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Republicanism is the political theory that holds that the best form of government is a republic as opposed to a monarchy. Unlike proponents of democracy, socialism, or communism, modern republicans rarely argue on the basis of universal principles that a republic is the best form of government in all nations. Rather republicanism is generally a local political movement that argues for the abolition of the monarchy in a particular nation. Because most monarchs in constitutional monarchies have limited power, arguments over republicanism in the late 20th and early 21st century are more often about symbolism than about actual transfers of power.

The term republic most commonly means the system of government in which the head of state is elected for a limited term, as opposed to a constitutional monarchy. Republicanism in this sense is support for the abolition of constitutional monarchies. This definition is particularly appropriate in countries such as Australia, where the abolition of the monarchy is a major political issue, and other Commonwealth nations such as Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and Barbados. In these countries, republicanism is largely about the post-colonial evolution of their relationships with the United Kingdom. Even in the United Kingdom, where there has never been much popular support for republicanism, it nonetheless commands a significant minority position. There, however, it's motivated more by the decreased popularity of the Royal Family as well as the classical argument against monarchy versus the egalitarian aspects of republicanism.

Republican movements have been successful in France, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Ethiopia, China and Russia. In the case of Italy and Greece, the abolition of the monarchy was intended because the monarchy had become discredited for cooperations with Mussolini in the former case, and the Greek generals in the latter.

In the case of Russia and Ethiopia, the overthrow of the monarchy was in the context of a general Marxist revolution.

Spain has been a rare example in which a monarchy has been restored in the 20th century.

Another, older and less commonly used definition of the term, uses the term "republic" to describe what is more commonly called a representative democracy; it restricts the term "democracy" to refer only to direct democracy. See democracy for further discussion of this term usage and its history.

Republicanism in the United States

According to the older definition of the term, the United States of America is a republic, not a democracy. (Although most people, including most Americans, call it a democracy, they are using the modern definition, not the older one referred to here). This usage of the term republic was particularly common around the time of the American Founding Fathers. In contrast to the "Confederation" under the Articles of Confederation, the authors of the U.S. Constitution intentionally chose what they called a republic for several reasons. For one, it is impractical to collect votes from every citizen on every political issue. In theory, representatives would be more well-informed and less emotional than the general populace. Furthermore, a republic can be contrived to protect against the "tyranny of the majority." The Federalist Papers outline the idea that pure democracy is actually quite dangerous, because it allows a majority to infringe upon the rights of a minority. By forming what they called a Republic, in which representatives are chosen in many different ways (the President, House of Representatives, Senate, and state officials are all elected differently), it is more difficult for a majority to control enough of the government to infringe upon a minority. (On an unrelated note, Republicanism can also mean the doctrines of the Republican Party).

Republicanism in Ireland

Historically, the term "republican" in Ireland to those Irish nationalists who sought the overthrow, rather than gradual end, of British rule, who proclaimed the Irish Republic (not to be confused with the Republic of Ireland) in 1919. Fianna Fáil, one of the main political parties in the Republic, refers to itself as 'the Republican Party'. Under Eamon De Valera, it sought to sever independent Ireland's remaining links with the British Crown, and the establish a republic, which finally occurred in 1949.

In Northern Ireland, the term is now used to refer to nationalist groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Irish National Liberation Army, the Real IRA and the political parties Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Socialist Party, some of whom support violence as a means of establishing a republic (in the more common sense) encompassing the whole of the island of Ireland.

This is in contrast to constitutional nationalist groups such as the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). During the decades of The Troubles the constitutional nationalists have had more support than the republicans among the minority Catholic electorate. With the recent, albeit shaky, development of a peace process, Sinn Féin's move away from violence has resulted in increased support and in the recent elections they received slightly more votes than the SDLP.

See also

External link: Res Publica: an international anti-monarchy Web directory

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45