A republic is a form of government generally defined by three characteristics:
- The power of government is held by the people
- The people give power to leaders by electing the officials who represent them and serve their interests
- Citizens and their representatives are to work cooperatively to promote the common good rather than their own interests.
The government in republic countries is considered a “public matter.” It is not the private concern of the rulers. The word ‘republic” comes from the Latin term res public, which means ”public things,” “public matter,” or “public affair.”
Republics differ from direct democracies. A republic is defined as “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives.” A direct democracy allows citizens to govern the state themselves, no through representatives. Despite this, many modern democracies are by and large republics. Direct democracies and republics are considered the opposite of dictatorships.
Most often, a republic is a single sovereign state. In some cases, however, sub-sovereign states are declared republican in nature. Each of the U.S. states is guaranteed a “Republican form of Government” by the United States Constitution. The Soviet Union is another example of sub-sovereign republics. The 15 individual nations under Soviet influence were considered a group of “Soviet Socialist Republics.”
History of the Republic
Before the 1600s, the term republic was used to designate any state that was not an authoritarian regime. Republic could encompass not only democratic states but also oligarchies, aristocracies, and monarchies.
French philosopher Jean Bodin wrote a definition of the republic in his Six Books of the Commonwealth in 1576. It read, “the rightly ordered government of a number of families, and of those things which are their common concern, by a sovereign power.”
The definition of a republic began shifting during the 17th and 18th centuries, with growing resistance to absolutist regimes and a series of revolutions. These include the American Revolution and the French Revolution. These events shaped the term to designate governments in which the leader is periodically appointed under a constitution.
Even with its democratic implication, the term republic has been claimed by states whose leadership could be described as military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. This being said, 159 of the world’s sovereign states use the word “republic’ as part of their official names. However, not all these states are republics in the sense of having elected governments. For example, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, is widely considered a dictatorship and not a republic.
Additionally, some of the world’s republics do not have “republic” as part of their names. An example of this is the United States.
Countries with Republic Government
There are many countries in the world with republic governments, although their types of republics vary.
The United States is a republic. After the American Revolution and independence from Great Britain, the Constitution was written, establishing the United States as a federal democratic republic. The United States can also be classified as a “presidential republic. Every four years, American citizens over the age of 18 elect a new President and participate in other smaller elections. Like many other nations, the U.S. is considered a hybrid of governments and is both a constitutional democracy and a democratic republic.
The republican government in the U.S. is based on the principles of: the power and authority comes from the people and not a supreme authority (king), a written constitution protects the rights of the people, and through the vote of the people, power is given to elected representatives based on majority rule to serve the interests of the citizens and act on their behalf. Additionally, the representatives of the country are responsible for helping all the people in the country, not just a few.
Other countries that have presidential republics include, but are not limited to:
- Republic of the Congo
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Sierra Leone
Germany is another example of a republic, although it structured slightly different from the United States. Germany’s government is considered to be a federal, democratic, constitutional republic. The German Constitution emphasizes the protection of individual liberty and civil rights of the people. Article 38 of German Basic Law states that elections are to be universal, direct, free, equal, and secret. Elections in Germany include elections to the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament) every four years and are elected with two votes.
Other countries that are parliamentary republics are:
- the Czech Republic
- East Timor
- Trinidad and Tobago