Enough with the Hitler Already

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FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. James says:

    comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies.?
    “Constitutional Republic” ?
    Seems like Oranges and Apples?
     
     
    James, flat lands of Texas

  2. comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies.?
    “Constitutional Republic” ?
    Seems like Oranges and Apples?

    That would be a misconception, albeit a widely shared one.  A constitutional republic is, by definition, a democracy in the modern sense of the term.


  3. James says:

     “A constitutional republic is, by definition, a democracy in the modern sense of the term.”

    I’m probably ol school, North of Sixty five yrs, where, when did we (become modern)lose our (“Constitutional Republic” Where we ever a ))Any recommeded reading?

    James flat land of Texas

  4. Mostly is a terminology thing more than a definition or transformation/evolution thing.

    I have been meaning to write a post on this subject here at OTB, but here are some things I have written in the past.  I have been told by a friend that the first entry came across as a bit grumpy, so I apologize for that to being with.

    A Republic, not a Democracy? (Part I)

    A Republic, Not a Democracy? (Part II)

    A Republic, not a Democracy? (Postscript on Federalist #10)

     

  5. James says:

    Thanks for the reading referances.
    Will read after Dinner with BW 🙂

    James, flat lands of Texas

  6. James says:

    Well the logic isn’t exactly trip and fall, But I do have a little tangle foot. 🙂

    I see your point of view, but I’m  not quiet ready to join the Chior.

    I will consider (Vet) the arguement with more (study) reading.

    James, flat lands of Texas 🙂

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    Considering the source of this was Breitbart has it ever crossed your mind Steve that in fact it’s all a set up by Republicans.  

  8. Trumwill says:

    When I was raised, it was with the notion that democracy was meant to represent the will of the people* and republicanism was a more limited democracy where the will of the majority had constraints attached to it. Maybe this was the right way of looking at it and maybe not. But this distinction, even if the terminology is wrong, is a valuable one.
     
    We may have a democracy the same way that Canada has a democracy, but it seems to me that there are some rather crucial differences between our form of democracy and a parliamentary democracy. The two may have set-asides for certain civil liberties being protected even in the fact of a hostile majority, but the American form of government took very specific and significant measures beyond that to thwart majority rule even when civil liberties are not at stake.
     
    So… how does one that believes that these limitations are good and proper identify that in contrast to the belief that democracy is a goal unto itself? How do we express what makes our system different from those that don’t have a Senate, an Electoral College, and so on? Because, for lack of that term, we all agree that we are a democracy but have different ideas as to what that means. People like Dr. Taylor can then say “Well, since we have a democracy, it should be democratic!” and support things like abolishing the Senate and multi-member districts and suggest that these things are weaknesses in the system.
     
    Now, there’s nothing wrong with the belief that we should pursue a stronger democracy (or at least I am not going to argue against that point right now), but there needs to be a word for those of us that support voting and elected officials but also support structures in place so that the majority does not rule in all instances (apart from civil liberties). Republicanism was a good word for this when I was growing up, but fine maybe it’s inaccurate. But what’s a better affirmative** term? Cause I would like to be able to use the term without getting into an argument about it not meaning what I think it means or suggesting that I am making a false distinction.
     
    * – For the sake of the discussion, consider constraints with regard to civil liberties implied even when not stated.
     
    ** – By which I mean I want something other than “anti-democratic” because it’s no more anti-democratic than believing that we should apply constraints to protect civil liberties. Rather, it’s a different point on the spectrum.

  9. In simple terms every democracy worthy of being called democracy has built in protections for political minorities (i.e., freedom of speech, press, opposition, etc.) and none are pure “will of the majority only” systems.

    but the American form of government took very specific and significant measures beyond that to thwart majority rule even when civil liberties are not at stake.

    In the sense that certain elements of the constitution over-represent smaller states, this is true.   However, this was not part of a profound theory of republicanism, but rather was part of political compromise that allowed the constitution to be accepted.   People tend to conflate the two together.  Mostly this is just a function of federalism, which ultimately has nothing to do with the republic/democracy issue (although, again, many people think that it does).  Mostly all of this comes from a lack of detailed knowledge about the way other states actually function.

    And, again, the US is not the only case in which federal feature grant political privileges to territorially-based sub-units.  The aforementioned Canadian case is one, as is Switzerland as are a number of other cases I could name.

    Yes, we have a federal system.  That fact, however, has very little to do with whether the term “republic” or “democracy” is the relevant one to describe the US system or its constitution.

  10. I will say this:  the US has some fairly extreme (in comparative terms) “minority” protections, such as the fact that practically everything has to pass a super-majority threshold in the Senate, but that is a function of the development of the Senate rules–not the constitution and not the republic v. democracy issue.

  11. One more thing:  it is rather odd how this became the democracy/republic thread… 🙂

    (edited because I left out “odd” and typed “how” as “who”).

  12. And yet another thing:

    I will readily concede that there are elements of US governance that are less democratic than many other democratic states.  However, what I will not concede, because it is ultimately nonsensical, is that the US is a “republic” while other states are “democracies.”

  13. Trumwill says:

    Strictly speaking, you are of course perfectly correct that we cannot differentiate between a republic and a democracy as two distinct things. A republic is an indirect democracy, which is the only type of democracy widely used. This was actually explained to me when I was growing up and was told the differences between a republic and a democracy, but I was also told that we called constrained democracies “republic” because it emphasized the indirect nature of it. I’m not saying all of this to defend it as correct, but merely to point out how it was used (and not only by people with an agenda) as I was growing up.
     
    In any event, we’re still left with defining the difference between the system we have and a democracy where the goal is for the government to reflect the will of the majority of its people. Republic isn’t right, but Constitutional Republic (as a form of democracy with stipulations in a document called The Constitution) does not strike me as particularly wrong. It’s kind of an empty phrase, but since we don’t have a word for exactly what we mean, I don’t think the solution is simply to ignore that there is a difference and get into a battle over semantics.
     
    I consider this important because I see a (perhaps unintentional) slight of hand wherein by agreeing that we live in a democracy (which we do) we implicitly agree that we should strive to either make it as democratic as possible because democracies exist to serve the will of the people* and therefore the non-democratic aspects of our system are thus inherently flaws (which we do not).
     
    So… that’s why we need a word. I think the lack of a word is why people have settled on the incorrect one. Then again, as language works, an incorrect word used often enough becomes a correct one. I personally have never made the argument that “we live in a republic and not a democracy” but it would be nice if some word or phrase were available to convey the meaning that the people who are saying it intend.
     
    * – Same caveat as above.

  14. All fair enough for the moment.  I will address the following, however:

    Constitutional Republic (as a form of democracy with stipulations in a document called The Constitution) does not strike me as particularly wrong

    This is true of every democracy in existence.   They all have constitutions.  The only exception, at least in a technical senses, is the UK, which has a collection of documents and traditions that sum to what is often referred to as an unwritten constitution.

    Indeed, the US pretty much started a global trend in this regard with the Constitution of 1789.

  15. Trumwill says:

    As you pointed out in one of your posts, though, a lot of countries that meet the definition aren’t really considered republics at all when their head-of-state is a monarch. This is irrelevant from an internal US perspective, but maybe worth noting when looking internationally.
     
    Nitpicking aside, I think in the context of the American government, we can safely assume that the “Constitution” we are referring to is our own. Also, while the US and Ireland may both have Constitutional Republics, they are each respectively important within their respective countries to differentiate the government they have from a government that exists to reflect the will of its people. This is a particularly important distinction in the US, though I suppose it’s an important distinction in other countries as well when their popular will is being thwarted by their elected representatives.
     
    I agree that it’s a useless distinction when comparing our form of indirect democracy to other forms of indirect democracy. But since we don’t have any words for to meet that specific topic (Federal Republic maybe, since the primary compromise to democracy-as-a-goal is the federal nature/history of our government?), seems to me that Constitutional Republic describes something significant in its own right as differentiated from democracy-means-the-majority-should-get-what-it-wants-if-the-system-is-good-and-working.

  16. James says:

    Humm I think this is (the ol dog chasing his tail) if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

    It seem that to drop the Republic from our lexicon is to deminish  the value of

    our “Republic”. From this point of view there seem to be a slight swerve to the

    left. Hope this isn’t to harsh, Stop or Alto depends on to whom you speak 🙂 

    James, flat land of Texas

  17. Trumwill says:

    Not sure how I could have uttered the words “Federal Republic” without considering Germany, but a brief lookover actually seems to validate usage of the term. Their undemocratic measures seem to actually correspond somewhat with ours. States sending legislators (unelected, in their case) in numbers disproportionate to their population (though not identical as in our case), who vote (though not on all issues). They went about it in a different way, but it seems like they, as we, balanced the power of the majority with a notion of statehood.
     
    On the other hand, any republic with states could be called a Federal Republic. But it at least speaks towards the tension between equal democratic representation and what at least some (well, two) of these nations tend to do. No term is perfect, but it’s better than simply “republic” or, for that matter, “democracy”.
     
    So it might be that Constitutional Republic (to make the aforementioned differentiation) and Federal Republic (to explain why our system is deliberately undemocratic when it comes to states as distinct entities) could be helpful terminology in some of these discussions, if I am understanding the German system and the existing definition of Federal Republic correctly.

  18. Trumwill says:

    James, the problem is, as Dr. Taylor points out, Republic is not particularly accurate since in its most direct definition simply means “indirect democracy” which does nothing to explain why our system might not strive for equal representation in all things as other countries do.

  19. It seem that to drop the Republic from our lexicon is to deminish  the value of our “Republic”. From this point of view there seem to be a slight swerve to the left.

    This gets to the heart of the problem:  that the debate becomes about whether the terms have some sort of ideological content rather than being an issue of whether we are using the most accurate term.

  20. In re:  Germany, it is worth noting that the upper house only votes on matters relevant to the states, rather than having a vote on all legislation (as in our system).  If the issue is one of solely national significance, only the lower house votes.

  21. James says:

    Still not ready to join the choir, is this “modern PC” correctness?

    But I respect your arguments. 🙂

    James flat land of Texas. N. of 65 yrs. 🙂

  22. One is, of course, welcome to sing with whomever one wishes.

    But no, it isn’t a out PC correctness, modern or otherwise.

  23. Trumwill says:

    In re:  Germany, it is worth noting that the upper house only votes on matters relevant to the states, rather than having a vote on all legislation (as in our system).
    From what I have read, they have a pretty broad interpretation of what qualifies and it is about as often or not or a little more often than not it is declared of “state interest”. I’ve run across references to Bundesrat votes on tax and immigration policy, for instance. They also have an interesting set-up where if a delegation disagrees it procedurally counts as a “nay” vote and they have a little (pretty limited, but some) veto power over bills that are outside their jurisdiction. It’s a different system, but one in which state-level power is quite significant. More significant in some areas (we elect our senators and governors cannot fire them) and less so in others (they don’t vote on all issues).

  24. Rick Almeida says:

    Still not ready to join the choir, is this “modern PC” correctness?
     

    From my perspective, it appears that referring to the US as a “Constitutional Republic” as if that distinguishes us from other modern democracies is a rhetorical move being used by contemporary conservatives.  So it could be termed “conservative PC” if one wanted to be uncharitable.  I do not.
     
    I would be interested in seeing references to use of the term by the founding generation, since, on my reading, Fed #10 pretty clearly lays out Madison’s use of the term: “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect…”  I am not aware of a reference to a “constitutional republic”.
     
    Of course, if use of the term “Constitutional Republic” to distinguish US democracy from parliamentary or other forms was common in education for generations past, I’d be glad to hear about it.