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
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
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
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
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
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:
Freeport Notebook and
(the latter a historical novel about the islands). He has also written a full
colour work entitled:
and two other works are near publication:
Port at War and
St Peter Was Never There.
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