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What Is Republicanism In The Constitution

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An Introduction To The Political Philosophy Of The Constitution

Democracy vs Constitutional Republic – What is America’s Real Form of Government


This philosophy, sometimes implicit and sometimes made explicit,guided their deliberations and informed the choices they madeamong competing solutions to pressing problems. This philosophyof government incorporated three major political doctrines:natural rights, republicanism, and constitutionalism. These ideaswere part of the common intellectual currency of eighteenthcentury America.

It is important, if we are to understand the events surroundingthe adoption and ratification of the Constitution, to rememberthat the discussion of these issues was not limited to a smallintellectual elite. A knowledge of these philosophies waswidespread. This is not, of course, to say that most Americanshad read the works of philosophers such as Locke or Montesquieu.Many, however, had become acquainted with their ideas by readingthe pamphlets that were published by the hundreds during theRevolution as well as during the debates over the adoption andratification of the Constitution. In addition, the doctrines ofthese and other philosophers had also been preached from numerouspulpits and promulgated in the pages of many of the thirtyeightnewspapers that existed in the colonies in 1775.


“The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting intocommonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is thepreservation of their property: to which in the state of Naturethere are many things wanting.”


Reviewing And Using The Lesson

  • What is republican government?
  • Define “common welfare.” Give examples of how your school helps the common welfare.
  • Define “civic virtue.” Give examples of people with civic virtue in your school and community.
  • Where was civic virtue taught in early America?
  • Describe a situation in which your interests might conflict with the common welfare.
  • Explain these terms: republican government, representative, interests, common welfare, civic virtue.
  • ISBN 0-89818-169-0

    Constitutional Monarchs And Upper Chambers

    Some countries turned powerful monarchs into constitutional ones with limited, or eventually merely symbolic, powers. Often the monarchy was abolished along with the aristocratic system, whether or not they were replaced with democratic institutions . In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Papua New Guinea, and some other countries the monarch, or its representative, is given supreme executive power, but by convention acts only on the advice of his or her ministers. Many nations had elite upper houses of legislatures, the members of which often had lifetime tenure, but eventually these houses lost much power , or else became elective and remained powerful.

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    Republican Freedom And The Human Good

    So far we have assumed that, however ultimately defined, republicanfreedom is always a good thing. Some have wondered whether this is thecase, however. This objection is most often expressed via the exampleof benevolent care-giving relationships. On the republican view thatone enjoys freedom only to the extent that one is independent fromarbitrary power, it would seem that children do not enjoy republicanfreedom with respect to their parents. But surely, one might suppose,the parent-child relationship is an extremely valuableone, and so we would not want greater republican freedom in such acontext. Republican freedom is, perhaps, not always a good thing.

    What Is A Constitutional

    What is Republicanism?

    The United States is not a pure democracy. Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, you might find that statement shocking but that doesnt make it any less true. While our government may hold democratic features, its essentially defined as a Constitutional Republic. Heres what that means, and why the difference matters.

    The goal of a constitutional republic is to ensure all people are equally represented, and that the government works for the people while preventing tyranny and corruption.

    At its heart, a constitutional republic is a government in which the people have the right to vote in elected officials to lead the country on their behalf. Its typically broken up into multiple branches. This is the case in the United States, which splits powers between the executive, judicial, and legislative bodies. This limits potential overreach and abuse of power.

    The main defining feature of a constitutional republic, however, is not any of these features. Instead, its the fact that the government, and any elected officials within it, must follow the rule of a constitution at all times. Neither the government nor its elected officials can take any action that violates it.

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    Is The United States A Republic Or A Democracy

    The following statement is often used to define the United States’ system of government: “The United States is a republic, not a democracy. This statement suggests that the concepts and characteristics of republics and democracies can never coexist in a single form of government. However, this is rarely the case. As in the United States, most republics function as blended representational democracies featuring a democracys political powers of the majority tempered by a republics system of checks and balances enforced by a constitution that protects the minority from the majority.

    To say that the United States is strictly a democracy suggests that the minority is completely unprotected from the will of the majority, which is not correct.

    Republicanism In The Thirteen British Colonies In North America

    In recent years a debate has developed over the role of republicanism in the American Revolution and in the British radicalism of the 18th century. For many decades the consensus was that liberalism, especially that of John Locke, was paramount and that republicanism had a distinctly secondary role.

    The new interpretations were pioneered by J.G.A. Pocock, who argued in The Machiavellian Moment that, at least in the early 18th century, republican ideas were just as important as liberal ones. Pocock’s view is now widely accepted.Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood pioneered the argument that the American founding fathers were more influenced by republicanism than they were by liberalism. Cornell University professor Isaac Kramnick, on the other hand, argues that Americans have always been highly individualistic and therefore Lockean.Joyce Appleby has argued similarly for the Lockean influence on America.

    In the decades before the American Revolution , the intellectual and political leaders of the colonies studied history intently, looking for models of good government. They especially followed the development of republican ideas in England. Pocock explained the intellectual sources in America:

    The commitment of most Americans to these republican values made the American Revolution inevitable. Britain was increasingly seen as corrupt and hostile to republicanism, and as a threat to the established liberties the Americans enjoyed.

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    The Concept Of A Republic

    Derived from the Latin phrase res publica, meaning the public thing, a republic is a form of government in which the social and political affairs of the country are considered a public matter, with representatives of the citizen body holding the power to rule. Because citizens govern the state through their representatives, republics may be differentiated from direct democracies. However, most modern representative democracies are republics. The term republiccan also be attached to not only democratic countries but also to oligarchies, aristocracies, and monarchies in which the head of state is not determined by heredity.

    In a republic, the people elect representatives to make the laws and an executive to enforce those laws.  While the majority still rules in the selection of representatives, an official charter lists and protects certain inalienable rights, thus protecting the minority from the arbitrary political whims of the majority. In this sense, republics like the United States function as representative democracies.

    In the U.S., senators and representatives are the elected lawmakers, the president is the elected executive, and the Constitution is the official charter.

    Democracy’s Discontent: America In Search Of A Public Philosophy

    The Constitution of India – An Introduction

    In this book, Sandel contrasts the tradition of civic republicanism with that of procedural liberalism in the US political history. The presentation is organized as the intertwining of philosophical and mostly historical analyses. Philosophically, based on LLJ, Sandel continuous his criticism of liberalism and argues for the idea of civic republicanism with the sense of multiply situated selves. Historically, Sandel shows, while both procedural liberalism and civic republicanism used to be present throughout American politics, American political discourse, in the recent decades, has become dominated by procedural liberalism, and has steadily crowded out the republican understandings of citizenship, which is important for self-government.

    Sandel reminds us that the American Revolution was originally aspiring to generate a new community of common good. By separating from England, Americans attempt to stave off corruption and to realize republican ideals, to renew the moral spirit that suited Americans to republican government . Unfortunately, in the years following independence, leading politicians and writers started to worry the corruption of the public spirit by the rampant pursuit of luxury and self-interest. Nowadays, most of American practices and institutions have thoroughly embodied the philosophy of procedural liberalism. Despite its philosophical problem, it has offered the public philosophy by which Americans live.

    T. O’Hagan, in, 2001

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    Republican Liberty: Problems And Debates

    The appeal of the republican conception of political liberty asindependence from the arbitrary power of a master is perhapsunderstandable. This is not to say, however, that this conception isuncontroversial. Before discussing its role in developing contemporarycivic republican arguments, we should consider various problems anddebates surrounding the republican idea of freedom.

    The Founders Studied History

    The Founders studied the history of governments. They were very interested in what they read about the government of the Roman Republic. It was located in what is now the country of Italy. The Roman Republic existed more than 2,000 years before our nation began.

    The Founders liked what they read about the Roman Republic. They learned some important ideas from their study of the government of ancient Rome. They used some of these ideas when they created our government.

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    The Constitutive Notion Of Civic Republicanism: Pettit

    Insofar as republican freedom is tied to power, it is essentially egalitarian. It is held to protect each individual against arbitrary power, and also to be a communitarian good, allowing people to identify with a state that protects their freedom. This version of republican freedom is heavily influenced by Rousseau, purged of totalitarian accretions, and updated to the advanced capitalist societies of the late twentieth century. They are now explicitly inclusive, bestowing their benefits on all members of society, and also multicultural, displaying liberal neutrality toward different substantive conceptions of the good. How far such societies can provide a stable balance between the participatory core of republican freedom and the centrifugal drives of modern pluralism remains to be seen.

    Andrew Tsz Wan Hung, in, 2015

    Attributes Of A Republican Government

    • Power and authority in the government come from the people
    • Rights of the citizens are protected through a constitution and voting
    • Power is distributed to representatives based on majority rule
    • Representatives are responsible for helping everyone in the country and not just a few people
    • The involvement of people in the government is what guarantees government stability
    • Rulers are chosen for their skills and do not gain power based on birthright
    • Civilians participate in the government processes
    • The country’s economic pursuits benefit the whole nation

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    Civic Virtue And Corruption

    Among the more salient themes in the classical republican traditionare the importance of civic virtue and the dangers of corruption. Wemay understand the term corruption simply to mean theadvancement of personal or sectional interest at the expense of thepublic good, and civic virtue as its oppositethatis, a willingness to do ones part in supporting the publicgood. Critics of republicanism often fear that this implies extensiveself-sacrifice and frugality, a renunciation of individuality andself-identification with the community . These fears areno doubt encouraged by the civic humanist reading of the classicaltradition along perfectionist lines. Civic republicans accordinglyhave been at pains to show the contrarythat civic virtue shouldbe understood as a strictly instrumental good, useful in establishingand maintaining republican liberty. Far from calling for thesubjection of individual to collective aims, they argue, republicanliberty is desirable in part because it enables citizens to pursuetheir private aims with assurances of security .

    Advantages Of A Republican Government

    Have you ever given up your own interests to do something that is good for everyone? In a republican government, selfish interests are given up for the common good of the country. Let’s take a look at more advantages of a republican government.

    • Laws made by elected representatives are meant to be fair. If people find laws unfair, they can elect other leaders who can change those laws.
    • A republic allows greater freedom and prosperity. Economic pursuit benefits the entire nation and people are able to live well.
    • When government serves the interests of the entire country, we say it is serving the common welfare.
    • There is wider participation in the political process. According to the Declaration of Independence, all men are created equal; therefore, it did not matter if you were a small farmer or a powerful aristocrat. Ordinary people are welcome to participate in government.
    • Leaders emerge based on people’s talents, not their birthright.
    • Civic virtue is promoted. Civic virtue includes demonstrating civic knowledge , self-restraint, self-assertion, and self-reliance.
    • Change and reform come about by vote, not by force.

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    The Concept Of A Democracy

    Coming from the Greek words for people and rule , democracy means rule by the people. As such, a democracy requires that the people be allowed to take part in the government and its political processes. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may have offered the best definition of democracy as being a government of the people, by the people, for the people in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. 

    Typically through a constitution, democracies limit the powers of their top rulers, such as the President of the United States, set up a system of and responsibilities between branches of the government, and protect the natural rights and civil liberties of the people.  

    In a pure democracy, all citizens who are eligible to vote take an equal part in the process of making laws that govern them. In a pure or direct democracy,” the citizens as a whole have the power to make all laws directly at the ballot box. Today, some U.S. states empower their citizens to make state laws through a form of direct democracy known as the ballot initiative. Put simply, in a pure democracy, the majority truly does rule and the minority has little or no power.

    The concept of democracy can be traced back to around 500 BCE in Athens, Greece. Athenian democracy was a true direct democracy, or mobocracy, under which the public voted on every law, with the majority having almost total control over rights and freedoms.

    Constitutional Republic Vs Democracy

    American Government: Republic Not Democracy

    Some believe that the United States is a democracy, but it is actually the perfect example of a constitutional republic. A pure democracy would be a form of government in which the leaders, while elected by the people, are not constrained by a constitution as to its actions. In a republic, however, elected officials cannot take away or violate certain rights of the people. The Pledge of Allegiance, which was written in 1892 and adopted by Congress in 1942 as the official pledge, even makes reference to the fact that the U.S. is a republic:

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    The Anti-Federalists and Federalists, as the new nation was being formed, could not agree on how involved the federal government should be in citizens lives; a decision on a pure democracy could never be reached. Alexander Hamilton, himself a Federalist, stated that the government being created was a republican government, and that true freedom would not be found in a dictatorship nor a true democracy, but in a moderate government.

    The following table outlines some of the differences between a constitutional republic and a democracy:

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    The Contemporary Republican Program

    However interesting the debates discussed in theprevious section, one may still wonder whether republicanism hasanything valuable to contribute to contemporary normative politicaltheory and philosophy. One reason many people remain skeptical has todo with the fact that the classical republican writings often expressviews that are decidedly elitist, patriarchal, and militaristic. Howcould the basis for an appealing contemporary political program befound in such writings ?

    The civic republicans, naturally, reject this view. There is nothinginherently elitist about the ideal of freedom when this is understoodnegatively as independence from arbitrary or uncontrolled power. The classicalrepublicans, to be sure, typically confined the extension of this idealto a narrow range of propertied, native-born male citizens. But on thecivic republican reading of the tradition, this merely reflects anunnecessary prejudice we can easily dispense with. The elitism of the tradition long concealed the potentially radical implications of freedom as non-domination; suitably universalized now at last, republicanism is revealed to be a strikingly progressive political doctrine .

    Republican Versus Negative Liberty

    Notice that the republican view of freedom is, at least in thebroad sense, a negative conception of political liberty. One need notdo or become anything in particular to enjoy political liberty in therepublican sense; one need not exercise self-mastery, on any view ofwhat that entails, nor succeed in acting on ones second-orderdesires . Republican freedom merely requiresthe absence of something, namely, the absence of any structuraldependence on arbitrary power or domination.

    Despite these similarities, however, republican freedom is notequivalent to the received view of negative liberty asnon-interference. In contrast to the non-interference view, it easilyaccounts for our intuitions in the two scenarios described above. Theslave lacks freedom because he is vulnerable to the arbitrary power ofhis master; whether his master happens to exercise that power isneither here nor there. Likewise, what matters with respect topolitical freedom on the republican view is not how much theimperial power chooses to govern its colony, but the fact that theformer may choose to govern the latter as much and however itlikes. Thus Joseph Priestley described the lightly-governed Americancolonies as nevertheless in a condition of servitude because bythe same power, by which the people of England can compel them to payone penny, they may compel them to pay the last penny they have.

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    The Legacy Of Antiquity

    In spite of manifold contacts with the oriental world, the political and cultural achievements of Greece and Rome were products of indigenous development. The notions of citizenship and individual rights, the ideas of republicanism and democracy, as well as universal emperorship, the continuity of Roman law and of the church , Christian preservation of pagan literature and other traditions became formative for European culture through structural continuities and conscious renaissance. In this sense, it is still appropriate to treat Greco-Roman antiquity as a historical epoch of its own.

    The Classical Republican Tradition

    jobsanger: Republic, Democracy Or Corporation

    After long-standing neglect among historians of political thought,there has been a dramatic revival of interest in the classical republican tradition in the past fifty years or so. For the first fewdecades of this revival, a particular interpretation of that traditionprevailed. According to this view, the classical republicans held whatwould now be described as a perfectionist politicalphilosophythat is, a political philosophy centered on the ideaof promoting a specific conception of the good life as consisting inactive citizenship and healthy civic virtue on the one hand, whilecombating any sort of corruption that would undermine these values onthe other. This distinctive vision of the good life is supposed to berooted in the experience of the ancient Greek polis, especially asexpressed in the writings of Aristotle. The goods of active politicalparticipation, civic virtue, and so on, are to be understood asintrinsically valuable components of human flourishing.

    It is now standard to refer to this as the civichumanist interpretation of the classical republican tradition, and it is most commonly associated with the writings of Arendt , Pocock , and Rahe . These and other civic humanist writings have left such an impression on the field that even today many fail to distinguish their views from those of the civic republicans. As we shall see, however, the two are importantly distinct.

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    Republicanism And Fundamental Rights

    The foregoing discussion should not be construed as implying a necessary correlation between, on the one hand, liberalism and democracy, and, on the other, communitarianism and authoritarianism. Some versions of communitarianism approach a pure, popular democracy more closely than do some versions of liberalism, which would expressly renounce pure democracy. If a society is to be governed by a principle of collective welfare, and if notions of collective welfare are to be ascertained by consensus, then majority rule provides sufficient justification for deciding which acts should be penalized. No additional justification, with reference to the specific harm that would be caused by penalized acts, would be required. If the majority wishes to penalize gambling, alcohol consumption, flag burning, contraception, or homosexuality, then it may do so with no greater notion of harm than the sentiment that individuals and society would be better off without such things.

    Ordinary right
    Putative harm caused by exercise of right Exercise of right may be penalized without special justification Exercise of right may not be penalized without special justification

    Wilfried Nippel, in, 2015

    Republicanism In The United States

    Republican Party republic

    This article is part of a series on the

    Republicanism in the United States is a set of ideas that guides the government and politics. These ideas have shaped the government, and the way people in the United States think about politics, since the American Revolution.

    The American Revolution, the , the Constitution , and even the Gettysburg Address were based on ideas from American republicanism.

    “Republicanism” comes from the word “republic.” However, they are not the same thing. A republic is a type of government . Republicanism is an ideology set of beliefs that people in a republic have about what is most important to them.

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    Political Liberty Positive And Negative

    It is notorious that there are several competing conceptions ofpolitical liberty. The now standard account was laid down mostinfluentially by Isaiah Berlin in his famous lecture on TwoConcepts of Liberty . According to the first,negative conception of liberty, people are free simply tothe extent that their choices are not interfered with. There are manyvariations on this conception, depending on how exactly one wants todefine interference, but they all have in common thebasic intuition that to be free is, more or less, to be left alone todo whatever one chooses. This idea of negative liberty Berlinassociates especially with the classic English political philosophersHobbes, Bentham, and J. S. Mill, and it is today probably the dominantconception of liberty, particularly among contemporary Anglo-Americanphilosophers. In Mills well-known words, the only freedomwhich deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our ownway, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs.

    The troubling implications of the positive conception of liberty arewell-known, and need not be rehearsed at length here. For the most part, thesestem from the problem that freedom in the positive sense would seem tolicense fairly extensive coercion on behalf of individualsallegedly real interestsfor example, coercivelyforcing the gambler to quit on the presumption that this is, in fact,what he really wants to do . Regardingthis danger, Berlin writes:

    What Is A Republican Government

    Understanding the Republican Form of Government

    The government of Rome was called a republican government. The Founders read that republican government was one in which:

    • The power of government is held by the people.
    • The people give power to leaders they elect to represent them and serve their interests.
    • The representatives are responsible for helping all the people in the country, not just a few people.

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