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Old 29th November 2018, 08:04 AM   #1
GnaGnaMan
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US: democracy vs republic

I have a question about this phrase: "The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy."

I think my first reaction was to go the dictionary but there does not appear to be a special US definition of those words. A bit more googling reveals that the phrase has its origin in the federalist papers. At the time, republic and democracies hardly existed and the words had not yet received their current meaning.

What I don't get it is why the phrase - centuries later - keeps being thrown around as if it had a sensible contemporary meaning. What are kids in the US taught about the subject?
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Old 29th November 2018, 08:21 AM   #2
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I think generally we are taught its a democratic, federal, constitutional republic.

Democracy in 18th century America was more or less synonymous with mob rule, so the framers were generally very adamant that the US would not be a democracy.

I think republic is more accurate but it has come to mean something different than it did in the 18th century. In the 18th century it generally meant a sort of mixed government with features of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Now it just means "not a monarchy." The president acts as a sort of king or executive, the senate was meant to act as a sort of aristocracy(the were originally appointed by the state and were insulated from popular opinion somewhat) and the house was meant to the be the democratic element.

Democracy is not accurate unless you add a modifier like, "liberal" or "constitutional" as there are significant limits on popular voting.

Federal generally means that the individual state retain some sovereignty. Most self described federal governments came about when independent polities joined together in some sort of union but didn't want to give up all there rights. The alternative is unitary, which is most nations.

Most of these phrases do have sensible contemporary meanings. In the US, "republic" still retains some of its 18th century meaning that has mostly been lost elsewhere on account of the Commies and Ayotollahs misusing it.

Last edited by ahhell; 29th November 2018 at 08:26 AM.
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:03 AM   #3
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The current popularity of the claim is due solely to the fact that the party making it has "republic" in its name and their rivals have the other.
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:09 AM   #4
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I don't know that the claim is that popular. I see it from time to time, but I can't recall where or in what context.

I find questions like this, where a hypothetical person is hypothesized to have said a thing, and we're supposed to figure out what that person meant by it, to be profoundly intractable and annoying.

If GnaGnaMan were to point us to a specific individual, who said that thing in a specific context, we could examine the context and question the individual, and perhaps learn something interesting about what they meant.
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:27 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
The current popularity of the claim is due solely to the fact that the party making it has "republic" in its name and their rivals have the other.
I hear it a lot more as an explanation of the Electoral College system versus a popular vote to elect the president. "Its OK because we're a republic not a democracy!"
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:27 AM   #6
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Republics are a type of democracy. Those who use the phrase mean "direct republic", but they don't know that and they're trying to appear more clever than their actual knowledge allows them to.
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:56 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
In the US, "republic" still retains some of its 18th century meaning[...]
Does it, though?
The dichotomy of republic vs democracy seems to pop up only in the context of what the US is. The special definitions used in these discussions don't seem to be applied to other countries or in other contexts (afaict).
Merriam-Webster does not mention any archaic definitions.

Quote:
that has mostly been lost elsewhere on account of the Commies and Ayotollahs misusing it.
How so?
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Old 29th November 2018, 12:28 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by GnaGnaMan View Post
Does it, though?
The dichotomy of republic vs democracy seems to pop up only in the context of what the US is. The special definitions used in these discussions don't seem to be applied to other countries or in other contexts (afaict).
Merriam-Webster does not mention any archaic definitions.


How so?
They started using it to describe their governments which were generally autocratic and in no way representative and thus not really republics in the old sense of the word and there are a number of other dictionaries and sources of information.
Originally Posted by Belz... View Post
Republics are a type of democracy. Those who use the phrase mean "direct republic", but they don't know that and they're trying to appear more clever than their actual knowledge allows them to.
A republic is not necessarily a democracy.

Last edited by ahhell; 29th November 2018 at 12:30 PM.
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Old 29th November 2018, 12:31 PM   #9
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I've been seeing this a lot lately from Trumptards, people whom I once considered to be above average intelligence who now suddenly can't comprehend that "Republic" and "Democracy" are not mutually exclusive.
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Old 29th November 2018, 12:35 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
A republic is not necessarily a democracy.
Ok I'm willing to hear your explanation for that.

A democracy is power in the hands of the 'demos', that is, not just the aristocracy or a single individual, but citizens at large. That doesn't necessarily mean everyone, since it depends on how you define citizen, and the ancient Athenians would surely disagree on what that is. Republics use representatives to do the work in the name of the demos. How can that not be a democracy?
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Old 29th November 2018, 12:35 PM   #11
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The USA is a Democratic Republic

This is not to be confused with countries that actually use that term in their official names (such as Algeria, Congo, Ethiopia, North Korea, Laos, and Nepal, which are in reality undemocratic hybrid or authoritarian regimes.

The USA is a democracy only in as much as the representatives of its two Houses of Congress are elected by popular vote. The Presidency is elected by a flawed system that allows the winner to have more votes cast for his/her opponent.

But make no mistake, the US Democracy is deeply flawed, and the Senate is the most flawed of all. The fact that far more people voted for Democrat Senators than Republican Senators, but the Republicans hold a majority in the Senate is down to representation that is heavily weighted in favour of states with low populations. Every one of the 50 states have two Senators - Wyoming has two with a population of less than 600,000, while California also has two with a population of 40 million. If the Senate were proportionally represented, the Democrats would have a very big majority.

ETA: Some figures. IF the Senate was Elected by popular vote, in the 2018 it would be...

Democrats 59 seats (58.8%)
Republicans 40 seats (40.3%)
Independents 1 seat (0.9%)
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Old 29th November 2018, 12:53 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
A republic is not necessarily a democracy.
Republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

I'm unsure how a republic can not be a democracy. How can the people hold ultimate power if not by democracy? Don't misunderstand me, lots of countries call themselves a republic that aren't.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:12 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by lobosrul5 View Post
Republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

I'm unsure how a republic can not be a democracy. How can the people hold ultimate power if not by democracy? Don't misunderstand me, lots of countries call themselves a republic that aren't.
I'm not sure that the consensus on the definitions are that great.

From what I understand, a Republic is one where the head of state is not a Monarch or other titled person and a Democracy is one where the people make the laws or decide who makes the laws.

With many of the systems of government around the world, it can be difficult to decide whether either word applies or not.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:16 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by lobosrul5 View Post
Republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

I'm unsure how a republic can not be a democracy. How can the people hold ultimate power if not by democracy? Don't misunderstand me, lots of countries call themselves a republic that aren't.
Quote:

1a(1) : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president

(2) : a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government

b(1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law

(2) : a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government

c : a usually specified republican government of a political unit the French Fourth Republic
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/republic
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:20 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
Do you think they mean a "president" like Castro?
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:29 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post


But make no mistake, the US Democracy is deeply flawed, and the Senate is the most flawed of all.

You say flawed, I say that's the beauty of the system, some power is reserved for the less populated areas of the country.

Gives Iowa and New Hampshire some attention they wouldn't otherwise get.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:29 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Belz... View Post
Do you think they mean a "president" like Castro?
Yes. There are probably more so called republics of that sort than those with actual democratically elected representatives.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:31 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by bobdroege7 View Post
You say flawed, I say that's the beauty of the system, some power is reserved for the less populated areas of the country.

Gives Iowa and New Hampshire some attention they wouldn't otherwise get.
No, those two states get extra attention because of our primary system.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:33 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
Even if that first definition is correct, that all it means is we have a leader that is termed "president" and not a monarch, its hardly something to be proud of.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:37 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by lobosrul5 View Post
No, those two states get extra attention because of our primary system.

Which mirrors our electoral college system.
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:45 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by lobosrul5 View Post
No, those two states get extra attention because of our primary system.
Are you still discussing the Senate?
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Old 29th November 2018, 01:58 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by bobdroege7 View Post
You say flawed, I say that's the beauty of the system, some power is reserved for the less populated areas of the country.

Gives Iowa and New Hampshire some attention they wouldn't otherwise get.
Any system of Government that purports to be representative of all of the people, but which allows greater representation for a minority, is a not a truly democratic system.

There would be nothing wrong with having a Senate where every State has a mandatory minimum of one Senator (in the US, that would be 50 of the 100 seats) and then the other 50 seats could be allocated proportionally according to State populations. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would better represent the people as a whole, and would go some way to satisfying your requirement that smaller states "get some attention".
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Old 29th November 2018, 02:10 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by psionl0 View Post
Are you still discussing the Senate?
I'm not sure what bobdroege7 meant, whether the Senate (having a Senate does not make a country a republic, example: Australia), or the EC. But its very odd that he mentioned Iowa and NH. Those two states get "some attention" as he said because they are the 2 early primary states. Doing poorly there almost always ends a presidential run.
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Old 29th November 2018, 03:08 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
Any system of Government that purports to be representative of all of the people, but which allows greater representation for a minority, is a not a truly democratic system.
Is that a "No true Scotsman" argument?

I might point out that there is also a House of Representatives but that is even less "truly" democratic thanks to the infamous gerrymandering that goes on.
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Old 29th November 2018, 04:21 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post

ETA: Some figures. IF the Senate was Elected by popular vote, in the 2018 it would be...

Democrats 59 seats (58.8%)
Republicans 40 seats (40.3%)
Independents 1 seat (0.9%)
And presumably California would have 11-12 senators, or do you just see the senate being elected at-large?
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Old 29th November 2018, 07:06 PM   #26
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I quite enjoyed this article. What is fair? That doesn’t mean that gerrymandering isn’t a factor. But if the measure of gerrymandering is one party getting a much bigger share of seats than its share of the popular vote, then it’s Democrats in California and Iowa who are getting more seats than they deserve.

The US is a constitutional democratic republic, because those are the terms that most accurately describes our system of government. That is what I was taught in school. I recall my father explaining that to me decades ago.
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Old 29th November 2018, 08:57 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
And presumably California would have 11-12 senators, or do you just see the senate being elected at-large?
Each party issues a list of Senatorial candidates in ranking order 1 to "n".
The party with the highest popular vote in each State gets their No. 1 candidate elected as the State's "Electoral Senator".
The remaining "List Senators" are allocated according to the popular vote in each state.

e.g. lets use California

Population 40 million, gets 40/325 = 12%, therefore 12 Senators.
Each party lists its 12 candidates in preference order 1 to 12
The popular vote is, say 58% Dem v 42% GOP
So,

The Dems No. 1 becomes the Electoral Senator for California

Dems 58% popular vote means they get 7 Senators -2 to 7 on their list become California List Senators
GOPs 42% popular vote means they get 5 Senators - 1 to 5 on their list become California list Senators.
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Old 29th November 2018, 09:32 PM   #28
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That is MMP without the individual electorates.
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Old 29th November 2018, 10:55 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by psionl0 View Post
Is that a "No true Scotsman" argument?
No, it isn't

It fails the "No True Scotsman" fallacy test because

1. I am not changing the definition of democracy just to suit this specific example;
2. I am not trying to protect a universal generalisation of Democracy from counterexamples.

Originally Posted by psionl0 View Post
I might point out that there is also a House of Representatives but that is even less "truly" democratic thanks to the infamous gerrymandering that goes on.
But if you were to remove the gerrymandering, the House would represent the will of the people much more closely than it does, i.e. the system itself is inherently more Democratic thanks to the larger number of representatives (over four times as many as the Senate), and does not arbitrarily allocate a fixed number of representatives to each region regardless of regional populations.

Originally Posted by psionl0 View Post
That is MMP without the individual electorates.
Yes and no.

Yes, you could say its MMP for each individual state, but it not as regards the Senate, because in MMP, your list MPs do not represent a particular area, where as in the system I propose, List Senators represent the people of their state.

Ultimately, you could just leave each individual state to decide how their allocation of Senators is elected, just make sure that each state is allocated according to the number of people they need to represent.
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:42 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by ServiceSoon View Post
I quite enjoyed this article. What is fair? That doesn’t mean that gerrymandering isn’t a factor. But if the measure of gerrymandering is one party getting a much bigger share of seats than its share of the popular vote, then it’s Democrats in California and Iowa who are getting more seats than they deserve.

The US is a constitutional democratic republic, because those are the terms that most accurately describes our system of government. That is what I was taught in school. I recall my father explaining that to me decades ago.
That's pretty much how I recall it. The difference between a democracy and a republic depends a lot on who is saying it and why - after all, any tinpot dictator can call his enterprise a democratic republic, but it doesnt make it so - but my general impression was that the difference is usually pointed out when differentiating between a republic and a direct democracy, in which governmental action is not delegated. A town meeting, for example, is a direct democracy, but legislation by plebiscite is impractical for the day to day business of any larger body. The degree to which it is undemocratic is at least partially separate from the fact that it's no longer technically a democracy.

ONe can make the distinction for many reasons good and bad, but it seems to be used most often when democracy is least served by the system.
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Old 29th November 2018, 11:44 PM   #31
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Republics are great governments for early growth and trade, and early-game republics often facilitate growth. The drawback to republics is that no unit comes free of support, and each ground or sea unit with attacking power beyond the first (and each air unit) that is outside of a city or a fortress up to three squares from a friendly city will make a citizen unhappy. There is also no military police, making improvements such as temples and cathedrals more important. Settlers and Engineers also require more food for support compared to other governments, requiring two.

Republics also enjoy a trade bonus, as well as a maximum rate of 80%. A republican city will grow by one while celebrating "We Love the King Day" as long as it has sufficient food.


Democracy is arguably the best form of government due to its numerous abilities. There is no restriction on maximum rate, and cities generate extra trade. As well, units are immune to bribery and it costs more for other civs to bribe a city under a democracy. There is no loss of shields or trade due to corruption and waste, and courthouses make one content citizen happy. If a city in democracy celebrates "We Love the King Day", the city will grow by one citizen each turn as long as it has sufficient food.

However, these benefits come at a price: there is no free support, and so all units must be supported with a shield from the unit's home city, and each unit (with attack power) that is not in a city or a fortress within three squares of a friendly city will make two people in the unit's home city unhappy. To make things worse, air will always make two people from the unit's home city unhappy. This makes improvements such as temples and cathedrals that much more important, as well as having the Shakespeare's Theater wonder in a city with high shield output. Democracies are also very fragile, as all civil disorders must be taken care of immediately or the citizens revolt. Settlers and Engineers also require two food from its home city to support.

Democracies also suffer from its relative inability to declare war. The senate will prevent almost every attempt at warmongering. Thus, the United Nations wonder is a valuable asset to any democracy, as it reduces the senate's influence to a more tolerable level.
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Old 30th November 2018, 07:36 AM   #32
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My understanding is that this is an idea that's been made popular by right-wing loons, The John Birch Society. If you go to their website you will probably find some pedantic and tedious disquisitions on the subject.
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Old 30th November 2018, 07:48 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
Yes. There are probably more so called republics of that sort than those with actual democratically elected representatives.
Yeah, but they're so-called. They're not actual Republics. Like, Genghis Khan could have called himself a pacifist all he wanted, but he wasn't one under any rational definition I can think of.
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Old 30th November 2018, 07:51 AM   #34
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If the Senate were to be determined by popular vote, then that would reduce the power of the individual states. Even as a card carrying democrat, I wouldn't want California and New York to have more power.

Representing each state equally instead of each person equally doesn't make it less democratic.
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Old 30th November 2018, 07:51 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
Any system of Government that purports to be representative of all of the people, but which allows greater representation for a minority, is a not a truly democratic system.
It's not an ideal democratic system, in my view, but how is it not a true democratic system? The definition of democracy doesn't require that all votes are equal or that indeed all can vote. The idea is simple: power to the demos, not the aristocracy. Of course, there are blurry edges to both systems.

I mean, under some ideology, some part of the population might be considered more vote-worthy than another. You and I might disagree with that, but that doesn't make it not democratic.
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Old 30th November 2018, 07:57 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Belz... View Post
Yeah, but they're so-called. They're not actual Republics. Like, Genghis Khan could have called himself a pacifist all he wanted, but he wasn't one under any rational definition I can think of.
But they are now actually republics by one of the more common definitions, a government that is not a monarchy.
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Old 30th November 2018, 08:08 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
But they are now actually republics by one of the more common definitions, a government that is not a monarchy.
That's a stupidly broad definition. That makes military dictatorships and aristocraties and oligarchies republics!
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Old 30th November 2018, 09:02 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by Belz... View Post
That's a stupidly broad definition. That makes military dictatorships and aristocraties and oligarchies republics!
I do not disagree on the other hand, that is effectively the definition of republic used by Irish Republicans, British Republicans, and Republicans throughout the Common Wealth.

Possibly Europe generally too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allian...ican_Movements

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Old 30th November 2018, 09:07 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by Belz... View Post
That's a stupidly broad definition. That makes military dictatorships and aristocraties and oligarchies republics!
Literally, republic means "public good" or "common wealth". It makes sense to use the word for countries that purport to promote the general welfare, in contrast to monarchies that promote a more specific welfare.
Explicitly democratic countries can be called democracy. There's no reason to restrict the term republic to mean the same as democracy.
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Old 30th November 2018, 09:10 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by GnaGnaMan View Post
There's no reason to restrict the term republic to mean the same as democracy.
No one suggested that.
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