From Academic Kids

This article concentrates on the several forms of government that have been applied to real states and countries that have been termed republic, for all other uses see: republic (disambiguation)

In a broad definition a republic is a state or country that is led by people who do not base their political power on any principle beyond the control of the people living in that state or country.

This definition covers most of the specific definitions that are (or were) used to characterize republics, but leaves much of the striking differences between states/countries that can in some way be called republics unexplained: the first section of this article gives an overview of these distinctions that characterise different types of non-fictional republics.

The second section of the article gives a short profile of some of the most influential republics, by way of illustration to the more comprehensive (but less detailed) List of republics.

There is a third section about the history of how people came to think about several forms of government as republics. This section is a summary of what is in the republicanism article.


Characteristics of republics

Heads of state

In most modern republics the head of state is termed president. In republics that are also democracies the head of state is appointed as the result of an election. This election can be indirect: 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.

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 the head of state is not the same person as the head of government, in that case he is usually termed prime minister or premier. Depending on whether the president has any specific tasks (for example, advisory role in the formation of a government after an election) this can leave the president with little more than a ceremonial function. The Prime Minister is responsible for managing the policies and the central government. Depending on the rules for appointing the president and the leader of the government, it is possible for some of these countries to have a situation where the president and the prime minister 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 (not-ruling consul, however with some supervision on the work of 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 RepublicTemplate:Ref.

Similarly, if taking the broad definition of republic above ("In a broad definition a republic is a state or country that is led by people that don't base their political power on any principle beyond the control of the people living in that state or country."), 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 "control of the people" can be excerted to the extent that they appear to have the power to have their monarch replaced by another oneTemplate:Ref.

The often assumed "mutual exclusiveness" of monarchies and republics as forms of governmentTemplate:Ref 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 terminologyTemplate:Ref.
  • 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 monarchiesTemplate:Ref.

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. For example where there was no monarchial candidate readily availableTemplate:Ref. However, for the states created during or shortly after the Enlightenment the choice was always deliberate: republics created in that period inevitably had anti-monarchial characteristics. For the United States the opposition to the British Monarchy played an important 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

Template:RefBefore 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. For instance the transition from polytheism to Christianity in Ancient Rome maybe had brought new rulers, but no change in the idea that monarchy was the obvious way to rule a country. Similarly, late Middle Age republics, like Venice, emerged without questioning the religious standards set by the Roman Catholic church.

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 favourite brand of Christianism, 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 reducing state religion impact

An important reason why people could choose their society to be organised 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 pharaos and some emperors this could even lead to a religion where the monarch (or his 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 in Belgium, Church of England in the United Kingdom, Orthodoxy 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 at that time seen as the preferable form of state organisation, if one wanted to avoid the downsides of living under a too influential state religion:

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.

Republics highlighting state religion impact

Some countries or states prefer or preferred to organise themselves as a republic, precisely because it allows them to inscribe a more or less obligatory state religion in their constitution: islamic republics generally take this approach, but the same is also true (in varying degrees) for example for Israel, for the protestant republic that originated in the Netherlands in the renaissanceTemplate:Ref, for 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 EmpireTemplate:Ref) or change to another religion altogether (like the swapping of religions under the Henry VIII/Edward VI/Bloody Mary/Elizabeth I succession of monarchs in England). Such approach of an ideal republic based on a consolidated religious foundation played an important role for example in the overthrow of the regime of the Shah in Iran, to be replaced by a republic with influential religious leaders (in this case called 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 democracyTemplate:Ref. This paragraph tries to give an outline of which concepts of democracy are associated with which types of republics.

As a preliminary remark it should be noted that the concept of "one equal vote per adult" did not become a genererally-accepted principle in democracies until around the middle of the 20th century: before that in all democracies the valour of ones vote (or the right to vote) depended on financial situation, sex, race, 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 unpracticality of direct democracy described since antiquity, there was a convergence towards representative democracy, for republics as well as monarchies, from the Enlightenment on. A direct democracy instrument like referendums 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, notwithstanding 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 varyTemplate:Ref.

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. 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

Main article: Republicanism

Like Anti-monarchism and religious differences, republicanism 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 reconstructionTemplate:Ref.

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 his Republic, 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 experiment 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 governement, rather reads as a prelude to the Imperial form of government that indeed emerged soon after Cicero's death.

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 in 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 refocussing to political science. This time the influence of the political thinkers, like 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 in many cases for many monarchies) in the next century. The next major shift in political thinking was pushed forward by Karl Marx, by the end of the 19th century. Here again the formation of republics along the line of the new political philosophies had not to wait too long after 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 successful for about a century - but in increasing tension with the republics that were more direct heirs of the ideas of the Enlightenment.

Following decolonialization in the second half of 20th century, the political dimension of the IslamTemplate:Ref 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. While, however, there is no apparent reason why sharia and related concepts of islamic political thought should emerge in a republican form of government, the strife for islamic republics is generally not qualified as a form of "republicanism".

Economical factors

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 historiansTemplate:Ref 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 independency) 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)

Sub-national republics

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,

1) Be on the periphery of the Soviet Union so as to be able to take advantage of their theoretical right to secede,
2) Be economically strong enough to be self sufficient upon secession, And
3) 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.

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 also seen as protecting the citizens' rights and preventing a state from becoming a dictatorship or monarchy.

Supra-national republics

Sovereign countries can decide to hand in a limited part of their sovereignty to a supra-national organisation. The most famous example of this, since the second half of the 20th century, is the emergence of the European Union, which models its organisation as a republic. That it would be a republic in a strict sense can be debated while the European Union is not a "country" in a strict sense. Being a republic is no part of the admission criteria for the member statesTemplate:Ref. Although the largest political family of EU parlementaries has a Christian denomination, the European constitution establishes its form of government as secularTemplate:Ref.

Examples of republics

Since the French Revolution the overthrow of monarchies has become common place and the vast majority of countries are today republics of some form. There are only a few dozen kingdoms, dominions, emirates, or principalities remaining. The republics of today have little in common besides not being monarchies of some form. Countries that call themselves republics include nations as diverse as North Korea, Iran, Togo, and the United States. Most states in the world consider themselves to be some sort of republic. Of those that are not monarchies only the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, State of the Vatican City, the State of Israel, the Union of Myanmar and Russian Federation reject the label republic. Israel and Russia, and even Myanmar and Libya, would meet many definitions of the term republic, however.

Currently there is a very large number of republics in the world. A republican form of government can be combined with many different kinds of economy and democracy. Some examples for certain forms of republic are:

See also: List of Republics

Republics in political science

Template:DirectionUndecidedSection As mentioned above, a different interpretation of republic is used among political scientists - in fact several, often opposed, interpretations of the concept republic are used among political scientists. This is further discussed in the Republicanism article.

References and notes

  1. Template:Note Tacitus, Ann. I,1-15.
  2. Template:Note Example: Leopold III of Belgium replaced by Baudouin in 1951 under popular pressure.
  3. Template:Note See for example the opening chapter of Machiavelli's The Prince.
  4. Template:Note For instance Mobutu Ss Seko is generally considered such "autocrat" that tried to give an appearance of "republican democracy" to his style of government, for instance by allowing something that was generally regarded a sockpuppet opposition.
  5. Template:Note References where in everyday language countries with a king or emperor as head of state are termed republic have not been encountered.
  6. Template:Note For instance the United Provinces: after the Oath of Abjuration (1581) the Duke of Anjou and later the Earl of Leicester were asked to rule the Netherlands. After these candidates had declined the office, the Republic was only established in 1588.
  7. Template:Note This section draws from, among others, Geschiedenis der nieuwe tijden by J. Warichez and L. Brounts, 1946, Standaard Boekhandel (Antwerp/Brussels/Ghent/Louvain) and Cultuurgetijden (history books for secondary school in 6 volumes), Dr. J. A. Van Houtte et. al., several editions and reprints in 1960ies through 1970ies, Van In (Lier).
  8. Template:Note Note however that individual states of the US could have a state religion.
  9. Template:Note see also Republicanism and religion
  10. Template:Note Example: French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools - a similar law was tentatively debated in Belgium, but deemed incompatible with the less profoundly secularized Belgian state.
  11. Template:Note After the Duke of Anjou and the Earl of Leicester had declined the offer to become ruler of the Seven Provinces (see note above), William I of Orange had been the obvious choice for king: the volume Nieuwe tijden from the Cultuurgetijden series as mentioned in a previous note, elaborates on p. 63-65 (supported by a quote of the contemporary Pontus Payen) that William of Orange was perceived as too lenient towards Catholicism to be acceptable as king for the protestants.
  12. Template:Note Although in Turkey the ensuing republic would become relatively tolerant towards other religions, the straight multicultural approach of the Millet system, that had allowed Christians and Jews to form state-in-state like communities, would remain unparallelled.
  13. Template:Note See for example The Federalist No. 10 by James Madison ( - An original framer of the U.S. Constitution advocates a republic over a democracy. See Republicanism in the United States for the connotations of the terms "democracy" and "republic" in the 1787 context when this article was written.
  14. Template:Note For instance in Pakistan the expression "basic democracy" is tied to the epoch of the military dictature.
  15. Template:Note For example, what is known about the origins of the Roman Republic is based on works by Polybius, Livy, Plutarch, and others, all of which wrote at least some centuries after the emergence of that Republic — without exception all these authors have historical exactitude issues, including relative uncertainty over the year when the Roman Republic would have emerged.
  16. Template:Note That Islam would have a more intrinsic political dimension than most other religions is argued, among others, by Afshin Ellian ([1] ( in his book Brieven van een Pers (Meulenhoff - ISBN 9029075228)
  17. Template:Note For instance, Historia series of history books, chief editor prof. dr. M. Dierickx sj, published by De Nederlandse Boekhandel (Antwerpen/Amsterdam) in several editions from 1955 to the late 1970ies studies these links between the presence of a wealthy middle class and the republics that emerged throughout history.
  18. Template:Note see for example Title IX ( and Title I ( in the text for a constitution for Europe (
  19. Template:Note After some fierce debate it was decided that the 2005 version of the Constitution proposal would not make any reference to the "Christian" roots (among other communal values) of Europe, see Art. I,2 of the European Constitution proposal (Република

ca:Repblica cs:Republika de:Republik eo:Respubliko es:Repblica fr:Rpublique is:Lveldi ja:共和制 ko:공화제 la:Res Publica li:Rippebliek nds:Republiek nl:republiek no:Republikk pl:Republika pt:Repblica ru:Республика simple:Republic sl:Republika sv:Republik sr:Република th:สาธารณรัฐ he:רפובליקה zh:共和制


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