wE’rE a rEPuBLiC nOt A dEMoCRacY

https://thebaffler.com/latest/were-a-republic-not-a-democracy-burmila

When faced with the predictable right-wing backlash against the suggestion that everyone should have a say in how they’re governed, rather than trying to engage on their terms, I’ll just share this.

19 thoughts on “wE’rE a rEPuBLiC nOt A dEMoCRacY

  1. One good reason for making a careful distinction between a democracy and a republic is to point out that a republic allows the people to be ruled by an elite group, or aristocracy. This is good for the people so long as the aristocracy consists of the most virtuous, most knowledgeable and most talented members of society.

    There being a natural tendency for the best of humanity to rise to the top of any given society, the formation of aristocracy is inevitable in any case. This is good and desirable, since the common weal is difficult to manage. Success in managing any society often depends on the application of the best capabilities humanity can offer.

    The question then becomes, How best to preserve a desirable aristocracy?

    One way is to make it hereditary so that elite social status passes from generation to generation. This should be effective because it preserves the successful gene pool which coalesced to create the elite group in the first place. But it is not a perfect solution.

    For one thing, it is exclusionary. Virtue, knowledge and talent can arise at any level of society. When they do, it would be good to admit those who embody them into the elite. But an aristocracy defined by inheritance cannot do so.

    Democracy provides a solution. Let the common people elect their own aristocracy: The forces of nature will prevail again.

    This is the essence of a democratic republic.

    But even this is not a perfect solution. To appoint an aristocracy marked by virtue, knowledge and talent, those same characteristics must be common among those who make the appointment. The paradox is: To know what they want the people must be what they want. When they are not, as we see today, the democratic innovation invites decay.

    Point being: A democracy and a republic are fundamentally different things. They can be combined to form a type of hybrid, but they remain conceptually and practically distinct.

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    1. The color “red” and the shape “sphere” are “fundamentally different things.” That does not mean that there cannot be a red ball, does it?

      Similarly, our nation is BOTH – a democracy and a republic. As Madison made clear in the excerpts in the article.

      Your next to last paragraph is not as self-evident as you seem to think. The opposite is closer to the truth. People want leaders who are better than they are.

      In general, and today in your comment, it is clear that you have a very low opinion of human nature. A move away from dictatorship to democracy invites decay!?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Your criticsms are pretty silly, since my comment doesn’t say the things you claim it does.

        For example, you accuse me of having a “very low opinion of human nature,” but in fact I wrote: “Virtue, knowledge and talent can arise at any level of society.”

        Also, you think I said, “A move away from dictatorship to democracy invites decay,” but in fact I argued that the absence of virtue, knowledge and talent among those who appoint the elite invites decay (of the republic).

        Obviously, too, a democratic republic is a type of democracy, as my post makes clear. A democratic republic is also a type of republic, which is the reality the source article for this thread obscures.

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    2. “There being a natural tendency for the best of humanity to rise to the top of any given society, the formation of aristocracy is inevitable in any case. This is good and desirable, since the common weal is difficult to manage.”

      That’s one of the most depressing worldviews I’ve ever encountered. How do you get out of bed in the morning?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. RE: “That’s not a society I want to live in.”

        Then you’re out of luck. America has an aristocracy, just like every other society.

        But I feel your pain. Our aristocracy is good for us only so long as it consists of the most virtuous, most knowledgeable and most talented people.

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        1. “America has an aristocracy, just like every other society.”

          I agree, but I consider it a bad thing and would very much like to see it dismantled.

          It seems like you favor the Burkean argument that the aristocracy is good, so long as it is based on capital rather than hereditary (ignoring for the moment that capital is obviously hereditary). Is that your position?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. RE: “Is that your position?”

          I don’t know Burk well enough to say. I would expect wealth to accumulate among the elite of any given society for a variety of reasons, some healthy, some unhealthy.

          I certainly disagree with Marx, who argues that the concentration of capital occurs due to corruption.

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          1. Not to be pedantic, but this is a distinction worth making. Marx would say capital concentrates due to exploitation rather than corruption in capitalist societies. This takes us back to the Labor Theory of Value, which is another conversation.

            So. Do you believe the aristocracy is good for society, or just inevitable?

            Liked by 1 person

          2. To cut to the chase; The essence of your discussions are more Darwinian than anything else. It is inevitable that, over time, genetics will create wealth in those with superior genes who will propagate with others of the same general ilk.

            The smart will get smarter and will use their accumulated wealth to rig the systems to continue to solidify their positions of power. As absolute power corrupts the “virtue” component you mention will weaken and disappear.

            The masses (below the meritocracy level) will either revolt violently or use our political structures to level the playing field.

            A better balance between capitalism and socialism would be a good step in a non-violent direction.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. RE: “Do you believe the aristocracy is good for society, or just inevitable?”

            As stated, I believe aristocracy is inevitable and can be good. It can also be bad.

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          4. RE: “The essence of your discussions are more Darwinian than anything else.”

            Not really. Genetics isn’t the only factor. Wealth can accumulate due to secrecy, for example. If you’ve ever been a manager in a business you can appreciate how important the beneficial control of information can be.

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          5. Yes, “really”. Of course wealth can accumulate in numerous “ways” the genetic component is the overarching factor that facilitates the recognition and use of those “ways”.

            Think more broadly, it’s the engine that drives the effects.

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    3. …”so long as the aristocracy consists of the most virtuous, most knowledgeable and most talented members of society.”… This would rule out Mr. Trump, would it not?

      I also read in your comment that a hereditary aristocracy sounds similar to a monarchy, in that power is passed down through the generations of a potentially single family. This country was founded in order to deny a monarchy. You appear to be advocating to a return to that, but via an election of elites. It also sounds like you could be on the Ivanka 2024 train, but that is a different issue altogether.

      This country is the hybrid you described as a “democratic republic”. We, the people, elect our representatives. Yet they don’t necessarily come from the cultural elite. Using local Congressional representatives as an example, Elaine Luria, Bobby Scott, Don McEachin came from humble backgrounds. Did they become part of the elite based on their election? Or are they citizen representatives as envisioned by the founders in forming the bicameral Congress we enjoy today?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RE: “You appear to be advocating to a return to that, but via an election of elites.”

        That’s not me. That’s the Constitution.

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  2. Thanks, while I was aware of most of the facts presented I thought the structure of the presentation and its conclusions were very well done.

    I’d belabor the point, but I would hope its eloquence would educate even the most challenged intellect.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “I think everybody who has a brain should get involved in politics. Working within. Not criticizing it from the outside. Become an active participant, no matter how feeble you think the effort is.” –Cass Elliot, singer (19 Sep 1941-1974)

    Soft breezes seem to whisper ‘I love you.’
    Birds singing in the sycamore trees,
    Dream a little dream of me…

    Liked by 1 person

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