The Volokh Conspiracy

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The U.S. Is Both a Republic and a Democracy

Don't just take it from me; take it from the Framers and other early American statesmen: "Democracy" has long included representative democracy as well as direct democracy, and "Republic" was used to refer to regimes that were not representative.

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[I thought I'd repost this item of mine from several years ago, since I keep seeing the issue come up.]

[1.] I often hear people argue (often quite militantly) that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. But that's a false dichotomy. A common definition of "republic" is, to quote the American Heritage Dictionary, "A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them"—we are that. A common definition of "democracy" is, "Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives"—we are that, too.

The United States is not a direct democracy, in the sense of a country in which laws (and other government decisions) are made predominantly by majority vote. Some lawmaking is done this way, on the state and local levels, but it's only a tiny fraction of all lawmaking. But we are a representative democracy, which is a form of democracy.

[2.] And the same two meanings of "democracy" (sometimes direct democracy, sometimes popular self-government more generally) existed at the founding of the republic as well. Some framing-era commentators made arguments that distinguished "democracy" and "republic"; see, for instance, the Federalist (No. 10), as well as other numbers of the Federalist papers. But even in that era, "representative democracy" was understood as a form of democracy, alongside "pure democracy": John Adams used the term "representative democracy" in 1794; so did Noah Webster in 1785; so did St. George Tucker in his 1803 edition of Blackstone; so did Thomas Jefferson in 1815. Tucker's Blackstone likewise uses "democracy" to describe a representative democracy, even when the qualifier "representative" is omitted.

Likewise, James Wilson, one of the main drafters of the Constitution and one of the first Supreme Court justices, defended the Constitution in 1787 by speaking of the three forms of government being the "monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical," and said that in a democracy the sovereign power is "inherent in the people, and is either exercised by themselves or by their representatives." Chief Justice John Marshall—who helped lead the fight in the 1788 Virginia Convention for ratifying the U.S. Constitution—likewise defended the Constitution in that convention by describing it as implementing "democracy" (as opposed to "despotism"), and without the need to even add the qualifier "representative."

Sir William Blackstone, who was much read and admired by the framers, likewise used "democracy" to include republics: "Baron Montesquieu lays it down, that luxury is necessary in monarchies, as in France; but ruinous to democracies, as in Holland. With regard therefore to England, whose government is compounded of both species, it may still be a dubious question, how far private luxury is a public evil …." Holland was of course a republic, and England was compounded of monarchy and government by elected representatives; Blackstone was thus labeling such government by elected representatives as a form of "democrac[y]."

The same is so today. America is a democracy, in that it's not a monarchy or a dictatorship. (Some people claim it is too oligarchic, in which case they'd say America isn't democratic enough—but again they'd be distinguishing democracy from oligarchy.) America is not a direct democracy, but a representative democracy is a form of democracy.

[3.] And the Framers didn't just refer to representative government as democratic—they referred to direct democracy as a republic.

One way to get at this is to ask: What is the first nation that you think of that the Framers would likely have called a "Republic"? What is the most famous historical Republic, indeed the one that gave us the word "Republic"?

Why, the Roman Republic, of course, which The Federalist and many others discussed as a republic. And yet in the Roman Republic, there was no representative legislature.

The Senate (which wasn't elected or representative) did have considerable interpretive and advisory authority, and the elected praetors could interpret the law in important ways. But the laws themselves were made by direct vote of the citizens (or just by the plebeians), in the comitia centuriata, the comitia tributa or the concilium plebis. (If someone suggests that the Senate was Rome's elected representative legislature, you can point out that it was not elected, not representative, and not a legislature.)

Roman lawmaking was thus direct lawmaking, though with a voting system that heavily favored the rich, not representative lawmaking. The laws had to be proposed by a magistrate, such as a consul or a tribune of the plebs, so it wasn't precisely like an American initiative. But the laws didn't have to first be passed by some elected legislative body first (again, remember that there were no elective legislative bodies); in principle, they just had to be proposed by one elected magistrate—such as one of the 10 tribunes of the plebs—and enacted by popular vote in the assembly. You can think of it as something between the modern American referendum and the modern American initiative. But it was direct popular lawmaking, not representative lawmaking.

And the Framers routinely called Rome a republic—indeed, they labeled Athens a republic, even though Golden Age Athens famously involved direct democracy. Hamilton in Federalist No. 6 states that "Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage were all republics." Hamilton in Federalist No. 34 specifically talked about the Roman legislative assemblies, yet called Rome a republic. Federalist No. 63, generally attributed to Madison, labeled Rome as an example of a "long-lived republic." (Profs. Akhil Amar and Rob Natelson have written more extensively on this.)

[4.] Today, "republican" does tend to refer more to representative systems, but "democratic" often refers to following the will of the people, whether through direct democracy or representative democracy—the precise meaning differs depending on the context. If you're asking whether to do something by direct ballot or by representative processes, you might ask whether we should be more democratic or more republican. If you're asking whether China would be better off giving more power to Chinese voters, you might ask whether it should be more democratic or less democratic, quite apart from whether you think the democracy should be direct or representative.

To be sure, in addition to being a representative democracy, the United States is also a constitutional democracy, in which courts restrain in some measure the democratic will. And the United States is therefore also a constitutional republic. Indeed, the United States might be labeled a constitutional federal representative democracy.

But where one word is used, with all the oversimplification that this necessary entails, "democracy" and "republic" both work. Indeed, since direct democracy—again, a government in which all or most laws are made by direct popular vote—would be impractical given the number and complexity of laws that pretty much any state or national government is expected to enact, it's unsurprising that the qualifier "representative" would often be omitted. Practically speaking, representative democracy is the only democracy that's around at any state or national level. (State and even national referenda are sometimes used, but only for a very small part of the state's or nation's lawmaking.)

There are lots of arguments that could be had about how our system of government should be structured: whether it should be more or less or differently democratic; whether it should include more or fewer aspects of direct democracy; whether it should have more requirements for supermajoritarian action (such as constitutional constraints, or the filibuster, or what have you); which levels of government (federal, state, or local) should have more or less power; and much more. But claiming that we're a republic and not a democracy (or a democracy and not a republic) strikes me as inconsistent both with modern usage and with how the leading lights of the Framing Era and early Republic generally treated the terms.

NEXT: The Right to Defy Criminal Demands: Negligence and the Estranged Spouse's Criminal Demands

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  1. New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!

    1. Of course, the brightest lawyer in the country is too stupid to see the self evident. We are a chaotic competition of families of plutocrats competing for power. Democracy and Repubic are thin masking ideologies. The representatives put out for votes of both electorate and officials are preselected and represent the interests of the oligarchic groups. Reagan was Cali real estate. Clinton was Tyson Chicken. Obama was Soros. Bush was the Texas oil people who kicked the ass of his competitor, Saddam who was the Tacriti oil people. Trump was Trump. Trump had to go. Biden is Silicon Valley. Their media hype of the virus destroyed the economy to get rid of their competitor Trump. They did.

      Hitler was 20 families who held his every belief, down to reliance on astrology. One invested $5000 in his campaign, and reaped $millions in government contracts. They hanged a bunch of Nazi functionaries. These families that caused the war and all that destruction were immunized and recruited to restart the German economy. It is maddening.

      They are smarter than Volokh who is like a sheltered child and a naïve bookworm.

      Because they cannot be outsmarted, only assassination can stop them. Do not drop a bomb on Xi if he invades Taiwan. Send the drones after his sponsors to end the conflict.

      1. It should become a new doctrine of intelligent war. Stop killing peasants and working people who only want to return to their families, and back to work. Start killing the oligarchs who control these governments.

        1. Some of Hitler's families lived in the US, of course. This is shocking but well documented from archives released after the fall of East Germany. They did very well in WWII.

          1. What’s shocking about it? I seem to recall reading about one family member who hated cousin Adolf. Just because someone in your family is a bad person does not make you a bad person.

            1. I was not referring to the family of Adolf Hitler. He was a mere fungible figurehead, I was referring to the 20 families that funded and put Hitler in power. They were not relatives. Some were American. Relatives of despots should be welcome here, since they may be victims as well

              1. Link to the 20 families that sponsored Hitler?

        2. Why are the people in government always absolved of their sins?

      2. Behar is, of course, particularly nuts, but I do especially like the 'we need a billionaire real estate developer who literally lives in a country club he owns to defeat plutocracy' argument!

        1. Queenie, you are delusionally in denial of the chromosomal genome in every human cell of your body. That is quite ill.

          1. No answer, huh nutjob?

        2. Queenie said, "I do especially like the 'we need a billionaire real estate developer who literally lives in a country club he owns to defeat plutocracy' argument!"

          This is the deep understanding of half the country that supported Trump, and that still thinks he really won the election. Queenie is dismissive because it is an academic and a Democrat. Perhaps, this half was right, since the country is deeply suffering from the policies of the progressive wing of the Democrat party.

  2. I disagree - and I don't have to be a 'republic, not a democracy' nutter to do so. The change that occured after the Revolution that was most significant to our history is that the founders - all of them - rejected monarchy. And replaced it with a republic. The republic turned out to be rule without a king, and with democratic elements. But the new nation was a republic first, and a 'democracy' second.

    It was not democratic to the many slaves, or to the half of the republic that were women, or even to all other free male citizens. If you asked in academia today, they would certainly say that in the first hundred years and more of the new nation, it was, in fact, not a democracy. So how could it be a democracy from the start if the 'republic, not a democracy' right and the entire body of the left says otherwise?

    The new republic had democratic elements, certainly - that was always intended. But it was demonstrably not what we, today call a democracy. To attempt to do so now is disingenuous at best.

    1. If you asked in academia today, they would certainly say that in the first hundred years and more of the new nation, it was, in fact, not a democracy.

      I don't think that's right. Academics remain quite content to call Athens a democracy, and it was even more restrictive on who could vote.

      1. I'd defend him by noting that, while that was certainly the case formerly, would you be shocked if academics started denying that America was a democracy prior to the 15th amendment, or maybe the 19th? A lot of settled history and terminology has been overturned for ideological reasons, and I don't think that process has finished yet.

        1. Ideological reasons? Why not for reasons of correctness or precision? After all, a 'democracy' where the large majority of persons have no say is not much of one. It's a funny thing with conservatives how what they defend is any challenge to what is 'well settled' rather than what is correct.

          1. There, see? That's the rationalization. Never mind that the state that invented Democracy never let more than a small percentage of the population vote, so like heck it's "precision" to deny that a country that let a larger percentage vote isn't one.

            1. Uh, yeah that's the rationalization, you'd like to call something what it clearly ain't based on the fact that the Greeks said it was. You don't go by that logic when the Democratic Republic of the Congo or whatever does it. You like 'well settled' over correct.

          2. Are you saying that in America that “the large majority of persons have no say”? Because that’s not true.

            If you’re talking about America prior to 1920 it probably is. I’m not clear on what you mean.

            1. "If you’re talking about America prior to 1920 it probably is. "

              I meant this. I think we're clearly a democracy now. For most of our history though, not so much.

            2. Because it was in reply to this in the start of the thread: "The new republic had democratic elements, certainly - that was always intended. But it was demonstrably not what we, today call a democracy. "

              Our new republic was an important step towards democracy, but a democracy at the time it wasn't.

              And Brett's idea of 'well the Greeks invented the concept so their version of it must fulfill it' is wrong. Jefferson, channeling Locke, did much the same for equal rights, but the nation he helped bring about and oversee wasn't that (though it is has come far in becoming it). We don't have to define democracy by Greek practice anymore than we do equal rights by practice at the Founding.

              1. Ok. Makes sense.

              2. You mean democratic apologists could claim true democracy has never been tried, so communists are off base criticizing it?

                1. Communism is anti-capitalist I thought. No formal reason why it couldn't be democratic.
                  The incentives would be hilariously perverse, of course.

                  I think of democracy as partially a perfecting process. Most would agree we're not quite there yet.

                2. As I said below I think we're about there now so I'm not sure what you're doing with this comment.

        2. It depends on whether people are talking about how democratic a society is versus whether it is a democracy.

          I do think there is some semantic overlap, but context makes it clear when one is up versus the other.

        3. I'll note that Athen's Democracy voted to force Socrates to drink poison because of insufficient religious devotion, it's hardly a guarantee of enlightenment.

          I just happen to be in Athens now.

  3. We often fall behind the changes in words and what they mean, for instance the meaning of 'woke.'
    Just as a monarchy is a country ruled by a monarch, the newest definition of democracy is a country ruled by Democrats. So of course any election of Republicans or Libertarians is a threat to democracy.
    Try to keep up.

    1. I dunno but that sounds a lot like INsuRexshUNs to me.

    2. Bingo. And the most worrisome thing is that our institutions with the power of force and the gun also believe that.

      Because they are filled with Democrats.

      1. And Democrats, in general, are evil evil people. Top to bottom.

        1. I wonder if what makes them evil is a tendency to engage in dehumanizing general denunciations of those opposed to them?

          1. No, what makes them evil is their tendency towards vile tyranny and oppression of others.

  4. The United States is not a direct democracy, in the sense of a country in which laws (and other government decisions) are made predominantly by majority vote.

    Professor, I'm going to quibble and say your "majority" should instead be "direct"-- citizens voting directly on legislative issues, without delegating the task to representatives.

    Although you may not mean it this way, "majority" here seems to imply "simple majority", which doesn't seem correct.

    1. Fair point, I'll correct this, thanks!

  5. Actually, we have three forms of government: we're a republic, a democracy, and a bureaucracy (the "administrative state"). Some would say that the bureaucracy is by far the more far-reaching.

    1. The bureaucracy is controlled by the republic/democracy, so, no.

      1. "bureaucracy is controlled by the republic/democracy"

        You poor naive child.

        1. You poor, misled child.

          A favorite victimization narrative among many conservatives is the bureaucracy rules. They think this because our Executive and Legislative branches, who have all the power in the world to direct the bureaucracy, don't do so as much as and when they'd like. But that just means what the bureaucracy does is generally broadly popular (or at least popular enough to resist change in our system).

          1. "means what the bureaucracy does is generally broadly popular"

            So silly. Hardly anyone pays attention to the bureaucracy.

            The political branch control is illusory as well.

          2. I'll second Bob's "naive" label. You clearly have no experience in the system and aren't paying very close attention. It might simply be your ideological glasses, though.

            Based on your comments it's clear you're totally cool with an unelected bureaucracy accumulating unconstitutional authority over all the things as long as they keep wearing those Net Neutrality hats and incarcerating the correct political prisoners.

            Let's up that to "incredibly naive", actually. But hey, keep waving those pompoms.

            1. You're just parroting what the right wing media tells you. Executives control the bureaucracy all the time (when a new one comes in look at the changes in regulation and focus) and Congress can not only change the directing principles but also specific regulations. Your complaint is they don't change regulations you want them to change more. Waah. That doesn't mean they're in control, that means the regulations are popular enough in our democracy.

            2. No, you folks are ignorant; being fed deep state conspiracies.

              Political appointees and Senate confirmation (not all political appointees are senate confirmed) are an extraordinary amount of the administrative staff in the US, compared to say the UK. (https://theconversation.com/dominic-cummings-wants-to-add-more-political-appointees-to-the-civil-service-heres-why-thats-a-problem-129097)

              These political appointees are not only chosen by the elected President (and often approved by the elected Senate), they serve at the pleasure of the President, and we have seen the President may order them to do things (though SCOTUS seems more skeptical when this happens, that has not appeared in opinions, only dicta)

              Add to that the public notice and comment aspect of rulemaking, and the idea of an insulated and unaccountable beurocracy is more narrative than truth.

              1. So sayeth the bureaucrat.

                Its in your interest to pretend this is true.

                1. If you have a factual issue, make the case.

                  Just going ad hom is lame as hell.

                  1. You are biased on the specific issue being discussed, that is not an ad hominum.

                    They don't teach about conflicts of interest in bureaucrat training?

          3. Have you not heard of an independent agency?

            There's something like 30 or more of them. Many of them law-making.

            They are accountable to no one. No one.

            1. They're run by people appointed by the Executive and subject do judicial policing along the directing principle of the legislature.

              1. When those bureaucrats at the VA killed those vets by putting them on secret waitlists for greedy capitalist money bonuses, how were they held accountable?

                Did they:

                a.) have to give back their bonuses and were fired or charged
                b.) keep their bonuses and were fired or charged
                c.) keep their bonuses and keep their jobs

                What do you think happened to a Federal Class civil servant who literally killed people by denying them healthcare?

          4. Not sure what else you would call what happened in the Supreme Court just last week, except a clash between the bureaucracy and the people. Sure had the force of a law, even if they didn't call it that.

            1. Uh, you do get the bureaucracy was denied what it wanted to do there, right? Some rule.

              1. Moreover, that wasn't "the bureaucracy" anyway; it was at the elected official Biden's direct instruction.

                1. You're missing the point. It's not about who asked them to do it, it's about how the agency went about it. They issued an ETS, completely blowing through what anyone ever envisaged what the agency was allowed to do. They defined their own scope.

                  1. They tried to claim *statutory* authority (in other words invoking the Legislature's authority), some control. And they were slapped down by the court! Again, some control.

              2. Sure, it was a "clash" that the bureaucracy lost, but that sure doesn't change the nature of the parties involved and what they were trying to do.

            2. ...Are you calling the Supreme Court the champion of the people? Because that's an interesting view of how institutional incentives work.

              Also, too, who told OSHA to do what it did? Was that guy elected by the people?

              1. On the biggest issue in the country thepresident can dicate a reg.

                That only leaves 70,000 to 95,000 other pages of the federal register.

                Plus agency enforcement of a million pages of existing regs.

                1. The President can dictate whatever reg he wants. Though it's not good practice to.

                  There are plenty of non-political parts of our political structure. I don't see how this one is uniquely bad, especially given the constant Congressional oversight.
                  Check out an appropriations bill some time. Lots and lots of Congressional oversight all over administrative functions!

                  But then, you also think the Supreme Court should be stripped of the power of judicial review, so you're just an outlier.

                  1. Unless you're an independent agency funded independently via fees or automatic budgeting.

                    1. Like the Federal Reserve. Like the Consumer Finance Bureau.

    2. But a bureaucracy is not a government but is rather a tool of government. The power to make laws is in the hands of elected officials, at the local, state and national levels.
      Those who make the laws then hand those laws off to the bureaucracy to implement. While it may appear to be same making regulations are not really the same as laws and are made by a very different process using delegated authority.

      What bureaucracy do also is shield law makers. Allowing them to evade their own responsibility for the unpopular parts of laws they themselves created.

      1. "making regulations are not really the same as laws"

        The people in prison for violating a regulation might differ with you.

        1. Like a person who runs a Stop sign, plows into another car and kills a family. He is not prosecuted for not following a regulation, the Stop sign. They are prosecuted for manslaughter or murder. People are prosecuted for the laws broken when they broke a regulation.

          1. When the BATF issued a regulation that bump stocks were illegal, based on a law that hadn't changed one bit since they were telling everybody they were legal, guess what: Violating that regulation was a felony.

            1. Again, the regulation defines the bump stock as making the gun a machine gun (automatic weapon) and it is the law against machine guns under which you would be prosecuted, not the regulation.

              By the way, anyone ever charged with a felony for using a bump stock?

              1. "and it is the law against machine guns under which you would be prosecuted, not the regulation."

                If a regulation can turn innocent conduct into a crime, it's a bit dubious claiming that the regulation doesn't have the force of law. As a practical matter, regulatory agencies can take legal conduct, and make it illegal. That they purport to be interpreting actual laws when they do so doesn't change that they're making laws for all practical purposes.

                Especially in the bumpstock case, where the notion that the regulation was honestly interpreting the law is a joke.

                "By the way, anyone ever charged with a felony for using a bump stock?"

                Not that I'm aware of. The only case I'm aware of where somebody even might have used a bump stock in a crime was that Las Vegas shooting, and he certainly wasn't charged with anything, being dead. I don't think it was even established that he used that particular gun during the crime.

          2. Moderation, it took me a double-take to understand what you meant, but it's an interesting point.

      2. No, it's not (just) a tool. Not so long as there is an entire court system for administrative law, nor when an agency suddenly wakes up one morning and decides it can dictate the hiring policies of 84 million people just on its own say-so, no discussion (nor authorization!) allowed.

        1. It is a tool.
          Duly enacted by Congress to implement the policies they set forth under procedures specified by Congress.

          1. Well, yes, we're all talking about a metaphor, so precision is going to evade us. However, the problem with using the metaphor of a tool is that it utterly fails to capture the expanding nature of what these agencies are attempting to do. A tool is usually something that performs "a" function, the function defined at the time the tool was created. But this "tool" defines its function for itself.

            Again, not to push too hard on the verbiage, but I don't think this particular metaphor is really all that apt.

            1. Agencies work within a pretty restrictive budget that Congress gives them, alongside authorization statutes that Congress rewrites more than you'd think, even when they don't include a sunset clause.

              And that doesn't count the appointees that come from the political branches.

              This is not a tool defining it's own function. Congress is right there. As someone in one of those agencies, I can tell you Congress says something, we jump.
              And they do - new studies, new programs, do this outreach, etc. etc.

              Plus OMB (i.e. the White House) has us repealing and creating regs all the time. We do science, so OSTP (also the White House) also has lots to say to us.

        2. I mean, that's clearly not what happened; no agency "woke up one morning and decided" anything. Biden told them to do this.

          1. Yes, of course, Biden "told" them to do this, but that's not really the point of this discussion. What we're walking around is the idea of an agency deciding on its own what it scope is.

            1. You mean Chevron? You think Chevron - the idea that an agency is the expert in the statute it is charge with administering and not some court - is where we leave the realm of democracy?

              There are lots and lots of checks on administrative agencies - authorities, appropriations, appointees, OMB, White House, and internal controls like the IG and GAO.

              If you don't trust agencies, you're in good company in America.

            2. They were told to decide their authority by an elected Executive!

  6. For a non-academic take on this question, let's look at contemporary usage for a clue to what democratic republic means:

    • People's Democratic Republic of Algeria
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo
    • Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
    • Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
    • Democratic People's Republic of Korea
    • Lao People's Democratic Republic
    • Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal

    Being counted with these is not the highest of aspirations.

    1. You could add German Democratic Republic. It was widely observed during the Cold War that countries with "Democratic" in the name weren't.

    2. Yes, it's famously been said that no government that has "Democratic" in its name is ever democratic. If you are, you don't need it in your name.

      1. Most of those titles had Republic in there as well...

        1. If you've got all three in your name, it's basically the same as admitting to be a dictatorship.

          1. I mean, why single out the Democratic? Most of those had 'Republic' in there as well.

            1. Most countries actually have Republic in their name. (Google it if you don't believe me). Republic is very common, not just among dictatorships but also among democracies. Like France or Germany (both officially republics in their name. The "French Republic" or "Federal Republic of Germany" )

    3. Sir Humphrey Appleby : East Yemen, isn't that a democracy?

      Sir Richard Wharton : Its full name is the Peoples' Democratic Republic of East Yemen.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby : Ah I see, so it's a communist dictatorship.

    4. Well, hard to say much based on names. The Kingdoms of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United) s well as the United Kingdom aren't really that kingdomy.

      1. Not that hard, Professor. The name is a pretty strong clue. 🙂

    5. It shows the brand of the term republic is strong!

  7. Now do the difference between a federation and a nation.

    1. Or a union of sovereign states, like the USA was intended to be.

      1. Boy, has that ship sailed! Last seen in 1865.

      2. Dalton, the passive voice is wrecking your historical perspective. Tell us who you think did that intending, and look it up before you do.

        You will discover that among the founders it was a small, annoying minority who advocated what you say. They reaped influence beyond their numbers because they had power to bottleneck ratification after deliberations, and to sabotage the legitimacy of the Convention with a noisy walkout before then, which some threatened to do.

        The principle they defended was not anything to do with the structure of government. It was defense of their own personal political prerogatives, which the Articles of Confederation had magnified to an outlandish extent—which is to say advocates of a union of sovereign states demanded reassertion insofar as they could get away with it of the very political ailments the Constitution had been called to correct. And they did so, as Madison correctly said afterward, with a reason to cherish and preserve their personal political power.

        In the ensuring debates, names as historically imposing as Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Morris, Washington, and Wilson, stood against history's pipsqueak saboteurs—a list of self-interested names almost no American would recognize. Put those names together in a list, and present that list to high school history teachers nationwide, and few teachers indeed—except maybe in Delaware, where Dickinson is somewhat remembered—would have any inkling who they were, or what happenstance had brought the list together.

        Powerful levers can do considerable damage if used carelessly. The Convention's saboteurs did accomplish that damage. That is what we have to remember them for, and it has proved an enduring legacy.

        The Convention was in significant measure crippled from the start by the voting principle of 1 vote per state, left over from the Articles of Confederation. The nation struggles against that still, but thankfully not as painfully as it struggled during the Civil War. Pray that ordeal is not repeated.

        1. "Tell us who you think did that intending"

          The States were the entities that ratified the Constitution and delegated certain limited powers to the General Government. Several of the States even mentioned offhand in their ratification documents that they of course reserved the right to reassume those powers.

          1. M L, as it says in its first three words, the Constitution, once ratified, is a decree of the sovereign People as a whole. The states are legally subordinate, as the Constitution's Supremacy Clause says explicitly.

            Imaginary re-inventions of incontrovertible facts are popular, but not mainstream. For some, they flatter a historically mistaken notion that somehow self-serving insistence on minority control over the majority is high principle. Reiteration of that nonsense does not improve it, nor does singing it in chorus.

            1. Oops, you forgot the next four words. It wasn't the people of "America" (which includes two continents by the way) or the people of a singular United States who ratified the constitution. It was the people of the plural States who, acting through their States, ratified the Constitution and delegated certain limited powers from the States to the General Government.

              1. M L, you are a lover of repetition. I will join you. Reiteration of that nonsense does not improve it, nor does singing it in chorus.

                You create a contradiction when you say this:

                It was the people of the plural States who, acting through their States, ratified the Constitution and delegated certain limited powers from the States to the General Government.

                Were that true, there would be no mechanism in American constitutionalism to vindicate personal rights. The notion of popular sovereignty (not jammed-together state-delegated sovereignty) becomes especially important when there is need to empower individuals to stay the hand of government. To accomplish that, a power greater than government's must be continuously active. Obviously, such power is not a normal attribute of any one person. It is the popular sovereign which holds that power to overawe government, and which acts against government to defend personal rights.

                If that were not so, citizens with rights would be frustrated by a contradiction which anyone can see at a glance. Governments, state or federal, are rights infringers. There is scarcely any other source of infringement. People do not typically hold rights against parties other than governments, except perhaps contractually. It is a contradiction (or if you prefer, a conflict of interest) to suppose that a government can at the same time be the chief defender of your rights, and the chief infringer of them.

                The rights do not come though a roundabout journey from the states, to the federal government, to you, to be defended by the federal government. That does not happen.

                What does happen is that the popular sovereign uses its constitutive power to decree governments, to specify and limit their powers, to decree rights for its citizens, and when necessary, to defend those rights on behalf of the citizens.

      3. It was, of course, not "intended" to be any such thing. Apparently you missed the repudiation of the Articles of Confederation.

  8. Whether we are a democracy or a republic depends on whether one is speaking Greek or Latin, since "democracy" is Greek for republic, and "republic" is Latin for democracy.

    Republic -- res (thing) publica (people). The people's thing.
    Democracy --- demos (people) kratika (rule) The people rule.

    Maybe not a precise translation, but close enough for government work.

    1. But the Greek implies that the people are the rulers themselves... they ARE the thing. Whereas a republic simply implies that the thing is responsive to the people... the thing can be separate from but yields to the people.

      Or is there some linguistic reason this may not be?

      1. As I understand the Latin, it means the people own the thing. Not just that it's responsive to them, but they actually own it.

        1. But the point would remain that it is still not them... but a thing separate of them. Right?

          Whereas democracy means that the people ARE the thing (the rulers themselves.

          1. No, the thing is the polity, and the polity is owned by the people. The people are separate from the polity in the same sense that I am not the same thing as my house, but I own it and make decisions about it.

    2. So, the mistranslation actually has significant issues.

      In reality, it's a question of who has the power in the country, versus the source or ideology behind the right of the country to exist. Democracy (or autocracy or oligarchy) refers to who has the power. The people, or a single person, or a group of people.

      Republic refers to the ideology/source behind the country's foundation. Did it spring from the people (a republic) a king's domain (a monarchy), or some other source (divine)

      That's how you can have a Democratic Monarchy (like the UK) or an autocratic republic (like the USSR). In the first case, the source of the country's foundation is the King...but the people hold the power. In the second case, the source of the country's foundation is the people's revolt...but power is actually held by a single man.

  9. While the etymological treatment in the article is entirely true, it's worth noting that (from what I can see), all of the modern "we're a republic, not a democracy" claims come in response to claims that we are (or should behave like) a direct democracy.

    When one person or side uses the shorthand of "democracy" when they really mean "direct democracy", I don't hold it against their verbal opponents to use the same shorthand.

    1. Rossami, direct democracy, as such, is a practical impossibility because it's just not feasible to put a voting machine in every home and have everybody vote on everything. That's why, in theory, we have Congress.

      Most of the time when someone talks about direct democracy, what they mean is the abolition of blatantly anti-democratic institutions like the electoral college and two senators per state that result in some people's votes counting more than others. Pure democracy may not be feasible, but everyone's vote should count as much as everybody else's, whether they live in Manhattan, Kansas or Manhattan, New York.

      1. Far more than that, direct democracy is a practical impossibility for any group larger than Dunbar's number (about 150). There are zero successful examples of direct democracy in larger groups.

        Which means that, yes, we intentionally have anti-democratic institutions like Constitutions and yes, electoral colleges and state representation built into our mostly-democratic system of government.

        1. Your conclusion ("which means that") doesn't follow from your premise. Just because we can't have (and wouldn't want) direct democracy doesn't mean we must have anti-democratic institutions. Abolishing the EC and apportioning the Senate by population would still not be direct democracy, though it would be far more small-d democratic. You just don't want to go there because you know your side would not win fair elections (meaning every vote from every part of the country counting as much as every other vote from every other part of the country). The current system is basically affirmative action for conservatives who can't win fair elections.

          1. Right, Krychek.

            The whole "The Senate and EC are fine because we are a republic" business is nonsense. You could change, or abolish, both and we would still have a republic.

            That some continue to resort to this argument in defending these foolish institutions shows how little they have going for them.

      2. because it's just not feasible to put a voting machine in every home and have everybody vote on everything.

        I thought that's what Twitter was.

        1. No, that's just voter suppression.

      3. Why exactly is direct democracy a practical impossibility?

        Did you know that in some places, (like Australia) you can vote via computer? And almost everyone has a computer or smart device in their home. (And there are public options for those who don't).

        You could actually have everyone vote on issues of importance. That would be direct democracy, and may be an excellent step forwards.

    2. That's not true at all, saying more people should have an equal say in choosing our representatives is not the same as saying we should have a direct democracy.

      1. But those things (the EC and the Senate) were created not because we didn't want the masses to vote.

        They were created to grant equality between the various groups that entered into the union despite their differences. Our Constitution was not created to lay out a system to be used by the collection of citizens alone, but in part by that (House of Rep) AND by a collection of various independant governments that existed at the time (the states, thus Senate and EC).

        Altering the Senate would be undemocratic at the level of the entities that created it. It would be diminishing the vote of one legal and partnered entity (say, RI for example) in favor of another (like CA). What you are suggesting is the equivalent of UN votes being determined by pop, or EU votes, etc.

        That reading is completely unhinged from the Constitutional history and purpose. It is a drive towards majoritarianism, albeit within what few restraints the "pro-democracy" movement fail to remove.

        And that is exactly what our system was purposefully designed to prevent. If an idea is not strong enough or persuasive enough to convince both the people AND the states (two distinct groups with various and sometimes conflicting interests) then perhaps that idea should not be adopted. This is not a perfect system as it does allow bad ideas to remain entrenched. But the fear was growing excess of power, not an inability to correct itself. If you must choose between the two... I will prefer to limit my odds of making things worse at the expense of sometimes failing to make things better. The alternative is to make it too easy to make things worse and because of the nature of such a system, any correction can just as easily be cast aside leaving us in chaotic flux.

        1. Yes, if you care about equality of states more than equality of persons in our country you're spot on. I don't buy into it because I think states are abstractions and people are not, the latter should have an equal say in how power is exercised over them.

          1. First, I agree with QA that if you value equality of the states you have a point.

            But why should we value that? It may have made a bit of sense at the founding, but we are well past that. Most states are arbitrary geographical areas and have few if any particular interests as states. In fact, most are creations of the federal government.

            Besides, few people really give a damn about the power of the states. They want, or don't want, the states to have power insofar as that leads to results they like.

            1. Right. There's only two reasons to value 'equality of states' I can recall. The first is to do that to get the initial states to buy in. That's why the Founders did it. But that's not much a defense going forward from that practical issue. The second are strange arguments about how things need to have 'broad' support with 'broad' being...geographical. Which is odd. People have rights and interests, rocks and dirt does not.

              1. It isn't geographical per se. It is cultural.

                To take your argument to its conclusion, we ought to annex the whole world and institute global direct democracy.

                But I doubt you actually want to do that. Which makes no sense given your arguments.

                If states are imaginary, so is the US compared to Canada and Mexico. Should we just start letting the whole world vote on what we do? Should people always be subjected to the whims of others merely because of the size of the two groups?

                That is ridiculous.

                1. "It isn't geographical per se. It is cultural."

                  You think certain 'cultures' should get rights and interests?

                  "To take your argument to its conclusion, we ought to annex the whole world a"

                  No, your extrapolation is off. The States here are already part of one United federal government. The question then is, should every person in those states have the same say in that united federal government. You think they shouldn't, that 'states' or 'cultures' should. I think individual persons should, because I think all *persons* were created equal and that legitimate government rests on the consent of the *persons* governed.

                  1. Do you know what a "federal government" is?

                2. The point is, though, that decisions should not be made by "State X" but rather by "the voters". It's the people that vote, not the states. And your argument really is that people whose opinions you disagree with should have their votes diluted so they can't win elections.

                3. To take your argument to its conclusion, we ought to annex the whole world and institute global direct democracy.

                  First, you haven't been paying attention. This whole thing has been about Democracy ≠ Direct Democracy. So your ...institute global direct democracy is a non sequitur.

                  Second, states are a social construct, to which ≠ your "Imaginary" is another non sequitur. Strike 2.

                  Go ahead and argue against direct democracy (though no one here seems to be arguing for it). And argue against the concept of Globalism as a danger of creeping representative democracy. Work Brexit into it...I could see that leading somewhere.

                  But stop constructing whole fields of strawmen so you can set them on fire. That is ridiculous.

                  1. I think direct democracy would be an excellent experiment, although I might suggest it on smaller scale first. One of the states, or perhaps a large county.

                    Use a secure voting app like iVote, and use that and the people's votes as opposed to an imperfect representative democracy. Representative democracy made sense when there were days, if not weeks of travel for communications to go back and forth. You'd never get anything done with that type of delay. But these days, communications are instantaneous.

                    Put it to a vote. A referendum. On everything. Really let the people decide, and get rid of the middlemen.

          2. But the Constitution was not created by or for individuals. It was created by states. Within those states, citizens should be equal, I agree.

            But you are arguing for a country which is essentially a giant state. Which is just as abstraction. Which means that at some point you have given up on your principles because... why?
            What is so different between Nebraska and Belgium that Belgium should be allowed to rule itself but Nebraska should succumb to the whims of New York?

            1. If I were a state thinking about joining the Union you'd have a powerful argument to me. But I'm a person, not a state. I think the citizens of each state should have equal say over who and how their federal government rules them. Why should someone in New York have less say than someone in Nebraska?

            2. But the Constitution was not created by or for individuals. It was created by states.

              What's the third word of the Preamble?

              1. What's the 7th word?

    3. While the etymological treatment in the article is entirely true, it's worth noting that (from what I can see), all of the modern "we're a republic, not a democracy" claims come in response to claims that we are (or should behave like) a direct democracy.

      I don't think that's true. For example, complaints about the structure of the Senate are often met with, "We are a republic, not a democracy," as if changing the way the Senate is elected would mean we weren't a republic.

    4. On the contrary, the only time I see the "we're a republic, not a democracy" bit is when someone is trying to justify the fact that some people have more voting power than others- ie. the Electoral College and the Senate.

      It's a cudgel used to stifle debate on the absurd reality that some people's votes count for more based simply on where they live rather than one vote, one person, which should be the ultimate goal.

      If you were to argue that you wouldn't want a tyranny of the majority in that sense (ie. city interests crushing rural ones, etc.) then you should be arguing for federalism and devolution of power from the massive federal state, not arguing for continued unfair electoral practices.

      1. But your argument for the power of a person's vote ignores the reality that our system is not one of only citizens but also of states (in fact, it was states and not citizens who formed the fed gov). Those various states reached a compromise in which the House would grant citizens equality while the Senate would grant each state equality. Without it, smaller states would have refused to join with larger ones.

        What you ask for (at least implicitly by defending the "democracy" side) is a value that would demand the EU vote based on member population, or the UN, or any other organization made up of various organizations.

        1. "What you ask for (at least implicitly by defending the "democracy" side) is a value that would demand the EU vote based on member population, or the UN, or any other organization made up of various organizations.

          No, sparks, what you're arguing for was called The Articles of Confederation, which was indeed a confederation of independent states. It didn't work. So the authors of the Constitution had a primary motivation—to greatly increase the relative strength of the national government versus the states, because of the relative failure of the Articles of Confederation.

          And by beginning We the People, they acknowledged they were creating a far more hierarchal, top-down social construct enabling a realistic subdivision of power in a way that would allow We the People to divide the resources and responsibilities of nationwide governance.

          So advocate changing the USA into the EU if you'd like, but I don't think that will work.

        2. Just to note for the record, one house of the EU, the European Parliament is weighted by population. Another, the Council of the European Union is one vote per state.

      2. "someone is trying to justify ... the Electoral College and the Senate"

        No justification needed for facts. How do you justify that the sun rises in the East instead of the West?

        There's an Amendment process for the Constitution if you have good ideas for changes to it.

    5. . . . it's worth noting that (from what I can see), all of the modern "we're a republic, not a democracy" claims come in response to claims that we are (or should behave like) a direct democracy.

      Rossami, that seems peculiar. Who now is demanding direct democracy? Who ever did?

  10. We are a slightly more free version of the People's Republic of China. Constitutionalism was murdered in the 1920's, it just took it more than 100 years to finally die. Welcome to the new normal comrades. I'm going to pretend to work now, the stores are going to pretend to stock the shelves, and my employer is going to pretend like they plan on paying me....

    1. Do you really believe such nonsense hyperbole or is this a sad plea for attention? If the former you really should read a lot more about China or better yet talk to some people who've intentionally left there.

      1. Well I don't buy the China analogy but I will say the 17 Amendment fundamentally broke the system of checks and balances originally intended (yes I know that was 1913, not the 20's). The whole point originally was the the Senate represented the States, and not the voters of that state, because they were yet another interested group along with the people and the Federal Government. It was another part of the system to prevent a simple 51% of any group to rule.

        It should be very difficult for any level or segment of government to get anything done unless there is broad consensus.

        1. See, I think the people of a state are better at discerning what is better for their state than the career politicians running their state houses, but YMMV.

          1. Who is best at discerning the needs of the People is whoever the Party tells us is the best and should be Dear Leader. We have "elections" but for our convenience the Party just casts our ballot for us since they know best already anyhow!

            1. You're losing it.

              1. Classic internet argumentation there!

                1. I'd tell you to look in a mirror but people that are tripping often get freaked out by that.

          2. They do on the Federal level by electing members to the House. The Senate was never intended to be a People's Body. It leaves the States with no representation to check the power of the Federal Government.

            Government is supposed to be essentially a circular firing squad, not a totem pole with each level higher.

            1. Again, I happen to think the people in a state represent the state better than the career pols who inhabit state legislatures, but your mileage obviously varies.

              1. I think it has conclusively been proven that directly elected Senators do not represent the interests of the states so much as the interest of the individual Senators.

                The Senate was originally intended to be one of those checks on an over powerful Federal Government.

                1. How has that been conclusively proven? You can't say because the federal government has more power and the states less now because maybe the people of the states rightly think that itself is in the interest of the state (as measured by the people of each state).

                  Again, I put more faith in people than I do career politicians. I get YMMV.

              2. And therein lays the problem. By directly electing Senators they have become captive of, and beholden to Washington, and not the people through their legislators back at the State Capitol.

                DC is a creation of the states and should ultimately be subservient to them by means of having its power strictly limited and ultimately under state control.

                The 13th Amendment was the ultimate Washington power grab and the nation has been irreconcilably broken ever since.

                I've never been a fan of Newt Gingrich, but he was absolutely right when he said "The states are not just administrative districts of the Federal Government".

            2. The Senate was never intended to be a People's Body.

              So what? We decided, with the 17th, to make it slightly more of a people's body.

              Anyway, all the gnashing of teeth over the 17th is silly. In many cases we would probably have the same people - politicians prominent statewide - in the Senate we do now. But we would lose, probably, the option of electing non-politicians. And, in states where the legislature is gerrymandered, the entrenched party would choose the Senator quite probably in opposition to the wishes of the people of the state.

              I fail to see why that is desirable.

              1. I would think that in state where the majority of the people vote for a legislature of one party or the other you would likely get pretty much what we have now.

                1. Perhaps, if you think state legislatures are far less vulnerable to special-interest capture than they were back in the early 20th century.

                  Could be true, but doesn't address the issue of of such massively unequal representation of the nation's individual citizens (to a far greater degree than was the case 100, or 230 years ago).

        2. Currentsitguy, you are reading back into a particular history a notion you will not find there if you start without your priors. What you take to be a deliberate structuring of government was as a matter of history a process more dictated by political happenstance, and very much against the will of the founders who played the most active role in the process. It was those founders whose ideas otherwise largely prevailed.

          Absent a legacy of one-state-one-vote from the failed Articles of Confederation—which had been brought low by that very principle—the structure of American constitutionalism would have been far more majoritarian from 1789 onward. That is one of the few instances of historical consideration where the use of a "would have," construction can be asserted without raising legitimate question. The historical evidence for it is that strong.

      2. I think we just lock those people up in our political prisons in DC now.

        1. Again do you really believe this level of hyperbolic nonsense? You really should talk to someone who has escaped China to get some basic sense of distinction.

          https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/east-asia/china/report-china/

          https://freedomhouse.org/country/china/freedom-world/2020

          1. Ah Ministry of Interior approved communications. Very good comrade. I'm sure the KGB....err FBI....are probably watching this forum. Good to put out the distraction.

            1. WTF are you ranting about?

              1. I forgot that we aren't to true communism yet where there will be no state, so there will be a need for the official state system of oppression until then. But eventually under true communism the people will know how to arrest themselves for being dissidents.

                  1. I know, he should change his name to Jimmy the Deranged.

                    1. You should do an internet search for "Soviet Union jokes"....

                    2. You should do one for 'mental help.' You sound really incoherent today.

                    3. Yes more classic internet argumentation. When you do it in person do you also tell people their face looks stupid when debating others?

                    4. You sound crazy today. You're not making any coherent point. If you were a child I would advise you to take a breath and use your words.

        2. Not enough room in DC so they are distributed around to neighboring and compliant states.

            1. Never been to Austin in the last two decades, have you?

              1. See? Wtf do you think you're arguing here? Use your words and tell us.

                1. I would prefer to tell you where the man touched me on the doll., but guess I have to spell this out for you instead.

                  Your assertion that there are some jailed activists who may be classified as political prisoners by some are in Texas. The underlying argument you are using is that "oh my god....there is no way Texas would tolerate holding political prisoners if that what they actual were..."

                  Besides the fact that this is a stupid argument and ignores the dual nature of federal/state sovereignty, it is also not even an accurate description of certain parts of Texas. Many of the cities are as liberal as they come. Austin probably competes with San Fran for that title in some ways. But you are trying to play into generalized stereotypes that ALL of Texas are pick up driving Trump supporting rednecks. That is just not true. There are islands of liberalism in that state which would be happy to hold political prisoners for DC and also actively fight the state government on policy issues when there is an ideological conflict. Texas is just NOT some big giant red thing on a map. Either you know this and are being disingenuous or you don't because you are dumb.

                  1. Words! Thanks!

                    But you are arguing that Emmitt Dalton's "compliant states" truly means Texas = Austin, but not with QA's observation that "Texas State Government = Gov Abbot & AG Paxton & Supermajority State Legislature.

                    So keep using your words, but they'd make more sense if you were replying to ED, not QA

                    1. No I was pointing out that it is not a "binary" consideration. Which it isn't. The left actually does a fairly good job of running guerilla style warfare using its strongholds like a city or ABC government entity it runs in otherwise unfriendly territory.

  11. The exception to this formulation is the Electoral College, and it’s a pretty big exception.

  12. "The U.S. Is Both a Republic and a Democracy"

    Or as the founders would have put it, "these" United States are, not "the" United States "is."

    1. The Civil War changed that. Most people think that was a move in a good direction.

      1. "Treason doth never prosper;
        What's the reason?
        For if it prosper,
        none dare call it treason."

        Of course people thought that was a move in the right direction. Things got ugly for people who didn't, for a while there.

        1. This is true - winners write the history, and get to choose the terminology we use.

          But more than that when it comes to the Civil War, it's pretty hard to come up with a counterfactual where there was a separate Confederacy and the net result was more freedom. It takes a cult-like devotion to federalism for federalism's sake to come out on that side of the debate.

          The main other example of such a stark contrast is World War 2. Maybe Napoleon.

          1. "it's pretty hard to come up with a counterfactual where there was a separate Confederacy and the net result was more freedom."

            It's almost trivially easy, actually. First of all, absent the Confederate states, and the massive war needed to conquer them and drag them back into the US, the Union states would have been much more free, and the great jump in federal power following that war might have been averted. While the Civil war did bring freedom to Southern blacks, the general level of liberty in the North declined as a result of it due to the much more powerful federal government, and various measures needed to bring the South in line.

            So, to see a net increase in freedom, all you have to do is believe that slavery would eventually have failed in the South. That's not so implausible.

            1. Remember, for most modern US conservatives the liberty of people not like them is weighted very, very low. So of course you can, and regularly do, get analyses where mass actual chattel slavery being ended is literally on the lesser side of the ledger of liberty.

            2. The Civil War raised the floor of freedom for the slaves (good, but limited in who this impacts).

              It lowered the ceiling of freedom for everyone, newly freed slaves included (bad, and the impact was universal).

              It is everyone's focus on the first and inability to understand the second that makes discussing the Civil War hard with most people. It is a seen/unseen thing and most people can't seem to grasp that you can accept the unseen without rejecting the seen. To many, it has to be either or... and in this case the seen was so good (which it was) they will never let it go to adopt the unseen (even though they don't actually have to let go... it is just people's binary mind leading them to think that way).

              1. You're talking about a beam on one hand and a mote on the other, and of course the reason why you can see things in a way that you're not sure which weighs more is the beam didn't impact persons like you.

                1. Again... binary thinking. An inability to accept that doing a good can (and did) result in a bad that needs to be corrected (and can be done without undoing the good that was done).

                  1. It's not binary thinking to think a result greatly outweighs others. I don't think the Union or Lincoln were perfect, far from it, I just think it's an easy call that ending the total and actual mass slavery of a big chunk of our population in violation of our most cherished stated values was worth whatever relatively minor warts were on the other side. Whatever right you think is *critically* important right now, property, armed self defense, speech, association, etc., was not just infringed here or there but *entirely* negated for over one in ten of the population before the Civil War ended that system!

                    1. The thing that is particularly telling is that the paleos who make those sorts of arguments about the negative results of the Civil War (and, sure, while it was on net a massive positive, there were negative things) never say, "And that's why the Southern cause was so awful, even worse than just the slavery." ​They always say, "And that's why Lincoln was so bad."

                      If their real concern were truly about a smaller federal government and the like, they'd blame the South for starting the war on behalf of an evil cause that led to this more powerful, more centralized national government. Instead, they focus all of their ire on the reaction to it.

                    2. "it was on net a massive positive"

                      Can you break that down a bit for us? Keeping in mind, more Americans were killed in the War Between the States than in all American wars previously and since combined.

                      "If their real concern were truly about a smaller federal government and the like, they'd blame the South for starting the war on behalf of an evil cause that led to this more powerful, more centralized national government. Instead, they focus all of their ire on the reaction to it."

                      Well Lincoln started the war. You might say it was invited by secession, sort of like how a wife invites a beating from her husband if she tries to leave him.

                      As for secession, it was brewing for over 30 years in a cold war over many issues with a common theme, beginning in 1828 with tariffs that harmed the South and benefitted the North, and continuing with threats of secession and the nullification crisis in 1832.

                      But setting that aside, this is a strange argument. To the extent the South should have foreseen that war would result and that they would lose that war, I can see the point that someone who is concerned about federalism and independence of states would point out that such actions were foolish and counterproductive. But the result of a more powerful, centralized national government was, for Lincoln, not an unfortunate unintended side effect but the express objective of going to war. The end of slavery was the serendipitous side effect, Lincoln and the North having been happy to either perpetuate or abolish that institution in pursuit of their objectives.

                    3. Can you break that down a bit for us?

                      Sure: slavery was abolished.

                      Keeping in mind, more Americans were killed in the War Between the States than in all American wars previously and since combined.

                      And? We don't count the 19 dead hijackers as victims of 9/11, nor should the rebel traitors be counted as victims of the civil war. But yes, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were killed. And millions of black Americans were freed. Sounds like a pretty good tradeoff.

                      Well Lincoln started the war.

                      Well, no. That's just untrue. Even if one pretends that seizing a country's bases aren't acts of war if that's accomplished without gunfire, a United States ship was militarily attacked by traitorous rebels before Lincoln even took office. And then again, after Lincoln took office. Only after that did Lincoln respond.

                      But the result of a more powerful, centralized national government was, for Lincoln, not an unfortunate unintended side effect but the express objective of going to war.

                      No, his express objective was to suppress a rebellion, not to make Washington D.C. more powerful.

                    4. The real "act of war" in Lincoln's mind and the view of the North, as you know, was not peacefully seizing federal property in necessary self-defense and sending a delegation to Washington to negotiate peaceful terms and compensation for such property, which Lincoln refused to receive. Instead, it was the rebellious act of secession itself, and the attendant economic threat it carried of no longer paying exorbitant taxes and serving as a colonial-like tributary of the north.

                      One of the important gaps in your superbly glib post is, how long exactly was slavery going to be around in some counterfactual scenario of no war? Since that is the entire basis of your "massive net positive" assertion. A bit hard to say isn't it? I guess it would depend on things like whether ol' Lincoln got his Corwin Amendment that he wanted to make slavery "express and irrevocable." Or whether efforts by some Confederates to emancipate slaves in a bid to attract support for independence gained any traction at some point. Maybe you're one of those who claim it'd still be around today and that now the Republican party wants to "put you all back in chains"?

            3. While the Civil war did bring freedom to Southern blacks,

              I would say, "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln…" but it would be a little too on the nose.

            4. Actually, Brett, historical counterfactuals are intellectually frivolous. The whole justification for a respectable counterfactual is that the future is unknowable. Thus, speculation about an unknowable future is not lunacy.

              With regard to history, that does not apply. From the standpoint of a historical counter-factual, the interval which counts as a historical future is to us an already-known past. There is no room in it for the counterfactual. Except for bits of the historical record yet to be discovered, we already know everything we can know about what could have happened. The historical counter-factual posits not a speculation about the unknown, but instead a negation of the known.

              Nothing else could have happened, and we can prove it. Any notion to the contrary signals an intent to abandon historical investigation as a legitimate activity. That is what your comment above is doing—just rejecting historical evidence because you wish it were otherwise.

              1. Yup, but historical counterfactuals are fun! What if the 13 colonies of latter 16th century North America had lost their revolution? It could well have happened. Then history would likely regard Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Washington, as failed rebels who were hanged for fighting a war to, among other things, defend White Men's Rights to enslave Black human beings and treat them as property.

                In such an alternate universe, the Betsy Ross flag might have been viewed as the Confederate flag is today. There's interesting academic analysis supporting a view that, in those circumstances, the colonies would instead have followed the course of Canada, becoming first, UK Commonwealths, and and then an one or more independent countries.

                Part of that speculation is that slavery might have followed the path it took in Britain, disappearing more quickly than happened with an independent USA and its Constitutional "3/5th" cave that delayed resolution for 75 years (followed by a century of legal apartheid). Might make an interesting alternate history novel.

                1. Yes. But you're missing one important thing, there were several emancipation proclamations issued during the Revolutionary War as well. They were then, as with the War Between the States, a war measure that did not apply to the issuing side. So I believe, perhaps slavery may have ended immediately within the US in that event.

                  1. Possible! Except, that should be ...within the North America Commonwealth.

                    And, of course, you're missing Stephen's important point: "...the interval which counts as a historical future is to us an already-known past."

                    Belief doesn't matter...except perhaps to Harry Turtledove.

              2. There is no room in it for the counterfactual. Except for bits of the historical record yet to be discovered, we already know everything we can know about what could have happened. The historical counter-factual posits not a speculation about the unknown, but instead a negation of the known.

                News bulletin: Lathrop discovers the concept of a hypothetical. Film at all.

                Nothing else could have happened, and we can prove it.

                Is this sort of some weird Calvinistic notion of historical predestination?

                1. Nieporent, your question is oxymoronic. My comment above was an attempt to help Bellmore understand a useful principle of historical reasoning. If he can understand it, it can help him avoid self-contradictory assertions about history. Same for you.

        2. Things got ugly for people who didn't, for a while there.

          Who were these people, and what happened to them, exactly?

      2. You mean the War of Illegal Occupation that subjugated the free people of the various former states of the union once known as the United States of America?

        1. the free people of the various former states

          Ummm....

          1. If we are going to just be rewriting history and can just make up anything we want like the 1619 project, then why not just recast the entire saga in a more proper light?

            1. Ah yes, 'the truth doesn't matter because I'm angry at the left'.

              How you can tell a right-wing partisan has lost an argument.

              1. The truth doesn't matter because the left has flooded the public square with so many lies, it is now a more effective tactic just to be a better and dirtier liar then the last guy rather then seeking "truth". If you are going to hold up works of pure fiction like the 1619 project as examples of history what do you expect?

                1. ...words which add up to little more that I'm angry at the left.

                  The I'm angry at the right might see your "1619 project" and raise with "The Cyber Ninja's Arizona Audit" (or "Steve Bannon," which, referring to the originator of "flood the zone with shit," is even more easily applicable).

                  1. You raise a good point and back up what I said above. In an environment flooded with just lies upon lies, it is a far more effective tactic in advocacy to just become a bigger, better, dirtier liar than try to convince people of the truth. And now that is the cycle we are stuck in.

                    Just the left lacks any type of self awareness about this. They will scream "Big Lie!!!!!" while at the same time parroting something about the 1619 project or the latest news story about how Kyle Rittenhouse supposedly carried a machine gun across state lines to shoot black people. No wonder the commies called people like this "useful idiots."

                    1. You know you sound like, well, Goebbels don't you?

                    2. Jimmy, you are not fighting some big partisan battle for the soul of America here.

                      You might as well tell the truth, no matter how much those liberals in DC hurt your feelings.

                      Or you can continue to lie, and I will continue to mock you.
                      I've muted other post-truth posters, but you are so bad at it you make it pretty fun.

                    3. Is there a single person here who thinks Jimmy the Dane has read one single word of the 1619 Project?

                    4. I didn't need to read it. Tucker Carlson told me all about it on his program.

            2. I'm not surprised to a Trump fan like Jimmy casting the Confederacy in a better light is the more proper one.

              1. Yeah how dare someone read history and think critically about it....

                1. Your interpreting the historical record to put the Confederacy in a more proper, good light is not critical thinking. You're not some hero for that, sorry.

                2. Jimmy, it's pretty clear you have not read any history since you started posting here. History is just too liberal for you! Only partisan filters for your tender brain.

      3. "Most people think that was a move in a good direction."

        Those who are inclined toward those ancient ideas and forms of government, which have dominated human history, think this is a good move. Centralization, uniformity, efficiency, and empire are attractive to them. Many people today advocate weakening and dissolving all decentralized government structures even including the sovereignty of nations.

        On the other hand, there are those who still think this relatively brand spanking new idea of self-government and decentralization, birthed at the founding of the US moreso than any other event, is better.

        1. "there are those who still think this relatively brand spanking new idea of self-government and decentralization, birthed at the founding of the US moreso than any other event,"

          See? They can say things like this with a straight face precisely because the 'self government' of people of different races, gender, sexual orientation, etc., than theirs doesn't count much or at all.

          1. Nobody said the US was perfect, there have been great moral shortcomings from inception and every moment since then. Just that its founding manifested a relatively new theory of government. I'd say maybe that theory has since been improved in some ways and degraded in others. Either way you may disagree with that theory, many people do as I mentioned.

            1. What's a little total slavery of over one in ten of the population here and there, amirite?

              I love my country and it was a great moment when the US formed under the theories it did. At the same time it was an empty lie to most of the people here. We did a lot to finally come as close to living up to those principles as we do now. And while we may have lost ground on some important things that ground is a molehill combined to the mountain we fell short at the time.

              1. To be clear, the "move in a good direction" that Sarcatstro and I were disagreeing about is the move toward a more centralized, monolithic, nationalistic polity. Not the end of slavery of course.

                " And while we may have lost ground on some important things that ground is a molehill combined to the mountain we fell short at the time."

                I don't know. You are the one now saying "what's a little infanticide of 63 million unborn infants in the last 50 years here and there, amirite?"

                1. The post 14A America became a super power. And ignoring the rather unfree conditions in the South is par for the course of a neoconfederate like yourself.

                  Tell me, what would you like the federal budget per capita to be again? Like, what year do you think is ideal?
                  Is it still 1859, or have you since changed your opinion?

                  1. When did I ignore slavery? You make up the strangest things in your imagination.

                2. I don't think zygotes are infants, but nice shoehorn/threadjack to your hobby horse.

                  1. Eliding slavery while standing how bad abortion is...

                  2. Yes I know. And the way you feel about unborn humans is exactly the way Abraham Lincoln (and many others) felt about slaves a short 150 years ago. Some day people will look back on your viewpoint in the same way.

    2. M L: Just to be clear, while "The United States are" was indeed more common in American writing than "The United State is" until shortly after the Civil War (see this Google Ngrams chart, I'm pretty sure the Framers would say "the United States" and not "these." In fact, not only would they say it, but they did say it.

      1. You're right, thanks. The point is the plural versus the singular. "The" refers to plural just as well as singular of course. "These" connotes a sort of familiarity or nearness, perhaps even affection, and is more colloquial. Could be more useful to illustrating the difference in concept, but not accurate to say that only the word "these" would have been used by the founders.

  13. Generally when I have seen the democracy/republic distinction being made it is by those who are trying to defend the undemocratic aspects of our political system. I.e. arguing it is okay that a minority can elect the president or that the Senate is massively undemocratic because we are a republic not a democracy. As this piece shows that defense is nonsense, which shows how indefensible the current undemocratic system is.

    1. Generally when I have seen people use the words "our democracy" in some emotionally charged fashion, or "undemocratic," they are justifying the destruction of federalism, advocating big centralized government authoritarianism, degrading the rule of law and separation of powers, etc.

      1. ML, whether "the destruction of federalism, advocating big centralized government authoritarianism," etc. are good policies (and I disagree with your characterization, but let's run with it) is a separate question from how many people it should take to decide which policies pass. You like our current anti-democratic system because it blocks policies you don't like, though I suspect if the shoe were on the other foot -- if our anti-democratic institutions favored the Democrats -- you'd see things differently. If and when the electoral college awards the presidency to a Democrat who lost the popular vote, it will be hilarious to watch all the Republicans change sides and decide maybe the EC wasn't such a great idea after all.

        So you think single payer health care is a bad idea, fine. Feel free to argue that it's a bad idea. But the fact is that most Americans think it's a good idea, and should not require near-unanimous consent to get it.

        1. "is a separate question from how many people it should take to decide which policies pass."

          Wrong. For example, under the Constitution, the reason that a President is elected by the States and not one mass of "American" people (which didn't exist as a concept back then), and the reason that each State gets two Senators, is that States were sovereign entities that conveyed certain limited powers to the federal government while the vast majority of all matters of government were supposed to be reserved to the States such that people would have self-government and self-determination rather than a sprawling dysfunctional centralized government trying to force views and policies on disparate polities.

          "You like our current anti-democratic system because it blocks policies you don't like, though I suspect if the shoe were on the other foot -- if our anti-democratic institutions favored the Democrats -- you'd see things differently."

          Wrong again. First of all, I don't "like our current anti-democratic system." What I would favor is what I would consider to be a more pro-democratic system. Take single payer or government-run health care, for example. I think a free market for health care would be a better idea, and the US has not had anything resembling a free market for health care for decades. But you know what? I'm hardly ideological about this. If people want to have a single payer government-run health care industry, they should have it. If people don't want to have a single payer government-run health care industry, they shouldn't have it. So let the people of each State decide for themselves, and stop the ludicrous tyranny of trying to force views and systems and one-size-fits-all solutions on everyone else.

          1. Under our far more urbanized, highly technical and inter-dependent economy, what worked well in 1789 does not work today, because conditions are different. I've never said it wasn't a good Constitution for 1789, just that it's outlived its usefulness. And our current polarization is such that I doubt that any idea, no matter how good, would get 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states to amend the Constitution, so we're basically stuck. It's like having to drive a 50 year old car that was a really nice car 50 years ago.

            And the reason we need things like national health care done at the national level is that in our urbanized, highly technical and inter-dependent economy, there are some things that only work (or only work well) if everyone participates. If the contrarians merely hurt themselves I wouldn't care, but they're blocking efficiency and good governance for everyone else.

            And here's an issue that doesn't get much play: People who like the current system because it blocks legislation they don't like don't mention that it also blocks legislation they do like. When Trump had a Republican Congress, he couldn't get much of his program passed either because the minority Democrats were able to block it. So, no matter what your political views are, your stuff isn't getting passed, which means that blocking bad ideas comes at the cost of also blocking good ideas.

            I would argue that we're passed the tipping point and there are more good ideas not being passed than there are bad ideas being blocked, so I don't think the return on that particular investment is worth it. If Congress passes something bad, the remedy is another election.

            1. Most, if not all, of our seperatebstates have economies that rival those of Europe. As such, it is not necessary that KY be forced into a single-payer system in order for CA to have one.

              I had this exact convo a few days ago with some very progressive friends. I asked them "Could you allow a state to not participate if the people there didn't want to? If they did not consent?"

              The answer... no, they have to do what they are told and be forced to of they don't comply. That is not a hyperbolic description of their response. Democratic ideals in and of themselves with no limits are ideals of subjugation, pure and simple. We are more, thus you are our slaves.

              This is why "anti-democratic" measures were put in place among the various states... to protect various, independant groups from domination by others as they attempted to enter into a (hopefully) beneficial collaboration. Each separate group rightly and rationally wanted to protect their independence from the others.

              1. The practical problem is that there are states that won't, and their people still need to be taken care of. Don't know where you live, but I can tell you that parts of the rural South have a third world look to them; 60 Minutes had a piece not long ago on a county in Alabama in which many of the residents still don't have indoor plumbing and the state is recommending they dig outhouses.

                OK, so Kentucky and California pass health care; how does that help people who live in Mississippi and South Carolina, which likely won't?

                1. It doesn't HAVE to. That's the point. If Alabama and Mississippi refuse something you tell them is good for them, and their refusal does not prevent you from doing the thing for yourself...

                  So be it. You aren't their masters. If you are, that makes them your slaves.

                  1. It's not about masters or slaves; it's about taking care of our own. In point of fact, the average California voter cares more about the well being of rural Southerners than their own elected officials do.

                    1. "In point of fact, the average California voter cares more about the well being of rural Southerners than their own elected officials do."

                      Right....I bet that rural Southerners don't think that.

                      So here's a question for you. Who should choose about the welfare of Rural Southerners? The Rural Southerners themselves? Or Californians?

              2. it is not necessary that KY be forced into a single-payer system in order for CA to have one.

                As a matter of fact, this is not true. If someone in KY who is uninsured gets sick, what's to stop them from moving to CA to take advantage of the CA system? Indeed, what's to stop people from moving to CA when their health starts to decline?

                Sure, you could have residency requirements, maybe, if they are enforceable and constitutional. But then you have a problem when people move to CA for other reasons.

                1. "Sure, you could have residency requirements, maybe, if they are enforceable and constitutional."

                  You answered your own question. Good job!

            2. "what worked well in 1789 does not work today, because conditions are different."

              And so we need to go back to what was in place centuries and millennia before 1789, i.e. more centralized and more totalitarian government authority and control? Seems like there's a problem with your argument here.

              "And our current polarization is such that I doubt that any idea, no matter how good, would get 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states to amend the Constitution, so we're basically stuck."

              Sure but you have to ask what is the source of this apparent polarization and dysfunction. It's nothing more than the inevitable tension, resistance and violence that has always been involved with the tyranny of acquiring, maintaining, and expanding empire, the subjugation of peoples to rule by force.

              "And here's an issue that doesn't get much play: People who like the current system because it blocks legislation they don't like don't mention that it also blocks legislation they do like. When Trump had a Republican Congress, he couldn't get much of his program passed either because the minority Democrats were able to block it. So, no matter what your political views are, your stuff isn't getting passed, which means that blocking bad ideas comes at the cost of also blocking good ideas."

              Well, right. Nobody is satisfied with our government. Look at Congress' approval rating. That goes to my point. The only people who like the dysfunction and status quo are those that are reaping benefits from it, those who are comfortable in their sinecures or don't think beyond their front nose, those who are sucking up trillions of dollars in printed money, opportunists with dubious or even nefarious ideological agendas, etc.

              1. You're confusing centralized with totalitarian. So long as the people have the opportunity to vote the bums out every two years, it's not totalitarian, even if it's more government than you would like.

                1. They are closely related. Centralization is an aspect of totalitarianism. In my mind I was distinguishing between the two as follows: centralization is expanding the Roman empire, totalitarianism is upping the taxes and exercising more heavy handed control within that empire.

                  "So long as the people have the opportunity to vote the bums out every two years, it's not totalitarian, even if it's more government than you would like."

                  Remember how you were just saying that nothing can ever get done? Come on, think. It doesn't matter who is elected or how people vote. It matters a little bit and makes little differences here and there, sure. But that's just at the margins.

                  1. Centralization tends to lead to more government involvement in people's lives, that's true, but if it's involvement that enjoys majority support and makes people better off than they were before, this is not a problem.

          2. For example, under the Constitution, the reason that a President is elected by the States and not one mass of "American" people (which didn't exist as a concept back then), . . .

            M L — Not only is that, "didn't exist," dead wrong, the misunderstanding of it remains balefully consequential. James Madison and James Wilson initially advocated at the Constitutional Convention for adopting exactly the concept you say did not exist. They did not prevail.

            Madison and Wilson were the two founders best educated in political theory (Wilson was so far ahead of the others, including Madison, that it was not a close comparison). The nation would be better off today had Madison and Wilson found a way to compromise their initial impulse with some of the ideas which arose afterward—such as per-state voting in the Senate, and some other anti-democratic features of the Senate's structure and procedure.

            1. I should say it was not accepted as a concept, and did not exist as a prevailing identity in the minds of the people generally or in the culture.

              1. At the Convention, detractors of the Madison/Wilson notion of giving direct political expression to the massed will of the people as whole, said exactly what you say in your comment above, almost verbatim.

                Madison's reply was that they had no idea what they were talking about, and no way to prove it. Even after 200+ years to consider the question, nobody now knows the answer any better. Your comment above is a speculation, which can be neither proved nor disproved. You cannot justify asserting it as fact.

        2. "So you think single payer health care is a bad idea, fine. Feel free to argue that it's a bad idea. But the fact is that most Americans think it's a good idea..."

          (Let's just accept this is true for now.)

          They don't think any specific plan to achieve it is a good idea. Any realistic plan, if presented honestly, would poll very poorly. Magic free stuff delivered by Santa Claus polls better.

          1. Any realistic plan, if presented honestly, would poll very poorly.

            Those liberals are so shrill when stuff doesn't go their way!

            Also, when stuff doesn't go my way it's because of the other side lying!

            Ben, you need to sit down with yourself and integrate the 'Respect the Republic' and 'when things don't go my way it's cheating!!' sides of yourself.

            1. Be honest if you don’t want people to notice you’re lying.

              1. Right back at ya, and your guy Trump.

                You have a ludicrous double standard here.

                1. When did I ever say Trump was honest? Trump's worst quality was always his Democrat-like disregard for factual accuracy.

                  Second worst quality was his Democrat-like willingness to believe people who told him what he wanted to hear.

                  Third worst quality his Democrat-like self regard (though his is supported by accomplishments instead of meaningless feelings and notions).

                  Fourth worst his Democrat-like fighting without think through whether there was a gain to be won from it.

                  (Maybe third and fourth should be in reverse order.)

  14. As often, I'm not sure what the importance of this distinction is. It strikes me as being pointless to argue about.

    Our government is structured a certain way. Whether that structure fits precisely into some definition or other doesn't seem very important.

    I think it's a form of "argument by category," which says, "X fits into category Y, therefore X is/should be just like everything else in category Y." That's utterly fallacious. Bicycles and airliners are both "transportation vehicles," yet we hardly want to have the same rules for both.

  15. Someone observed that polls show very high positive feelings for the word "democracy" yet very negative feelings for the word "politics." And yet they're largely one and the same thing.

  16. Everyone knows what I mean when I say republic or democracy. It's less a formal set of structures and more a Lincolnesque 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.'

    I like republic more personally purely because it's a bit more exotic sounding to my ear; the Greek root is common for lots of government systems, whereas the Roman is a bit more unique.

  17. We are a federal republic with democratically elected representatives at the national and state levels. That is probably the most succinct way of describing our country.

    1. We're a Democratic Republic.

      As opposed to a Democratic Monarchy. Or an Autocratic Republic.

      1. Who exerts the power?
      2. What is the source/ideology/history behind the country/government?

  18. What I most often note is that the phrase "the US is a republic not a democracy" is its use to avoid admitting when things are not democratic. Like the fact that while we are all represented, some are just represented more.

    1. You are assuming your conclusion. Saying 'republic not a democracy' isn't avoiding admitting anything - it's an opinion that the argument that X is not democratic is irrelevant because we're not a (direct) democracy in the first place.

    2. I think the phrase is used to answer people who insist that the current system is “undemocratic”. The current system has safeguards to prevent the more densely populated states from riding roughshod over the less densely populated states. Those safeguards are not “undemocratic”. They simply mean that each state has an equal voice in the Senate and that the influence each state has in electing the President includes an equal voice from each state along with a variable amount based roughly on the population of each state. Those safeguards can only be changed by amending the constitution, which would require 3/4 of the states to ratify, most of whom would be acting against their own best interests.
      Calling our system of government “undemocratic” over and over because you do not like other states having an equal voice in the United States is tiresome and futile.

      1. The current system has safeguards to prevent the more densely populated states from riding roughshod over the less densely populated states. Those safeguards are not “undemocratic”.

        Sure they are undemocratic, and you can prove it. In principle, all the so-called "democratic safeguards," would remain fully in force, even if state boundaries were redrawn as if they were congressional districts—with an eye to equalizing state populations. Combine small population states into larger ones, chop up the biggest population states into smaller ones, and make them all approximately equal in population. Then run the whole system just as it runs now, with all the so-called democratic safeguard fully in place.

        You would get an entirely different political result. That change is what proves the so-called safeguards do in fact function in an undemocratic fashion, given the current map of the states.

        1. I do not follow your hypothetical. The states are not political subdivisions of the country that can have their boundaries redrawn in any meaningful way; they are sovereign entities in their own right. Were we to split a state (given the state’s and the congress’s approval), there would be two states, each with an equal voice in the senate under our current form of government. Those four senators would vote differently than the original two, but that wouldn’t make the previous state undemocratic.
          What you seem to mean by undemocratic is that the number of people in one state with its two senators is different that the number of people in another state with its two senators. Each of the two sovereign states has the same representation in the senate, but different populations. (This relationship was more obvious before we made the states elect Senators by popular vote.) If you are truly jealous of the vast political power wielded by some guy in Cheyenne, you could always move.

          1. Johnston, you are not having trouble following the hypothetical; you are fighting the hypothetical—by saying that for political reasons and because of the existing constitutional scheme, no one could redraw the states the way I propose.

            Allow the hypothetical as I wrote it, and the Senate would still serve as a counter-majoritarian weight in the political process. But you would discover no way (except maybe some kind of tortured gerrymander) to deliver a Senate which could so thoroughly undermine the popular will as the version of the Senate the nation now struggles to manage.

            Take a day or two with a map and a list of states by population, and see if you can come up with any map of states of near-equal population which delivers the kind of durable Republican structural advantage the Senate now shows. I doubt anyone can do it.

            As for Wyoming, no thanks. I lived in Idaho for quite a few years. Loved it. Much better than Wyoming. I'm reminded of that old cowboy lament, "It's your misfortune and none of my own." That was about Wyoming.

          2. Craig, you're either misunderstanding or purposefully glossing over the purpose of a hypothetical as a "what if" to help work through the impact of a subset of characteristics of a broader issue or set of issues.

            Your concern is "more densely populated states...riding roughshod over the less densely populated states" and your point is that no hypothetical addressing individual persons' rights, can be applicable to your issue of individual states' rights, correct?

            As long as your concern about the rights of an abstract social construct (State) overrides your concerns about the "Equal and Inalienable Rights" of each of the nation's decidedly not-abstract individuals, governmental structure (such as State size) is more important important to you than ensuring "Justice ... domestic Tranquility ... the common defence ... the general Welfare, and ... the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"—that is, to We the People of the United States.

            But the entire purpose of Constitution is to allow We the People (that is, persons) to establish that social construct (a single nation) in a way that provides the greatest benefit to its people. All its people (something that we did not do at the start and are only finally approaching after 200 years).

            A union of states—differing in population to a far lesser degree than today—was the device constructed in such a way as to receive agreement of the people (through representative democracy—State Constitutional Conventions) while most effectively and realistically achieving the greatest degree of the Constitution's benefit, to people.

            And that's why Stephen's hypothetical is more meaningful than your concern about the rights of political sub-divisions.

  19. Will people ever learn that they can’t have the government they want though?

    You can only have the government that most people want, not the government that you want. So the only way to get anything is to try to understand what most peoples' wants have in common and try to get that.

    Instead we get increasingly shrill demands, name-calling, and insistence based on pointing at 49% pluralities and bare 52% majority margins in a poll for a short time. We see [other country] has [something] so we should have it too with no ability to analyze the societal differences, no thoughts about conditions that led to the differences and whether those conditions are reversible, and a complete refusal to acknowledge that others don’t want it and those others are voters and citizens too.

    1. This is pretty rich coming from you, Ben.

      1. As usual, you completely (intentionally?) miss the point.

        Are you getting the government you want by picking fights and pointing fingers? No. Are you getting closer to achieving what you want? No — unless division and enmity are what you want

        1. I'm happy to get the government I deserve.

          I'm not so sure of my correctness that I insist on having the exact government I want. .

          You, on the other hand, regularly argue that liberal policies (and liberals themselves) are not just wrong but evil, illegitimate, and unamerican.

          You don't get to point at liberal whining when you're always frothing at the mouth about them.

          1. "You, on the other hand, regularly argue that liberal policies (and liberals themselves) are not just wrong but evil, illegitimate, and unamerican."

            Policies designed to make life worse intentionally — seems evil. You can argue they are a necessary evil because of OMG CLIMATE DOOM if you want. But that’s based on scaremongering about the future. I say it’s not necessary. That leaves evil.

            Tell the truth about policy if you want it to be considered legitimate. Policy sold based on lies — seems illegitimate.

            And since when do so-called liberals ever take America's side when there are two sides?

  20. Trying to remember when I first started hearing "A Republic, not a Democracy" used primarily as a secret handshake to help people identify fellow rightthinkers (in both meanings of the word). But when did it move beyond a topic area of historians, political science academics, and constitutional law professors, and turn into right-wing talking point? Think it was around the time the Tea Party us-against-them populist movement started ramping up, so, early in the Obama administration or thereabouts?

    Over the last decade, the great majority of ‘Republic—Not Democracy!’ instances I’ve encountered do not involve a thoughtful analysis of the Founders’ views of Sir William Blackstone, the Roman Republic, and the Federalist Papers (and thanks EV, for the public service!). No, they're almost always rote, sneering (and wrong) exclamations of the partisan far-right, attacking someone’s innocent and mostly accurate passing reference to the USA as a democracy.

    (Note: it's heartening that there's relatively little of that type of insult in the comments here today, versus the relatively...less polite?...reaches of the far-right echosphere.)

    Submitted for your consideration—a hypothesis. What if the root explanation doesn't involve competing visions of governance systems at all? Might there be a simpler explanation?

    I'll posit that a contributory cause might be positioned in the coincidental roots of the names of our two major political parties. Specifically, in a certain strain of low-information partisanship, everything is viewed through the lens of “Republican Good! Democrat Bad!” devolving to “R-word Good! D-word Bad!” and finally reaching, Republic Good! Democracy Bad!

    OK, while that's not entirely implausible, will grant it's a reach. But if true just think, if not for this accident of history, the topic might be simply a subject of obscure and enjoyably pedantic semantics such as Professor Volokh presents today.

  21. Amen. And the writer of this narrative is a Great Galactic Gift to Humanity. He has grumbled at me but that's OK. I still believe he is the greatest (I deserved being grumbled at). And his brother Sasha too, who I wish should keep up the poetry.

    May our Dear Lord make His face to shine upon you.

  22. Thanks to Professor Volokh for the high-quality and relevant research.

    It's worth remembering what the Federalist Papers had to say about unchecked direct democracy. The Founders were terrified of it, and gave many historical reasons for their fear. They designed something for us safe from that particular set of failure modes, which we still have.

    But what matters is not what we call it but what we do with it. "A Republic, madam, if you can keep it".

    1. Yup. In the drafting of and debate on the constitution, our Founders addressed the dangers of direct democracy (what Madison referred to in Federalist 14 as pure democracy) in which factions of the people are too easily incited and manipulated by a popular demagogue. Their answer was insulating the passions of the mob from the levers of government.

      This took several forms, including a three-way separation of powers, a representative bicameral legislature with only one chamber directly elected, a chief executive far more severely limited than that of any modern state of the day, and who would not be directly elected, but selected by the Electoral College (which, per an originalist interpretation, would have blocked the demagogic Trump from the presidency).

      By the way, Edmund Burke further addressed the topic in his recommendation of a Trustee, versus a Delegate view of a representative's responsibility to his constituents. But that's a discussion for another day.

  23. As long as we are not a plebiscite which has many times been shown to be dangerous and short-lived. Those Framers knew wtf they were doing.

  24. It seems that those who defend the Republic idea accept that it is democratic. And they tend to prefer it that way. But those who argue that we are pr should be more like a democracy want just that... more democracy.

    And there is a difference between a thing being democratic and being a democracy. The former accepts that power starts from the people. The later often times wants to operate as though the people should be an unchecked power. Very different.

    The republic system we have was created to preserve democratic ideals while also thwarting democracy. When someone complains about the non-democratic parts of the system (EC and Senate) they are wanting to increase our democracy by reducing the limits on it. Those who seek to preserve things like the EC and Senate, more often than not, wish to preserve the checks on democracy while still having a system that is democratic on nature (that power still originates from people... it just flows through restricted channels to prevent its excess).

    1. "When someone complains about the non-democratic parts of the system (EC and Senate) they are wanting to increase our democracy by reducing the limits on it."

      That's not correct, is it? The EC and Senate doesn't limit the *scope* of federal power, they involve *who* has *what* say in that power's exercise.

    2. When someone complains about the non-democratic parts of the system (EC and Senate) they are wanting to increase our democracy by reducing the limits on it.

      Nonsense. The Senate and the EC simply misallocate power.
      You could have exactly the same rules, methods of legislating, etc., with a representative Senate as we do now. No limits are loosened.

      I mean, if you are really concerned with making sure that minority interests are represented then why not have Senators elected by racial or religious group, maybe with smaller groups getting disproportionate representation. Funny, I don't hear you advocating that.

  25. They limit the scope of democracy in the name of preserving peace among the various factions of the polity.

    Uniformity creates conflict when it is imposed. Conflict reduction allows for peaceful coexistence. Allowing others to be different (diversity) creates cooperation rather than conflict. This is how you have a stable, healthy, and good relationship with your neighbors. Good fences and all that.

    1. They limit the scope of democracy in the name of preserving peace among the various factions of the polity.

      No. They don't. They arbitrarily assign more voting power to some people because of where they live. Live in Memphis and you are one of seven million people choosing two senators. Live across the river in West Memphis and you are one of three million.

      It's absurd.

      1. But we have to give the 'cultures' of Memphis and West Memphis equal say!

  26. Sorry Prof. Volokh, you can write all the deeply researched, well reasoned pieces you want, it won't make a dent. (As evidenced by comments.) You're fighting psychology, not Poli Sci. The phrase means the country should be, and therefore was intended by the infallible Founders to be, run by, and for, only the best people, people like me.

    1. run by, and for, only the best people, people like me.

      Well played.

  27. Too bad we don't have a government by sortition. Now that would be an interesting experiment!

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