is a state
that is not led by a hereditary monarch
, but in which the people (or at least a part of its people) have impact on its government. The word originates from the Latin
term res publica
, which literally translates as "public thing" or "public matter".
The organization of republics can vary widely. The first section of this article gives an overview of the characteristics that distinguish different types
of republics. The second section of the article gives some short profiles of the most influential republics by way of illustration. A more comprehensive list of republics
appears in a separate article. The third section is about how republics are approached as state organizations in political science
: in political theory and people governed.
Characteristics of republics
Head of state
In most modern republics the head of state
is termed president
. Other titles that have been used are consul
and many others. In republics that are also democracies
the head of state is selected as the result of an election. This election can be indirect, such as if a council of some sort is elected by the people, and this council then elects the head of state. In these kinds of republics the usual term for a president is in the range of four to six years. In some countries the constitution
limits the number of terms the same person can be elected as president. This type of democracy was used in Ancient Rome
If the head of state of a republic is at the same time the head of government, this is called a presidential system (example: United States). In semi-presidential systems and parliamentary republics, where the head of state is not the same person as the head of government, the latter is usually termed prime minister, premier or chancellor. Depending on what the president's specific duties are (for example, advisory role in the formation of a government after an election), and varying by convention, the president's role may range from the ceremonial and apolitical to influential and highly political. The Prime Minister is responsible for managing the policies and the central government. The rules for appointing the president and the leader of the government, in some republics permit the appointment of a president and a prime minister who have opposing political convictions: in France, when the members of the ruling cabinet and the president come from opposing political factions, this situation is called cohabitation. In countries such as Germany and India, however, the president needs to be strictly non-partisan.
In some countries, like Switzerland and San Marino, the head of state is not a single person but a committee (council) of several persons holding that office. The Roman Republic had two consuls, appointed for a year by the senate. During the year of their consulship each consul would in turn be head of state for a month at a time, thus alternating the office of consul maior (the consul in power) and of consul suffectus (the subordinate consul who retained some independence, and held certain veto powers over the consul maior) for their joint term.
Republics can be led by a head of state that has many of the characteristics of a monarch: not only do some republics install a president for life, and invest such president with powers beyond what is usual in a representative democracy, examples such as the post-1970 Syrian Arab Republic show that such a presidency can apparently be made hereditary. Historians disagree when the Roman Republic turned into Imperial Rome: the reason is that the first Emperors were given their head of state powers gradually in a government system that in appearance did not originally much differ from the Roman Republic.
Similarly, countries usually qualified as monarchies can have many traits of a republic in terms of form of government. The political power of monarchs can be non-existent, limited to a purely ceremonial function or the impact by the people on the country's government can be exerted to the extent that they appear to have the power to have their monarch replaced by another one.
The often assumed "mutual exclusiveness" of monarchies and republics as forms of government is thus not to be taken too literally, and largely depends on circumstances:
- Autocrats might try to give themselves a democratic tenure by calling themselves president (or princeps or princeps senatus in the case of Ancient Rome), and the form of government of their country "republic", instead of using a monarchic based terminology.
- For full-fledged representative democracies ultimately it generally does not make all that much difference whether the head of state is a monarch or a president, nor, in fact, whether these countries call themselves a monarchy or a republic. Other factors, for instance, religious matters (see next section) can often make a greater distinguishing mark when comparing the forms of government of actual countries.
For this reason, in political science the several definitions of "republic", which in such a context invariably indicate an "ideal" form of government, do not always exclude monarchy: the evolution of such definitions of "republic" in a context of political philosophy is treated in republicanism. However, such theoretical approaches appear to have had no real influence on the everyday use (that is: apart from a scholar or "insider" context) of the terminology regarding republics and monarchies.
The least that can be said is that Anti-Monarchism, the opposition to monarchy as such, did not always play a critical role in the creation and/or management of republics. For some republics, not choosing a monarch as head of state, could as well be a practical rather than an ideological consideration. Such "practical" considerations could be, for example, a situation where there was no monarchical candidate readily available. However, for the states created during or shortly after the Enlightenment the choice was always deliberate: republics created in that period inevitably had anti-monarchical characteristics. For the United States the opposition of some to the British Monarchy played a role, as did the overthrow of the French Monarchy in the creation of the first French Republic. By the time of the creation of the Fifth Republic in that country "anti-monarchist" tendencies were barely felt. The relations of that country to other countries made no distinctions whether these other countries were "monarchies" or not.
Role of religion
Before several Reformation
movements established themselves in Europe, changes in the religious landscape rarely had any relation to the form of government adopted by a country. As an example, Ancient Rome
's transition from polytheism
did not mark the end of the Roman emperor
's role in government. Similarly, late Middle Age
republics, like Venice
, emerged without questioning the religious standards set by the Roman Catholic
This would change, for instance, by the cuius regio, eius religio from the Treaty of Augsburg (1555): this treaty, applicable in the Holy Roman Empire and affecting the numerous (city-)states of Germany, ordained citizens to follow the religion of their ruler, whatever Christian religion that ruler chose - apart from Calvinism (which remained forbidden by the same treaty). In France the king abolished the relative tolerance towards non-Catholic religions resulting from the Edict of Nantes (1598), by the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685). In the United Kingdom and in Spain the respective monarchs had each established their favoured brand of Christianity, so that by the time of the Enlightenment in Europe (including the depending colonies) there was not a single absolute monarchy that tolerated another religion than the official one of the state.
Republics may diminish the influence of religion
An important reason why people could choose their society to be organized as a republic
is the prospect of staying free of state religion
: in this approach living under a monarch is seen as more easily inducing a uniform religion. All great monarchies had their state religion, in the case of pharaohs
and some emperors this could even lead to a religion where the monarchs (or their dynasty) were endowed with a god-like status (see for example imperial cult
). On a different scale, kingdoms can be entangled in a specific flavour of religion: Catholicism
, Church of England
in the United Kingdom
in Tsaristic Russia
and many more examples.
In absence of a monarchy, there can be no monarch pushing towards a single religion. As this had been the general perception by the time of the Enlightenment, it is not so surprising that republics were seen by some Enlightenment thinkers as the preferable form of state organisation, if one wanted to avoid the downsides of living under a too influential state religion. Rousseau, an exception, envisioned a republic with a demanding state "civil religion":
- United States: the Founding Fathers, seeing that no single religion would do for all Americans, adopted the principle that the federal government would neither support nor prohibit any established religion (as had Massachusetts and Connecticut).
- Besides being anti-monarchial, the French Revolution, leading to the first French Republic, was at least as much anti-religious, and led to the confiscation, pillage and/or destruction of many abbeys, beguinages, churches and other religious buildings and/or communities. Although the French revolutionaries tried to institute civil religions to replace "uncivic" Catholicism, nevertheless, up to the Fifth Republic, laïcité can be seen to have a much more profound meaning in republican France than in neighbouring countries ruled as monarchies.
Several states that called themselves republics have been fiercely anti-religious. This is particularly true for communist republics like the (former) Soviet Republics, North Vietnam, North Korea, and China.
Other republics may promote a particular religion
Some countries or states preferred to organise themselves as a republic, precisely
because it allows them to establish a more or less obligatory state religion in their constitution. Islamic republics
generally take this approach, but the same is also true, to varying degrees, in the Protestant
republic that originated in the Netherlands
during the Renaissance
, and in the Catholic Irish Republic
, among others. In this case the advantage that is sought is that no broad-thinking
monarch could push his citizens towards a less strict application of religious prescriptions (like for instance the Millet
system had done in the Ottoman Empire
) or change to another religion altogether (like the repetitive changes of state religions under the Henry VIII
/ Edward VI
/ Mary I
/ Elizabeth I
succession of monarchs
in England). An approach such as this, of an ideal republic based on a consolidated religious foundation, was an important factor in the overthrow of the regime
of the Shah
, to be replaced by a republic
with influential ayatollahs
(which is the term for religious leaders in that country), the most influential, as well as the highest ranking political authority of the republic, is known as the "supreme leader
Concepts of democracy
Republics are often associated with democracy
, which seems natural if one acknowledges the meaning of the expression from which the word "republic" derives (see: res publica
). This association between "republic" and "democracy" is however far from a general understanding, even if acknowledging that there are several forms of democracy
. This section tries to give an outline of which concepts of democracy are associated with which types of republics.
As a preliminary remark, the concept of "one equal vote per adult" did not become a generically-accepted principle in democracies until around the middle of the 20th century: before that in all democracies the right to vote depended on one's financial situation, sex, race, age, or a combination of these and other factors. Many forms of government in previous times termed "democracy", including for instance the Athenian democracy, would, when transplanted to the early 21st century be classified as plutocracy or a broad oligarchy, because of the rules on how votes were counted.
In a Western approach, warned by the possible dangers and impracticality of direct democracy described since antiquity, there was a convergence towards representative democracy, for republics as well as monarchies, from the Enlightenment on. In particular, the fear of mob rule concerned many who supported representative democracies. A direct democracy instrument like a referendum is still basically mistrusted in many of the countries that adopted representative democracy. Nonetheless, some republics like Switzerland have a great deal of direct democracy in their state organisation, with usually several issues put before the people by referendum every year.
Marxism inspired state organisations that, at the height of the Cold War, had barely more than a few external appearances in common with Western types of democracies. That is, not withstanding that on an ideological level Marxism and communism sought to empower proletarians. A Communist republic like Fidel Castro's Cuba has many "popular committees" to allow participation from citizens on a very basic level, without much of a far-reaching political power resulting from that. This approach to democracy is sometimes termed Basic democracy, but the term is contentious: the intended result is often something in between direct democracy and grassroots democracy, but connotations may vary.
Some of the hardline totalitarianism lived on in the East, even after the Iron Curtain fell. Sometimes the full name of such republics can be deceptive: having "people's" or "democratic" in the name of a country can, in some cases bear no relation with the concepts of democracy (neither "representative" nor "direct") that grew in the West. In fact, the phrase "People's Democratic Republic" was often synonymous with Marxist dictatorships during the Cold War. It also should be clear that many of these "Eastern" type of republics fall outside a definition of a republic that supposes control over who is in power by the people at large – unless it is accepted that the preference the people displays for their leader is in all cases authentic.
Influence of republicanism
and religious differences
played no equal role in the emergence of the many actual republics. Up to the republics that originated in the late Middle Ages, even if, from what we know about them, they also can be qualified "republics" in a modern understanding of the word, establishing the kind and amount of "republicanism" that led to their emergence is often limited to educated guesswork, based on sources that are generally recognised to be partly fictitious reconstruction.
There is however, for instance, no doubt that republicanism was a founding ideology of the United States of America and remains at the core of American political values. See Republicanism in the U.S.
In ancient India
, a number of Maha Janapadas
were established as republics by the 6th century BC. In the ancient Near East
, a number of cities of the Levant
achieved collective rule. Arwad
has been cited as one of the earliest known examples of a republic, in which the people, rather than a monarch, are described as sovereign.
The important politico-philosophical writings of antiquity that survived the Middle Ages rarely had any influence on the emergence or strengthening of republics in the time they were written. When Plato wrote the dialogue that later, in English speaking countries, became known as The Republic (a faulty translation from several points of view), Athenian democracy had already been established, and was not influenced by the treatise (if it had, it would have become less republican in a modern understanding). Plato's own experiments with his political principles in Syracuse were a failure. Cicero's De re publica, far from being able to redirect the Roman state to reinforce its republican form of government, rather reads as a prelude to the Imperial form of government that indeed emerged soon after Cicero's death.
In the renaissance
The emergence of the Renaissance
, on the other hand, was marked by the adoption of many of these writings from Antiquity, which led to a more or less coherent view, retroactively termed "classical republicanism
". Differences however remained regarding which kind of "mix" in a mixed government
type of ideal state would be the most inherently republican
. For those republics that emerged after the publication of the Renaissance philosophies regarding republics, like the United Provinces of the Netherlands
, it is not always all that clear what role exactly was played by republicanism - among a host of other reasons - that led to the choice for "republic" as form of state ("other reasons" indicated elsewhere in this article: e.g., not finding a suitable candidate as monarch; anti-Catholicism; a middle class striving for political influence).
The Enlightenment had brought a new generation of political thinkers, showing that, among other things, political philosophy was in the process of refocusing to political science. This time the influence of the political thinkers, like John Locke, on the emergence of republics in America and France soon thereafter was unmistakable: separation of powers, separation of church and state, etc. were introduced with a certain degree of success in the new republics, along the lines of the major political thinkers of the day.
In fact, the Enlightenment had set the standard for republics, as well as in many cases for monarchies, in the next century. The most important principles established by the close of the Enlightenment were the rule of law, the requirement that governments reflect the self-interest of the people that were subject to that law, that governments act in the national interest, in ways which are understandable to the public at large, and that there be some means of self-determination.
In the United Kingdom and the United States
In his book, A Defence of the Constitutions
(1787), John Adams
used the definition of "republic" in Dr. Johnson
's 1755 Dictionary
: "a government of more than one person." But elsewhere in the same tract, and in several other writings, Adams made it clear that he thought of the British state as a republic
because the executive, though a unitary "king", was obliged to obey laws enacted with the concurrence of the legislature.
The next major branch in political thinking was pushed forward by Karl Marx
, who argued that classes, rather than nationalities, had interests. He argued that governments represented the interests of the dominant class, and that, eventually, the states of his era would be overthrown by those dominated by the rising class of the proletariat
Here again the formation of republics along the line of the new political philosophies followed quickly after the emergence of the philosophies: from the early 20th century on communist type of republics were set up (communist monarchies were at least by name excluded), many of them standing for about a century - but in increasing tension with the states that were more direct heirs of the ideas of the Enlightenment.
Following decolonialization in the second half of 20th century, the political
dimension of Islam knew a new impulse, leading to several Islamic republics
. As far as "Enlightenment" and "communist" principles were sometimes up to a limited level incorporated in these republics, such principles were always subject to principles laid down in the Qur'an
. In Iran
, for example, the state is called a republic because it has an independent plural legislature (the majlis) and two independently chosen executives, a secular president and a religious leader (who is qualified as "supreme"). So, although there is no apparent reason why sharia
and related concepts of Islamic political thought should emerge in a republican
form of government, the movement for Islamic republics is generally not qualified as a form of "republicanism".
The ancient concept of res publica
, when applied to politics, had always implied that citizens on one level or another took part
in governing the state: at least citizens were not indifferent to decisions taken by those in charge, and could engage in political debate. A line of thought followed often by historians is that citizens, under normal circumstances, would only become politically active if they had spare time above and beyond the daily effort for mere survival. In other words, enough of a wealthy middle class (that did not get its political influence from a monarch as nobility did) is often seen as one of the preconditions to establish a republican form of government. In this reasoning neither the cities of the Hanseatic League
, nor late 19th century Catalonia
, nor the Netherlands during their Golden Age
emerging in the form of a republic comes as a surprise, all of them at the top of their wealth through commerce and societies with an influential and rich middle class.
Here also the different nature of republics inspired by Marxism becomes apparent: Karl Marx theorised that the government of a state should be based on the proletarians, that is on those whose political opinions never had been asked before, even less had been considered to really matter when designing a state organisation. There was a problem Marxist/Communist types of republics had to solve: most proletarians were lacking interest and/or experience in designing a state organisation, even if acquainted with Das Kapital or Engels' writings. While the practical political involvement of proletarians on the level of an entire country hardly ever materialised, these communist republics were more often than not organised in a very top-down structure.
Aggregations of states
When a country or state is organised on several levels (that is: several states that are "associated" in a "superstructure", or a country is split in sub-states with a relative form of independence) several models exist:
- Both over-arching structure and sub-states take the form of a republic (Example: United States)
- The over-arching structure is a republic, while the sub-states are not necessarily (Example: European Union);
- The over-arching structure is not a republic, while the sub-states can be (Example: Holy Roman Empire, after the emergence of republics, like those of the Hanseatic League, within its realm).
In general being a republic also implies sovereignty
as for the state to be ruled by the people it cannot be controlled by a foreign power. There are important exceptions to this, for example, Republics in the Soviet Union
were member states which had to meet three criteria to be named republics:
- be on the periphery of the Soviet Union so as to be able to take advantage of their theoretical right to secede;
- be economically strong enough to be self-sufficient upon secession; and
- be named after at least one million people of the ethnic group which should make up the majority population of said republic.
Republics were originally created by Stalin and continue to be created even today in Russia. Russia itself is not a republic but a federation.
It is sometimes argued that the former Soviet Union was also a supra-national republic, based on the claim that the member states were different nations.
States of the United States are required, like the federal government, to be republican in form, with final authority resting with the people. This was required because the states were intended to create and enforce most domestic laws, with the exception of areas delegated to the federal government and prohibited to the states. The founding fathers of the country intended most domestic laws to be handled by the states, although, over time, the federal government has gained more and more influence over domestic law. Requiring the states to be a republic in form was seen as protecting the citizens' rights and preventing a state from becoming a dictatorship or monarchy, and reflected unwillingness on the part of the original 13 states (all independent republics) to unite with other states that were not republics. Additionally, this requirement ensured that only other republics could join the union.
In the example of the United States, the original 13 British colonies became independent states after the American Revolution, each having a republican form of government. These independent states initially formed a loose confederation called the United States and then later formed the current United States by ratifying the current U.S. Constitution, creating a union of sovereign states with the union or federal government also being a republic. Any state joining the union later was also required to be a republic. The United States could be argued to be a supra-national republic on the grounds that the original states were independent countries and was formed of several nations, most notably the original 13 colonies/states, the Republic of Texas, and the Kingdom of Hawaii, all of which would be considered "nations" under a strict definition of the word.
Sovereign countries can decide to hand in a limited part of their sovereignty to a supra-national organisation. At present the only significant example of this is the European Union
(EU), which developed in the second half of the 20th century as the European Communities
. Although it is not common to classify the EU as a "country" (though it does operate as a federation
in some fields), the organisation of the European Union
is based on a republican system in that there is no hereditary element, rather power is held in a directly elected European Parliament
and a Council
of national governments. These bodies operate a joint legislative system headed by an independent executive (the European Commission
) which is appointed by those two bodies.
However, the members of the EU are not all republics. It is the most common system but being a republic is not a condition for membership - only that there is a working democracy (hence, Constitutional Monarchies are allowed, but Absolute Monarchies are not). Hence, while the EU operates as a supra-national republic, some of its members operate a hereditary system for its head of state There is a similar situation in regards to religion in the state, a minority of members have an established state church (though there is freedom of religion) but the EU itself has no such institutional element which is biased to a particular faith.
Examples of republics
In the early 21st century, most states that are not monarchies label themselves as republics either in their official names or their constitutions. There are a few exceptions: the Libyan
and the Russian Federation
. Israel, Russia, and Libya would meet many definitions of the term republic
Since the term republic is so vague by itself, many states felt it necessary to add additional qualifiers in order to clarify what kind of republics they claim to be. Here is a list of such qualifiers and variations on the term "republic":
- Without other qualifier than the term Republic - for example France and Turkey.
- Constitutional republic - A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state and other officials are elected as representatives of the people and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government's power over citizens. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches so that no individual or group has absolute power and the power of the majority of the population is checked by only allowing them to elect representatives. The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government's power, makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican.-United States
- Parliamentary republic - a republic with an elected Head of state, but where the Head of state and Head of government are kept separate with the Head of government retaining most executive powers, or a Head of state akin to a Head of government, elected by a Parliament.
- Federal republic, confederation or federation - a federal union of states or provinces with a republican form of government. Examples include Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Germany, India, Russia and Switzerland.
- Islamic Republic - Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran are republics governed in accordance with Islamic law. (Note: Turkey is a distinct exception and is not included in this list; while the population is predominantly Muslim, the state is a staunchly secular republic.)
- Arab Republic - for example, Syria its name reflecting its theoretically pan-Arab Ba'athist government.
- People's Republic - Countries like China, North Korea are meant to be governed for and by the people, but generally without direct elections. Thus, they use the term People's Republic, which was shared by many past Communist states.
- Democratic Republic - Tends to be used by countries who have a particular desire to emphasize their claim to be democratic; these are typically Communist states and/or ex-colonies. Examples include the German Democratic Republic (no longer in existence) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) - Both words (English and Polish) are derived from the Latin word res publica (literally "common affairs"). Used for both the current Republic of Poland, and the old Nobility Commonwealth.
- Free state - Sometimes used as a label to indicate implementation of, or transition from a monarchical to, a republican form of government. Used for the Irish Free State (1922–1937) under an Irish Republican government, while still remaining associated with the British Empire.
- Venezuela has been using, since the adoption of the 1999 constitution, the title of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
- Other modifiers are rooted in tradition and history and usually have no real political meaning. San Marino, for instance, is the "Most Serene Republic" while Uruguay is "República Oriental", which implies it lies on the eastern bank of the Uruguay River.
Republics in political theory
In political theory
and political science, the term "republic" is generally applied to a state
where the government's political power
depends solely on the consent, however nominal, of the people governed. This usage leads to two sets of problematic classification. The first are states which are oligarchical in nature, but are not nominally hereditary, such as many dictatorships
, the second are states where all, or almost all, real political power is held by democratic institutions, but which have a monarch as nominal head of state, generally known as constitutional monarchies
. The first case causes many outside the state to deny that the state should, in fact, be seen as a Republic. In many states of the second kind there are active "republican" movements that promote the ending of even the nominal monarchy, and the semantic problem is often resolved by calling the state a democracy
Generally, political scientists try to analyse underlying realities, not the names by which they go: whether a political leader calls himself "king" or "president", and the state he governs a "monarchy" or a "republic" is not the essential characteristic, whether he exercises power as an autocrat is. In this sense political analysts may say that the First World War was, in many respects, the death knell for monarchy, and the establishment of republicanism, whether de facto and/or de jure, as being essential for a modern state. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire were both abolished by the terms of the peace treaty after the war, the Russian Empire overthrown by the Russian Revolution of 1917. Even within the victorious states, monarchs were gradually being stripped of their powers and prerogatives, and more and more the government was in the hands of elected bodies whose majority party headed the executive. Nonetheless post-World War I Germany, a de jure republic, would develop into a de facto autocracy by the mid 1930s: the new peace treaty, after the Second World War, took more precaution in making the terms thus that also de facto (the Western part of) Germany would remain a republic.
Per se political theorists, and particularly historians of political thought, tend to use republic as a term-of-art, applying it exclusively to the particular form of government expounded in Machiavelli's discourses. On this account, the essential characteristic of republican governance is the sharing of power between a unitary leader, an aristocratic institution, and a plebeian institution. Machiavelli argues that the counterbalancing of these three interests leads to a sounder and more stable government than monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy alone could. This understanding of the term has seen recent renaissance in the work of theorists such as Philip Pettit and Cass Sunstein.
Notes and references
- De Republica Anglorum; the Manner of Government or Policie of the Realme of England'', Sir Thomas Smyth, 1583. (England is described under Queen Elizabeth I as a republic, the term "mixed" does appear in it. Sir Thomas states that all commonwealths are of mixed character.)
- Jean Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth ("Six Livres de la République," 1576), Abridged and translated by M. J. Tooley, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1955 (For Bodin, any state is a "république" if it has sovereignty).
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social, ou Principes de Droit Politique (1762)
- Paul A. Rahe, Republics, Ancient and Modern, three volumes, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1994.
- William R. Everdell The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans. University of Chicago Press. (2000). .
- Martin van Gelderen & Quentin Skinner, eds., Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, v1, Republicanism and Constitutionalism in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2002
- Martin van Gelderen & Quentin Skinner, eds., Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, v2, The Values of Republicanism in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2002
- Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government, NY: Oxford U.P., 1997, ISBN 0-19-829083-7; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
- Frédéric Monera, L'idée de République et la jurisprudence du Conseil constitutionnel - Paris: L.G.D.J., 2004 - ;