From National Review by Adam Carrington, Jamelle Bouie Is Wrong about the Constitution:

Thus, when Bouie rebuts those who claim that we are a republic by defining democracy itself as representative, not direct, government, he wins a skirmish only to lose the greater battle. Indeed, the Founders had significant critiques of republics, as well. Though human vice persisted under all forms of rule, it manifested in particular ways in popular as opposed to aristocratic or monarchical systems. Popular governments often lack stability. Their capricious tendencies stem from indulging temptations to act from passion, not reason. In fits of passion, popular government becomes a mob. A mob turns a political community into anarchy. And anarchy often resolves itself in the installation of tyranny — itself the death of even the formality of popular rule.

The Framers found this story not only logical but historical. Publius in Federalist No. 9 writes of “the disorders that disfigure the annals of” previous republican governments. History is littered with countless examples of erstwhile free republics devolving from peace and human flourishing into violence, turbulence, and oppression. “If it had been found impracticable to have devised models of a more perfect structure,” Publius warns, “the enlightened friends to liberty would have been obliged to abandon the cause of that species of government as indefensible.” In other words, popular rule had such a checkered history with facilitating public happiness that American must improve it or lose it.

The Founders’ answer, found in the Constitution, was not to be purely popular and hope for the best. No reasonable hope lie there. Instead, the Constitution seeks to order and channel popular rule so as to accentuate its virtues and ameliorate its often fatal vices.

Ultimately, the Constitution derives all political power from the people. In some fashion, all offices of political authority trace their origin to the people’s choice. Many of those offices, too, carry a limited term before the people must decide again. But the Constitution also structures popular selection so that some offices are indirectly — not directly — chosen by the people. It gives terms of office that vary widely in length, including a judicial system with lifetime appointments.

This set-up attempts to make popular decision-making the most stable, rational, and just it can be. For instance, members of the U.S. House of Representatives are directly elected for a short term of two years. While the Constitution maintains a closer dependence on and affiliation with the people in the case of House members, it also encourages stability with the longer stints served by those elected to the Senate and the presidency. It further encourages more rational decision-making by the indirect selection of the latter two offices. Though that indirection has changed with time, those offices’ longer terms still permit time in which passions can cool and reason can make its case. The lifetime service of judges, moreover, encourages the people to act through — and thus be bound by — their own laws, even when tempted to do otherwise in a particular case. The judges, when acting correctly, hold the people to their own standards — standards that, declared as laws, often partake of a stabler, more rational, and thus more just manifestation of popular will.


If we oversimplify the definition of a republic to be merely a representative democracy, we greatly underestimate the weight carried by the adjective.  It is the nature of that representation that was so carefully constructed to reflect the will of the people while blunting the inevitable populist passions that had led so many democracies and republics astray.  The critical point is not that we are simply a republic and not a democracy, but that we are a very carefully constructed republic, reflecting an understanding of human nature, with numerous firewalls that are designed to prevent the democracy from degenerating into anarchy and tyranny.