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Columns : Island Notes - Peter Barratt Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Republics and Democracies – Are not the same thing!
By Peter Barratt
Jan 29, 2014 - 1:16:29 PM

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This article was written several years ago to correct the confusion between republics and democracies. It is a little dated but the general thrust of the article still holds true.

Republics and Democracies - they are often used - especially in the American press - as being almost synonymous.

But are they ?

One dictionary definition of a republic, (taken from the American Heritage Dictionary who you would think would know better), records that a ‘republic is any political order that is not a monarchy (and has) a constitutional form of government, especially a democratic one…’

Really? What an imbecilic definition! The definition may be true about a republic having some form of constitution but it is dead wrong about it is being ‘…especially a democratic one.’ This clearly is not the case.

Indeed most ‘republics’ are not ‘democratic’ in any real sense of the word. Take for example, North Korea, Iran, Libya and many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and quite a few in Asia and elsewhere. All have constitutions it is true, but few are generally recognized as ‘democratic’.

So what is a democracy? The same dictionary defines the word as: ‘government by the people exercised directly or through elected representatives’.

Interestingly it is the countries that the American Heritage Dictionary dismissively refers to as ‘monarchies’ where one finds that democratic freedoms and practices are strongest. The confusion arises perhaps because no distinction is made between ‘constitutional’ and ‘absolute’ monarchies.

Saudi Arabia is an ‘absolute’ monarchy; Jordan, Morocco and Nepal (not any more) are something in between. Great Britain is a ‘constitutional’ democratic monarchy. And so for that matter are Canada, Australia, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Thailand, Japan, The Bahamas and Spain. The latter country was a republic ruled by a fascist republican dictator for over thirty years before becoming a ‘constitutional’ monarchy. Since Franco died – and the republic with him - Spain has become a progressive modern and democratic country (with a few economic problems it is true). To a large extent it owes its transformation to an enlightened and well-respected monarchy.

So in summary: if you are looking for a true respected and functioning democracy your best bet is a constitutional monarchy!

In the great republic of the United States it has become popular to denigrate countries with a monarchy as somehow backward and anachronistic. It might be well to set the record straight.

It was a republic that brought us the holocaust, it was a republic that developed the atomic bomb and used it (twice) on civilian populations, it was two rival republics that gave us over forty years of Cold War, it is a republic in the Middle East that has the biggest stockpile of chemical weapons and WMD in the region (but denies their existence), it is a republic that most threatens the peace of the world by developing a nuclear arsenal on the Korean peninsular, and it is Islamic ‘crazies’ who live in republics who threaten to create belligerent theocratic republics in Africa and the Middle East. This is now the ‘silly season’ of American politics where to be elected in the American republic delegates have to raise enough money to virtually ‘buy’ their seats with money paid by their constituents and special interests. It is no exaggeration to say that the United States has the best government that money can buy (estimated at about $3 billion – billion with a ‘b’). And don’t get me started on the dysfunctional Congress…

Monarchies, particularly the constitutional variety, are not perfect of course but they stand as beacons of hope even in the Middle East. Morocco, Jordan, Oman and the Gulf sheikdoms are relatively (2009) progressive states in an unstable region. Even the Saudi Arabian monarchy has been a consistently good friend of the United States even though many of its citizens despise the West. Looking elsewhere, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand (until recently!) are about the most stable and progressive countries in the Pacific region. In Europe, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom are considered among the most fair-minded progressive countries in the world. And Spain, once the shining example, having thrown off a republican dictatorship, had a crowned monarch as head of state who did much to unify the country (though recently the royal family there has become a little tarnished). In the Western hemisphere the tiny Falkland Islands has a stable government and economy that is the envy of mis-governed Argentina, many of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands (including Bermuda) acknowledge a monarch as head of state, and are way ahead of their poorer ‘republican’ neighbours. And the second largest country in the world that, by some counts, is the most respected nation on the globe, happens to recognize a monarch as head of state. That country, of course, is Canada.

Peter Barratt is an architect/town planner who was formerly in charge of the development of Freeport. He writes with first-hand knowledge of the Bahamas having first visited the country in 1960. Because of his long experience in the islands he has been able to record many interesting insights, observations and historic moments that readers should find intriguing.

He has published several books about the island nation: Grand Bahama, Freeport Notebook and Bahama Saga, (the latter a historical novel about the islands). He has also written a full colour work entitled: Angelic Verses and two other works are near publication: The Port at War and St Peter Was Never There

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of TheBahamasWeekly.com


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