The key difference between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on government by the law, which has implications on minority rights. Both forms of government tend to use a representational system where citizens vote to elect politicians to represent their interests and form the government. However, in a republic, a constitution or charter of rights protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government, even if it has been elected by a majority of voters. In a "pure" democracy, the majority is not restrained and can impose its will on the minority.
The various forms of government can be briefly summarized as:
- Monarchy or dictatorship: Rule by one (a king or emperor)
- Oligarchy: Rule by a few
- Democracy: Rule by a majority
- Republic: Rule by law
|Constraints on the government||No; the majority can impose its will on the minority||Yes; the majority cannot take away certain inalienable rights|
|Sovereignty is held by||the whole population (as a group)||the people (individuals)|
|Common confusion in the USA||People commonly confuse direct democracy with representative democracy. The US officially has a representative style, though many have suggested the US is closer to an oligarchy or plutocracy.||The US is actually a Republic. It is governed by rule of law. The elected is supposed to be bound by oath to the written governing limits (ie constitution) yet vote "together" and create laws to address concerns of the represented in a democratic way|
|Definition||is ruled by the omnipotent majority. In a Democracy, an individual, and any group of individuals composing any minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of the majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.||a constitutionally limited government, of the representative type, created by a written Constitution--adopted by the people and changeable by them only by its amendment--with its powers divided between three separate branches of government.|
|History||Originated in Classical Athens||United States|
|Famous Examples||Classical Greece, Rome||United States Of America|
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
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."
There are several political implications of the fact that the U.S. is a republic. Jim Crow laws calling for racial segregation were deemed unconstitutional and were repealed. e.g. In Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court repealed state-sponsored school segregation. In more recent cases, the 2010 healthcare reform bill was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court because it forces individuals to buy health insurance. The law was passed by majority but critics claim that it violates individual liberties by forcing individuals to engage in commerce, a power that the government does not have in this republic. Another example is California Proposition 8, in which a majority of voters in California voted to make same-sex marriages illegal. Critics of the law argue that this violates the individual liberties of gay and lesbian couples, and the majority does not have a right to do that in the republic.
In each case, the Supreme Court will decide (ironically, by majority ruling among the 9 justices) whether the law is constitutional. If the U.S. was not a republic, these questions would not even be raised and the matter would not go to the Supreme Court. The fact that the Supreme Court get to decide which laws are constitutional and has the power to revoke laws it thinks are unconstitutional demonstrates that the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution are higher authorities than the will of the majority at any given time i.e. the U.S. is a republic.
Videos explaining the difference
Here are two videos that explain the difference between a democracy and a republic.