(Daily360.com) – Why are “Democrats” and “Republicans” so named? Democracy and republicanism are two similar, but distinct, governing structures. While many people think of and refer to America as a democracy, they are technically incorrect; it is really a republic.
What Is a Democracy?
Simply put, a democracy is a system of government under which the people hold the power, rather than an unelected leader. The word originated from the Greek words demos (meaning people) and kratia (meaning power).
In the traditional conception of democracy (known as pure democracy), citizens exercise this power directly. Governments or heads of state do not have the authority to direct policies and make laws with autonomy.
An example of this framework in the modern world is Switzerland. Swiss citizens over the age of 18 get the chance to vote on specific policy issues 4 times each year. The country also has a Federal Council in place of a single head of state.
Because pure democracies do not have strong governing bodies, they afford less protection to minorities. Any proposed law or policy that has majority support at a given time can come to pass. Therefore, the risk of discrimination or abuse of human rights is much higher in a purely democratic structure.
What Is a Republic?
The word “republic” comes from the Latin res publica, a term people of the time used to refer to matters requiring public action or decisions. The French began using the word république in the 15th century to describe a government that left power with the people (a novel concept at the time.)
In a republic, the people hold power in a similar way as they would under a democracy. However, this system requires elected representatives to exercise this power, rather than allowing citizens to act on it directly.
As America has a president, a legislature, and courts that make decisions without consulting the people they represent, it is considered a republic.
The government describes the United States as a “constitutional federal republic.” This definition recognizes the primacy of our Constitution, as well as the focus on governance at the level of the state. The Constitution serves to preserve the rights of individuals when governments make decisions. In a republic, governments can act without regard for the wishes of voters, but they cannot breach a right that is constitutionally protected.
What Does This Mean?
When you read this article’s title, you may have wondered whether America had secretly become a dictatorship without your knowledge. Don’t worry; just because America isn’t a democracy, that doesn’t mean your votes don’t install and maintain our governing bodies. It might be a little confusing, but it’s important to understand our system of government fully in order to participate in it properly.
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