Thus, 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.