A Republic If You Can Keep It

Republics rule.

Topics in this post: 

  • Ours holds an exceptional promise.
  • Current alternatives.
  • More than three branches.
  • It’s complicated.

“A republic, if you can keep it. ” – Attributed to Benjaim Franklin.

It is exceptional.

Although there is any number of ways to measure a system of government, my heart beats fast for our republic. Maybe you can tell by now that I am partial to it. I promise though, I try only to be partial in the best ways possible. Always an optimist, ready to be proven wrong, and ever yielding to the idea that republics rule. Unless we build something better.

I know that they are not all made equal, which is why I feel particularly close to the promise that our republic conceals. It was formed, in response to the Declaration of Independence, as a grand experiment in self-governance. The goal, in summary, is to secure our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our current alternatives a la superpowers.

Russians have a republic in-name-only. It is actually a communist-styled kleptocratic economic system headed by a Czar.

China also presents as a republic. One belonging wholly to one people’s party. A capitalist-styled kleptocratic economic system in practice.

In both countries, the internet is tightly controlled and exercising free speech results in jail or assassination. 

As you can see from these two clear examples, there is a range of implementations that can be adopted for our nation. But there is only one that holds the promise of liberty and justice for all. A republic of laws for and by the people where no one is above the law. At least, that is the full promise we have yet to fulfill. As the major alternative, now you can see why republics rule. 

I love our republic.

Which other would you have me admire? Is it perfect? Of course not and it never will be. It is made of humans after all.

Even with its checks and balances in need of repair. We can still improve its layering of government and co-equality of the branches. This would help protect us from the worse scheming of our own human nature. Especially our executive office led by an ever-powerful presidency. Which slowly teeters towards kingship, becoming a wholly unequal branch of government.

The founders tried to build on the shoulders of Greece and Rome. Accounting for their great successes and failures from the past.

We reluctantly adopted a system of government with three co-equal branches of power. Reluctant because the idea of a president was a sticking point for a nation leery of kings and tyrants. Over the decades, I for one among many, believe that the executive branch has gained too much power and the legislative has become weak and fickle. Albeit it, I still believe that republics rule.

More than three branches.

There is an unofficial fourth branch of government, often called the fourth estate. The first amendment calls it freedom of the press.

The press, along with freedom of speech, enables an assortment of ways to hold the government accountable. Peaceful assembly is another core right that we get to enjoy, in some places more than others. It allows citizens, those who consent to be governed, to express their critical views of any body politic. Being critical of the government is a need, but poor speech that incites violence should have its own limiting lane. Violence has no place in the civility required for actual self-rule. Violence represents a failure of the state as an apparatus to maintain the peace for which it was created.

An arguable fifth estate or unofficial branch of government, implied but not expressed, is represented by the will of the people. No one should underestimate the power of organizing the vote through campaigning as our political parties, lobbyist, and propagandist organizations do.

Equally, or arguably more powerful at times, is the influence of lobbyists over our representatives. Their votes on legislation and perspectives on policies are heavily affected by these groups of people. Both citizen-based and groups of other entities alike request things from congress and the president on a regular basis and lobby across administrations in time.

The fact that we even get to have these institutions is simply another indicator of why republics rule and as such, representation matters. After all, so many Americans love the phrase from our revolution, “No taxation without representation.” No system has shown itself immune to corruption because it is part of the human condition. Our system provides us the power to exercise change to reduce corruption if we will it and act together to oppose it.

Ultimately, it’s complicated.

Nothing is perfect and the same is true with our republic. I cannot deny that we are still on a long road with much struggle ahead.

Partly to blame is the history built by the states. Which have been established as their own republics under the umbrella of the Union. They have their own constitutions and local governments.

This is where the power of government meets the people on the ground. Or oppresses the people it meets, in certain circumstances. A major shortcoming for sure and yet something we can rectify further for our posterity.

Many of the states are more authoritarian than democratic in their ways. Especially the states that dealt in slavery.

“…when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.” – Benjamin Franklin’s final speech before the Constitutional Convention

Knowing it had massive imperfections at the start, at least the system was designed to change with the times in the hope of forming a more perfect union. Democracy, in our system, has not always been nor is it now guaranteed. Back in the day, we the common folk did not have a vote in electing our senators or the president if we had a vote at all.

In many states, only certain people could vote. White men of certain wealth or land-owning status were typical conditions. They were the freest of all people in those times and places.

Autocracy is the opposite with power residing in one or few people, a central authoritative figure – like a King or Czar or one-party rule. Our original governments were far less democratic than the ones we know today. And they have a long long way to go before equality can reign.

We must remain vigilant in our commitment to freedom. We must be earnest about seeking justice for all. And we must continue working together to form a more perfect union.

We have a republic if we can keep it. And we should keep it because republics rule.

Art by SergeShop.com


Michael V. Piscitelli

Michael V. Piscitelli (MVP) is a Citizen Do Good contributor and editor. His other roles include host, producer, and editor for the Citizens Prerogative podcast. He is keenly interested in all things self-help, self-rule, and science-related. A budding Stoic philosopher, he will continue to share his journey with the community at large. In the words of Spock, live long and prosper.

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