Yes. The United States is a Republic… and a Democracy

The United States is a Republic
White House at night, view from the north. Photo by Rob Young.

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Is the United States a Republic or a Democracy?

I’m sure you have heard somebody say, “The United States is not a democracy. It is a republic.” I want to take a moment and dissect this phrase. Most people focus on the first part. They try to explain why the United States is a democracy. Typically, the debate focuses on different meanings of democracy. Let’s focus on the second half of the phrase instead. People regularly debate the meaning of democracy, but the meaning of republic tends to get a pass. Yet when people juxtapose the idea of a republic against democracy, they imply they represent two distinct forms of government. That’s a bit of a misunderstanding.

The United States is a republic and a democracy. But this does not mean that all democracies are republics or vice versa. The United Kingdom is the best example of a democracy that is not a republic. Australia and Canada are other examples. Indeed, many constitutional monarchies are also democracies. Some like Australia have even considered becoming republics. This reform does not require any change in government. Rather it would replace Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. So, the key difference between a republic and a monarchy is really just the head of state.

Many countries distinguish between the head of state and the head of government. For example, India has a President who serves as head of state, but the Prime Minister has more power because they control the government. Still, many autocracies like Russia, China, and Iran have no monarch. Technically, they are republics. Republics and democracies belong to two different political dimensions. One dimension involves republics and monarchies. However, the more important dimension involves differences between democracies and autocracies. This is why so many focus on America as a democracy rather than simply a republic.

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