Pledge AllegianceThus, our salute to the flag of the United States identifies us as a republic.  Not enough Americans, including especially young ones, can define a republic and so cannot describe who we are.

Most scholars date republics to ancient Athens and follow their course through pre-imperial Rome, Venice, the Swiss Cantons, and the English and Scottish Enlightenment to the founding of America.  Our founders, steeped in ancient history, revived the republican ideal as their model and refined it for the first time in history to create a federated republic based on representative government on a large scale.

We are both a democracy and a republic (a combination recognized by Thomas Jefferson’s reluctant acknowledgement of a Democratic Republican party).  Democracies feature equality, eventually, for all and the many rights of citizenship.  Republics throughout the ages have featured: popular sovereignty; civic duty; a sense of the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption.

Even as we have moved toward greater democracy in the U.S. in the 20th century, we have lost sight of the characteristics of our republic.  We, the people, have the ultimate power.  But we have a duty to participate in self-government.  We own many things in common, particularly resources.  But we have not been vigilant in resisting corruption.

Classic republicans have known corruption not as conventional bribery under the table, a la Abramoff.  Our founders knew corruption to be placing one’s narrow or special interest ahead of the common good.  By that definition, the early 21st century American republic is massively corrupt.

Shouting at town hall meetings may vent anger, but it is not sufficient to eliminate corruption in American government.  Exercising popular sovereignty through constructive civic duty and restoring a sense of the commonwealth would be a start.

13 Responses to ““…and the Republic for which it stands.””

  1. Gary Hart: "…And the Republic for Which it Stands." | Obama Biden White House Says:

    […] Posted from Senator Hart’s new blog at Matters of Principle. […]

  2. Gary Hart: “…And the Republic for Which it Stands.” | The Latest Liberal Blogs Says:

    […] Posted from Senator Hart’s new blog at Matters of Principle. […]

  3. Tom Hedglin Says:

    Democracy means that all eligible citizens vote directly on government decisions, compared to a republic where citizens vote for representatives.

    Democracy does not mean equality of condition. I am not sure what you mean by commonwealth, but if you mean equal wealth then that is not democracy. It is communism and it is a type of economy more than a type of government.

    If you mean a sense of shared destiny, then that might be common to any legitimate group, regardless of the form of government or economy.

    A closer reading of history and our founding father’s interpretation of it suggests that democracy in the extreme leads to mob rule, demagoguery, many kinds of corruption and eventually to bankruptcy or tyranny. Which is exactly why they did not strictly form a democracy but rather a federalist republic with a democratically elected House of Representatives. To try to tie the name of the democratic party to democracy, thence to commonwealth and finally to a lack of corruption is insulting to any thinking person.

    I hope these comments are thoughtful and civil enough to pass your reviewers.

  4. Dave Schreur Says:


    I am aware of our status as a federal republic run on democratic priciples and I do understand the vast difference between that and a Athenian democracy. In a true Athenian democracy all eligible citizens voted on all matters of import much as happens in a New England town hall meeting, and we do not govern out nation that way. We govern through representatives, which is the hallmark of a republic, and though the government is owned “by the people” it is not the people who directly govern, it is those the people elect who have that responsibility. Further, it is the responsibility of the elected to provide representation for ALL his or her constituents, not just those of his or her own party, and this is where we currently have fallen away from the true republican ideal. Our representatives now feel that they need to represent the majority in their districts, those who elected them, and not to represent those of the other party. Indeed in many cases the representatives do not even represent the majority who elected them, but only represent those who contributed to their campaign, those who “bought” them. That is the failure of our republic. Each representative has a duty to do what is best for ALL the people of this great nation as a whole, and not just what is best for limited interest groups. But politics runs on money, which is power, and money/power corrupts. The evidence of that corruption is found in the extreme partisanship we now face as a nation. I fear that the divisive nature of our politics at present is a threat to our nation and it’s system of representative government and will tear our nation apart unless mnore practicle and stable heads begin to prevail. Unfortunately the politics of power has become a politics of fear, and that fear clouds the judgement of many voters. We must set aside our fear and divisiveness and begin to work on a bipartisan basis toward real practicle solutions to the issues that face ALL Americans today. We must once again take a stand that we are “One nation under God, indivisible” and that our government belongs to ALL of us in common. Only then will our nation rise to the high moral standing we once held. Only then will ALL Americans prosper.

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mr. Hedglin I must respectfully disagree, though it is probably not worth a quarrel. Most scholars I have read emphasize the rights provided by democracies, both to voting but also to unbiased legal systems, a free press, freedom of speech, and so forth. It took us almost two centuries to extend those rights to all Americans. Our Founders, and classical republicans, believed that citizens also had duties to participate in governance at the local level. This was Jefferson particularly. The commonwealth (as in Massachusetts, Virginia, etc) has always meant all those things we citizens hold in common (public lands and resources, environment, our security, and much else). It is not a socialist concept.
    In response to Mr. Schreur, citizens in a republic can and should participate in local governance but seldom do. I agree that the division into red and blue States and districts is unhealthy and has contributed greatly to bitter partisanship. Elected officials and citizens should be Americans before they are party members; the national interest is identifiable and is separate and apart from party or factional interests.
    As to thoughtfulness and civiilty, there are no censors, only good judgment.

  6. jeffrey poppy Says:

    Nice. Nice thought. And it would be a great start if it could ever begin to happen. Sometimes it is difficult to believe this is the land of the free when savvy shows a ruling class revolving around dollars, power, and personal gain in the process too often, and with not much common sense when right and wrong is as easy to see as it is to flip a light switch on or off. Simplicity has been made so difficult and costly in so many ways.

  7. Kevin W. Says:

    “My Head vs. My Heart…” No, I’m not referring to Thomas Jefferson’s letter by this title, but rather my own sentiments on this topic. I’ve recently completed two terms of service on my local City Council. My frustration was that the only time we could get citizens engaged in the legislative process was when a proposed project designed to advance the “common good,” such as new sidewalks on a busy street, or much-needed repairs to aging infrastructure, either took a small part of someone’s boulevard space on their yard or necessitated a small tax assessment. Boy, that would fill the Council Chambers! Perhaps the educational process of how to be part of a ward republic would take a generation or two, but the jaded side of me (of which I am not proud) is skeptical about the ability of most citizens to rise above their self-interest in order to to advance the common good.

    However, people like President Obama, as well as our host Senator Hart, who persevere through obstacles in their quest for public service, give me great hope and optimism for the future! Perhaps society is advanced through the efforts of a few great, dedicated leaders, who give their careers (if not their very lives) for the cause, and NOT through average citizens??

    My head vs. My heart- may not be settled anytime soon.
    Thanks for listening. 🙂 I look forward to your responses.

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  10. Shayna Janosko Says:

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  12. Elmer Chebahtah Says:

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