Is the Price of a Republic Constant Discord?

Annie Holmquist | November 10, 2016

The election is barely over and already one thing seems clear: the peace and quiet we were hoping for do not seem to be on the horizon. Instead we seem to be facing even more discord and strife.


While such trends are disconcerting, they shouldn’t be surprising. According to 19th century philosopher William Paley, these tumults are the natural outgrowth of the democratic republican form of government the United States has:


“The evils of a republic are — dissentions, tumults, factions, the attempts of powerful citizens to possess themselves of the empire; the confusion, rage, and clamour, which are the inevitable consequences of assembling multitudes… the delay and disclosure of public counsels and designs, and the imbecility of measures retarded by the necessity of obtaining the consent of numbers—and lastly, the oppression of the provinces which are not admitted to a participation in the legislative power.”


But in spite of the anger, turmoil, and slow government, Paley notes that there is a silver lining:


“The advantages of a republic are, liberty, or exemption from needless restrictions; equal laws; regulations adapted to the wants and circumstances of the people, public spirit, frugality, averseness to war, the opportunities which democratic assemblies afford to men of every description, of producing their abilities and counsels to public observation, and the exciting thereby, and calling forth to the service of the commonwealth the faculties of its best citizens.”


In looking at these advantages, however, one can’t help but notice how far we’ve strayed. With the national debt about to reach $20 trillion, it’s hard to say that we’re a nation characterized by frugality. “Needless restrictions” seem to abound and many other advantages on the list seem to be lacking in present day America.


Does the fact that these advantages are no longer visible signal that America is no longer a true republic? And in losing our status as a republic, how is it possible that we have somehow managed to retain all the evils of this form of government?


Image Credit: nathanmac87 CC BY 2.0



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