A Democracy Is A Republic, And Reciprocally!

Many US citizens feel it is a mark of sophisticated scholarship to distinguish between “Republic” and “Democracy”. That’s conventional, very American, wrong and perverse.

Intelligence is the appropriate exercise of discrimination. “Proper” comes from property. It means a topological distinction, a logic of place distinction, can be made. If a distinction cannot be made, and still one insists to claim it must be made and it is something deep, that spawns confusion, and disinformation… and if one is confused, and misinformed, one cannot exert command and control, let alone will and power. Hence the powers that be have interest to promote hair that one cannot split, to mentally weaken those who would have the impertinence to rise above their dismal condition. Hence the claimed contrast between Republic and Democracy, which rests on flaunting ignorance, and making it the deepest virtue.

When one complains about some anti-democratic features, such as Nancy Pelosi’s iron rule of the Democratic Party (since before the Iraq invasion, when she was ranking member of the Intelligence Committee; that was nearly 20 years ago!)… or more generally, if one bemoans “democracy” through a few “representatives”, an objection is often made: we live in a Republic, not a Democracy. This sort of mumbo jumbo is very old, coming all the way back to Aristotle (at least). It is as if nobody had looked at the basic organization of the Athenian democracy at its apogee.

In 594 BCE, Solon, appointed Athen’s premier archon, imposed economic and constitutional reforms to give each free resident of Attica a political function. Citizens now had the equal right to address anyone (isegoria) free of Political Correctness (Parrhesia). Before that only the aristocracy ruled, forming the cavalry, which was the army. However, following the example of Argos, Greek city-states switched to the hoplite army, which was made of the upper middle class (wealthy enough for serious military training). That was literally putting Power (KRATIA) in the hand of the People (DEMOS). So the drive towards democracy started with that military innovation (which was going to last until the establishment of the Feudal Order in the Tenth Century, 16 centuries later! (When the Frankish army defeated the Muslim invasion at Poitier, the Franks fought on the foot as one gigantic phalanx, Greek, style, probably the largest phalanx ever, against the Muslim horse… The Frankish cavalry came into play later.) 

Jeff Robinson: 

Most states are a democracy, but our federal government is a republic. There is a difference and it was set up that way for a very important reason. The Electoral College makes the US a Republic. Without the Electoral College there would not be a fair representation of all the states. All states have different resources, interests, and climates that must be represented for the USA to work as a country.

Patrice’s answer: Have you looked at the organization of the Athenian democracy? It is full of elements, assemblies and executive committees, most of them not one man-one vote. And for excellent reasons. The US Electoral College had a functional Roman equivalent (not all tribes were represented the same, as they voted according to chronological order… squared! Old ones were voting first, and with more weight…)

Here is the Constitution of the Athenian Democracy. It is nearly as complicated as the constitution of Rome (which added amusing meta-override features such as “Augurs”… no doubt to make Rome more cautious than Athens. So Roman law ruled over Rome for 28 centuries and counting Frankish rule used Roman law, meta administered by the modifications of the LEX SALICA, including religious tolerance, equal inheritance and the outlawing of slavery; but the basic point was that Roman law was law under the Frankish empire, the “Renovated Roman empire”, and, from there, Western Europe and now the world. Athens arguably failed in part from hubris, which the Roman constitution was better at keeping in check!

Rome was a Republic, not a Democracy: this is what people say, but I do not understand it. Or, rather, I understand that they did not look at the organogram of Rome. Res Publica: Public Thing. Res Publica is non committal semantics.  A public thing could be whatever, maybe even the coaqula maxima, the Roman sewer system (still in use). Inspected in detail, that Roman Res Publica was immensely complex. 

Even Cicero, once a Consul, and a particularly regalian Consul, at that, too harsh and dictatorial even for Julius Caesar, discovered late in life that the function of Augur, whom he had been elected to, was actually even more powerful than that of a Consul (an augur could stop, or start, wars, and did not have to explain why to anybody: birds told him so).

Rome was actually partly a direct democracy. People voted laws directly. It is not a bartender (AOC) or a wealthy political heiress (Nancy Pelosi), or plutocrats more or less in the shadows who voted, but individuals from We The People, directly. Ancient historians loved to pontificate that Roma had a “mixed constitution”… at least so it was said, because of regal elements (the great power of the Consuls)… However Athens also had regalian elements. They differ slightly from those of Rome… However, when the aristocratic golden youth and Socrates’ boyfriend Alcibiades decided to go attack, invade and occupy Syracuse, pretty much nobody could stop him (except at the least moment his command was removed and a superstitious imbecile was chosen to replace Alcibiades). There is no such extravaganza of personal hubristic power to such an astounding instance in the entire history of Rome [1]. When Caesar started his war in Gaul, it was actually not his war: the Helvetiae had invaded and Rome was asked to stop them. Then one thing led to another, but the command of Caesar was always well motivated by the long term interest of the Roman Republic (and Caesar’s conquest of Gaul by the spirit of Roman Republican law endures to this day, in a civilizational sense!)

The Roman Republic sank into a century of civil war… But that was precisely a war between the Populares (We The People) and the Optimates (the plutocrats). In other words, a war between what democracy had been created for (reducing inequality, see Solon), and what democracy had been created against (the oligarchs, aka the “aristocrats”). Interestingly, the root of noble, nobilis, is an abbreviation from gnobilis, from gnoscere (come to know), from the Proto Indo-European root “gno”, to know. So for Rome the hereditary oligarchs were those in the know, whereas for the Greeks they were the best (that’s “Optimates” translated back in Latin).

Thus the Roman Republican civil war was between rising inequality due to globalization eschewing the localization of Roman law and the Populists (“Populares”) 

After Augustus made his regressive revolution, the Power To the People aspect of the Res Publica was definitely on its way out… By then the oligarchic-plutocratic-military system was so powerful that no even barbarian invasion could destroy it. Instead, the plutocratic system incorporated the barbarians: nothing symbolizes this better than the fanatical catholic emperor Theodosius I winning the battle of Frigidus against the Frank Arbogast and his anti-Christian Western Roman army, in September 394 CE: the Goths did most of the work. 

Ever since the mood set by Aristotle has kept on going: monarchy is best, and that spirit has kept on contaminating the Republic, ever since generations of progressives have tried to restart the Republic. 

While he was financing the war for the independence of America, Louis XVI was told by an adviser: “But Sire, you are creating a Republic!” Louis gave it a gallic shrug. Where does “public” comes from? From the Old Latin poplicus “pertaining to the people,” from populus “people”.

In other words, “Republic” and “People Power” are broadly speaking the same thing.

Attempts have been made recently, in the French Republic and the British quasi-Republic, to restart an idea from Greece: establish assemblies chosen by lot to study issues. The advantage of this is that we get ideas from people who are less influenced by lobbyists than professional “representatives”. The results have been interesting.

A Democracy Is A Republic, And Reciprocally! Making a distinction between Democracy and Republic is often made by those who claim that the US should not be a democracy… because, according to these skeptics of democracy, the USA would be a different creature, a republic. Tellingly, in France, the other initial modern Republic, a distinction between “Republic” and “Democracy” is considered to be much ado about nothing, the theme of this essay..

In any case we are in a position, thanks to technological advances to not just copy Athenian and Roman constitutions, but to go further, inspired by their spirits.

Patrice Ayme


3 Responses to “A Democracy Is A Republic, And Reciprocally!”

  1. aldariontelcontar Says:

    I think we need to change our understanding of what a democracy is.

    Republic means devaluation of power to the lowest tier. Holy Roman Empire was more of a democracy than, say, European Union, because more or less every city and village was able to govern itself. Roman Republic likewise allowed great degree of local autonomy.

    Roman Empire did not fall because it gained an emperor. Average Roman hardly cared about whether he was ruled by an Emperor or a Senate, so long as they did not interfere in the local affairs. And for a long time they did not. But with the time, central government got bloated and the Empire centralized and bureocratized – in fact the process started long before the Empire came about, and may have caused the fall of the Republic to begin with. This same process destroyed the Empire – distant central government was distant from local concerns, unable and unwilling to properly respond, while at the same time imposing crushing taxes and oppressive control. So average Roman looked to barbarians for liberation, and later to Arabs.

    Main question here is freedom, and freedom means decentralization, localization and subsidiarity. In an ideal state, it hardly matters what character the central government takes, because central government does not have a significant influence on person’s day to day life anyway. That, I think, is far more important than who elects the government. Large scale elections can always get manipulated anyway.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thank for the educative and inspirational comment, Aldariontelcontar… I agree with you 100%… with two caveats: first the local inhabitants did not welcome the savages, just the opposite. BUT the plutocrats negotiated with the savages: see Theodosius with the Goths. So the peasants got up to 90% killed, whereas the vicious plutocracy of the Late Roman empire survived as a class.

      Another related point is that the empire had potentially the means of crushing all barbarians, by making a mass conscription. But of course the plutocracy didn’t want to arm the Populus Romanus….

      Nowadays, of course localization is crucial. I have advocated that the mess of the Feudal order was actually an increase of democracy, by localization, as you depicted…

      Liked by 1 person

      • aldariontelcontar Says:

        Actually, read up on the transformation in the West (best book I found was by Henri Pirenne, “Muhammad and Charlemagne”). Most of the original inhabitants were not killed: in fact, the Roman aristocracy in southern France kept their lands, and barbarian soldiers were settled under the hospitalitas system on the land, which they received under the condition of service to the Rome. Some barbarians did act as savages, but many did not: Vandal sack of Rome was weirdly humane. And they also intermarried with the locals instead of slaughtering them, which is how Romance languages came about. In fact, Britain was the only place where your model is applicable – which is the reason why they are so different from the Continent.

        You are correct about the conscription: part of the reason why barbarian takeover was successful was that Roman civilians had been thoroughly disarmed and disenfranchised by that time.

        I will be writing on the importance of subsidiarity someday…


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