America: Republic vs. Democracy

January 10th, 2013
in Op Ed, syndication

by Frank Li

In my book "Saving America, Chinese Style", I fundamentally questioned democracy as a viable form of long-term government, and provided a holistic solution for American democracy to have a chance to survive.

A big subject of debate in America today, especially in the intellectual circle, is republic vs. democracy. Google "republic vs. democracy" and you will get a lot of results. Most are interesting, but not sufficiently forthright.

Here is a recent article: Republic vs. Democracy. It's interesting because it provides, in its title, a clear confrontation between republic (i.e. "free from things public") and democracy (i.e. "a mob for a king"). But like many other publications, it's not forthright.

Allow me to provide my version of republic vs. democracy, focusing on America.

Follow up:

1. Definitions

1.1 Republic

According to Wikipedia,

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a "public matter" (Latin: res publica), not the private concern or property of the rulers, and where offices of states are subsequently directly or indirectly elected or appointed rather than inherited. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of state is not a monarch.[1][2].

In modern republics such as the United States, Russia, and India, the executive is legitimized both by a constitution and by popular suffrage. Montesquieu included both democracies, where all the people have a share in rule, and aristocracies or oligarchies, where only some of the people rule, as republican forms of government.[4]

Here is my simple definition: today, if you are not a monarchy, you are a republic, with or without democracy.

No, the term "republic" does not mean much these days. Three examples:

  1. China calls itself "The People's Republic of China", without democracy.

  2. America, according to Wikipedia, is still a republic, with democracy.

  3. North Korea calls itself "Democratic People's Republic of Korea", which in reality is a de facto monarchy, with a son succeeding the father as the "king".

1.2 Democracy

According to Wikipedia,

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows citizens to participate equally-either directly or through elected representatives-in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.

Several variants of democracy exist, but there are two basic forms, both of which concern how the whole body of all citizens executes its will. One form of democracy is direct democracy, in which all citizens have direct and active participation in the decision making of the government. In most modern democracies, the whole body of all citizens remain the sovereign power but political power is exercised indirectly through elected representatives; this is called representative democracy. The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, and the American and French Revolutions.[4]

Here is my simple but succinct definition: one person, one vote.

2. America and Democracy

America was built as a republic (i.e. non-monarchy), and it remains a republic today. The difference between 200 years ago and today is democracy. Democracy, by the simple but succinct definition of one person, one vote, did not exist in the U.S. until 1964.

The founding fathers never intended America to be a democracy! For proof, look at these two sources:

  1. The U.S. Constitution.

  2. The thoughts and words of the founding fathers.

2.1 The U.S. Constitution

"We, the People", so begins the U.S. Constitution. But who are "the People" in the Constitution? To the founding fathers, "the People" included only certain rich white men as follows:

  • Women were not allowed to vote, nor were the minorities.

  • Only the rich were able to serve since all the top political offices (e.g. Congress and the American Presidency) were unpaid! Yes, first you had to make it (i.e. being financially independent), then you served with honor for a few years, and finally you returned home after doing your duty to your country. No, serving was never meant to be a way of life - not even to make a living, let alone a career!

Why didn't the founding fathers simply set up America as a democracy with one person, one vote? Apparently, they did not believe in democracy! Why not? Here is what we know for sure: history by then (and now) was replete with failures of democracy, without a single example of lasting success!

What, then, is a lasting success? How about 200 years? Isn't America 236 years old already? Yes, but American democracy is less than 50 years old (from 1964 to present), and it is already crumbling, badly, destroying America faster and harsher than any other forces!

2.2 What did the founding fathers think of democracy, really?

Two examples:

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

--- John Adams

"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one-percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."

--- Thomas Jefferson

3. American democracy

Over the past 200 plus years, America has progressively amended the U.S. Constitution to morph itself into a democracy (i.e. one person, one vote), against the wisdom of the founding fathers, resulting in America being on a "suicide" path today, exactly as predicted by John Adams more than 200 years ago.

Here is my take on American democracy:

  1. The founding fathers were all experienced and wise men. But no human being could have been so foresighted as to see more than 200 years ahead!

  2. Discrimination against race or gender, as in the original U.S. Constitution, was patently wrong.

  3. It was right to set the top political offices to be unpaid positions, so that you had to make it first before being eligible to serve at the top.

  4. It is time to have substantial and specific constitutional changes to give American democracy a chance to survive before it dies in the same way as democracy died in Rome and in Greece more than 2,000 years ago: debts!


4. U.S. Constitutional changes

Here are 10 points I proposed in my book (Saving America, Chinese Style):

  1. Setting term limits for the top elected offices:

    • President: One term (e.g. six years), firm!

    • Senator: Six years per term. One term, preferably.

    • House of Representatives: Six years per term. One term, preferably.

  2. Raising the statutory requirements for the Presidency, such as the minimum age to 55 and having served as a state governor for one full-term, at least.

  3. Abolishing the Electoral College! Just count votes, instead!

  4. Spending must be controlled!

    • Limiting spending to a certain percentage of the GDP (e.g. 15%).

    • The budget must be balanced. If there is potential of growth, some deficit is allowed. However, always figure out how to pay for it first before introducing any new big spending program.

    • Cutting the defense spending drastically. If not, we will soon have no country left to defend!

  5. Minimizing the government, with the understanding that government does not create real jobs in quantity. The private sector does!

  6. Dissolving all public-sector unions immediately and banning them forever, with an executive order to undo President Kennedy's Executive Order 10988.

  7. Reforming Social Security and Medicare. Abolishing all entitlement programs (e.g. Medicaid) and replacing them with a minimal welfare system. Bottom line: No one should be better off on welfare than they are by working! To be more specific, the welfare benefit must not exceed half of the minimum wage!

  8. Simplifying everything, from laws to tax codes, so as to reduce the number of lawyers and accountants. Most importantly, you don't have to be a lawyer to run for office.

  9. Yes, a voter ID is a must, just like driving or drinking!

  10. Raising the minimum voting age to 21, so that voting is at least as important as drinking!


5. Discussion

There is no point in continuously debating the vast subject of "republic vs. democracy" in abstraction! Instead, let's focus on democracy, and specifically the U.S. vs. China, for three main reasons:

  1. Both of them are republics!

  2. America is also a democracy, but China is not.

  3. Unless America adapts and changes soon, China will continue to win the head-on race with the U.S., both economically and politically.


6. Closing

For a complete school of thought on democracy, as well as the vast subject of the U.S. vs. China, read my book: Saving America, Chinese Style,



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