Administration, so we’ve spent a lot of time studying the U.S. government’s history and evolution, but I still don’t know everything there is to know about the structure.

starshine's avatar

She didn’t say that it was ever a republic, she doesn’t even give us the option of discussing republics, which is why I hate her class. Everything is a democracy with her! She doesn’t provide accurate information and she’s a feminist democrat that I have a few choice words for.

TehRoflMobile's avatar

We are supposed to be a democratic republic. That is how we were set up. Corporations and money have changed what we are now.

suncatnin's avatar

@starshine From your original question, it seemed as though she was saying that our country is a democracy/democratic now but started as a republic: ”my professor keeps saying that the United States is a democracy, it might be democratic now, but it was set up as a republic originally.” So what you are actually saying is that she says it’s always been a democracy and not a republic?

I don’t see why being a feminist has any bearing on whether someone thinks the country is a democracy or a republic (and as @TehRoflMobile stated, it’s not as if they are mutually exclusive terms as long as one is talking in terms of representative democracies).

starshine's avatar

That sentence was kind of a mix of my own personal feelings and things that she has vocalized. I guess feminism doesnt really have anything to do with it, but it adds to me not liking her.

Cruiser's avatar

Isn’t this the 3rd time this week this was discussed?? The US is a Republic already!!

ragingloli's avatar

If you are, as I assume, a woman, let me remind you that you would not be at any university if it were not for those pesky feminists.

starshine's avatar

@Cruiser I just joined last night, I wouldn’t know if had or hadnt been discussed already.
and you know what @ragingloli , I wouldn’t have to much of a problem with that, it would save me money! I know some good has come from feminists, but I disagree with a lot of what they are pushing for. I don’t want to be a man! It seems to me like that is what some of the more looney feminists are pushing for.

Cruiser's avatar

@starshine That is what the search engine here is for…..lots of good questions with many more good answers! Welcome aboard!

suncatnin's avatar

@starshine The feminism topic is getting a bit off of your original intent of the question. You haven’t actually addressed comments on the democratic republic or that Madison, a Founding Father, defined a republic as a representative democracy. I do agree with @ragingloli ‘s earlier comment: what is your basis for thinking that the republic is about the individual? The state is a formalized society around the social contract, a la Locke and Rousseau, which puts the common good over the individual’s interest. Eminent Domain and similar concepts in other nations (Compulsory Purchase is a similar term) is a concept which shows that our current system values the common good over individual interests.

However, I do think you may benefit from doing a bit of research to understand more of what feminisms are actually about and what our/their impacts have been and our/their ongoing goals are.

davidbetterman's avatar

“Madison, a Founding Father, defined a republic as a representative democracy.”

He may have defined it as such, but it certainly does not now actually worked as such.
The representatives of the people represent only themselves and their money interests backing them.
To pretend any different is to parrot meaningless claptrap and then stick your head in the sand and pray for the best.

ChaosCross's avatar

Nope, technically it is a republic because democracies must completely wage the opinions of everyone in it.

suncatnin's avatar

@davidbetterman Madison warned of the dangers of interest groups/factions in Federalist 10, but it was hoped that active participation of the populace would reduce the impact of a small minority on the majority and that plurality would prevent a tyrannous majority from forming. It was his belief that a large republic would be less swayed by these interest groups than a small republic or a democracy would be.

Unfortunately, Madison’s vision seems to have fallen by the wayside with the rise of moneyed interests. I was primarily talking about what Madison’s vision had been as opposed to what the reality is. Reich, Dahlgren, and others talk of the balance of our consumer and citizen selves. We have allowed our self-interest and consumer interests to overpower our responsibilities as citizens, which means that we have not been an active citizenry that would be able to work to protect society from these special interests. Our quest for cheap goods works against efforts to strengthen environmental laws, labor laws, and sustainable growth. We chase the quick and easy dollar in the stock market and have built our society up on fake money (credit), only to watch bubble after bubble pop in the past 3 years.

The blame is not just on special interests but on ourselves for giving corporations this power and voting with our dollars.

davidbetterman's avatar

@suncatnin I watched how the US citizens did nothing when JFK was assassinated and they were fed the lies from the Warren Commission. As the 60s progressed, no one stood up against the evil that was taking ove the nation..MLK, and Bobby also getting blown away.
Except the kids. The students and the hippies (who were not the raggedy stinky funny haired guys people call hippies today) got together and forced the end to the war in Vietnam.
Unfortunately those people grew up and bought into the system and lost the drive to keep their world a better place.
It is up to the youth of today to make the same thing happen, and they are so lost in virtual reality and video games that I fear this will never come to pass. So just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Althogh I don’t agree with this, the motto of today’s active citizenry is “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

filmfann's avatar

It is a Republic, which is a form of Democracy.

mattbrowne's avatar

Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.—Aristotle

Yes, the USA is a democracy and like all democracies in this world it’s not perfect.

SavoirFaire's avatar

The word “democracy,” in its broadest sense, refers to any state in which sovereignty ultimately rests in the citizenry. The most common forms are direct democracy, in which governmental decisions are voted on by the citizenry as a whole, and representative democracy, in which the citizenry elects a subset of itself to make governmental decisions.

The word “republic,” in its broadest sense, refers to any non-monarchical state. The more common usage, however, refers to a non-monarchical government in which governmental decisions are made by a representative body. This representative body need not be elected by the people, and so it need not be a democracy.

A democratic republic is a form of representative democracy in which the head of state is elected by the citizenry. In this way, it satisfies the definitions of both a democracy and a republic (a rather unsurprising fact). The United States is quite definitively a democratic republic, and was always intended to be exactly that. Indeed, many of the Founders used the words “democracy” and “republic” interchangeably when referring to the United States in their letters because they understood the country to be both: a democratic republic.

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