Constitutional republic vs. Democracy

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    Could anyone tell me where I can find a good article about the differences between a constitutional republic and a (purely) democratic state. I had this argument with my brother and he was terrified when I told him I didn’t think democracy was the solution to all social ills or even the best socieatal system imaginable.

    The problem with his thinking was that he, as most people, have a very black-and-white view on this subject. I tried some common arguments on him saying stuff like: but don’t you agree that it would be wrong if, in a pure democracy, 51% agreed that some minority should be killed. I also tried to explain that the process of taking a majority vote really doesn’t ensure that the solution will be any better than if, say, a panel of experts would delibirate on the issue and propose a solution. I also mentioned some societies, Monaco and Lichtenstein, that isn’t properly democratic that still are flourishing societies.

    But I really didn’t come trough with my arguments. I think this was because in his mind you either have democracy or you have a dictatorship. From that point of view I can understand his reasoning. Off course our Swedish democracy with its constitutional limits is better than historic and present dictatorships. In a sense I to support a very limited form of democracy. I have no problem with represantatives being elected to public office to make decisions on a limited number of issues. But I really could not explain this idea of a limited scope of government to him in a good way.

    Thats why I would like to send him an article explaning the key difference between a constitutional republic and a democracy. I guess he is some sort of social liberal in the swedish context. He understands the value of the free market but he also belives in a large role for government offering school education, medical treatment, pensions and so on and so forth. I myself is a minarchist and not an anarchist. So I would like a good article from this perspective. That is an article that explains why the scope of government should be severly limited by respect to individual rights.

    I think right now he thinks i prefer dictatorship over democracy and have never been exposed to the idea of a constitutional republic. Also take note that this is a conversation taking place in Sweden. Our “constitution”, really a set of basic laws, isn’t very much revered and most people seem not to think about the restrictions on majority rule the basic laws impose on the government and parliament.

    I think of it as a spectrum where the minimalist position is anarchism and the maximalist postion is communism.

    Anarchism -> minarchism (constitutional republic) -> social democracy (Sweden) -> communism (“democratisation of all private property”

    I think an article that is not to long would be a good idea. I am looking for an academic text explaning what a constitutional republic is and why one should prefer it over a democracy.


    I can’t think of an article you’re looking for. However I’d like to recommend to short books that I’ve read last year that seem to me very persuasive. First ‘The law’ by Frédéric Bastiat. You probably know it but Bastiat explains what the law should be (protection of life and property) and what the resulting role of government should be. The resulting government would be severely limited (a constitutional republic). The alternative would be a democracy with lots of government intervention which would be incompatible with individual rights and the proper role of the law. I gave this book to my best friend for his birthday. I’d consider him a social democrat but ‘The law’ really got him thinking and he’s moving toward a more libertarian position.

    The other book I can recommend is “Beyond Democracy” by Karel Beckman and Frank Karsten. It’s again a very short book but highly persuasive in my mind. It’s not as academic as ‘Democracy The God that failed’ by Hoppe. The authors go through 12 common myths of democracy and debunk them. (e.g.. Democracy equals freedom). They als opropose alternatives like decentralization with small limited governments. While ‘The Law’ is written from a moral standpoint “Beyond Democracy” seems to be written from a more pragmatic standpoint.

    I’d definitely check out both of these books and give them to your friend. You might ask him to recommend any books to you. After having read them you might have a discussion. Good luck


    Both in the US to 1877 course and in the Constitutional History course, we deal with what Federalist leaders of the day saw as the problems of excessively democratic government in the 1770s and ’80s.

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