America Has Always Been a Republic, Not a Democracy
Editorial, Investors Business Daily, September 16, 2013
by Rosario Iaconis
What happened to the leader of the free world? As President Obama pontificates and Congress equivocates, Vladimir Putin commands global attention while Syria reels and Al-Qaida bides its time.
Unlike death and taxes, fortitude in foreign policy and good governance are not certain. Nor is the long-term survival of our res publica.
Indeed, as we celebrate Tuesday the 226th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, all Americans ought to reflect on Benjamin Franklin's reply on being asked, regarding the miracle in Philadelphia, "What have we got — a republic or a monarchy?"
"A republic," he declared, "if you can keep it."
In fact, the United States is and always has been a republic, not a democracy. When saluting Old Glory, Americans pledge allegiance to the flag — and the republic for which it stands.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the framers established a government alla romana antica. Eschewing the fractious democracies of the Greek city-states, the Founding Fathers chose as their model the stable, freedom-loving res publica that arose on Italian soil centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Adams had long agitated for a nation of laws, not a wild and wooly polity of men. Just as a tyrannical British monarch had violated the unalienable rights of the American colonists, so too could an unrestrained democracy descend into tyranny.
The founders wanted a sinewy republic predicated on mixed government, the separation of powers, and the principle of checks and balances.
And the Roman republic boasted just such a framework: a Senate, two Consuls that represented Rome's citizens and legislative Assemblies composed of the latter. Each Consul was elected yearly and served as magistrate and commander in chief of the Roman army.
Both the Greek historian Polybius and the French philosopher Montesquieu lauded Rome's balanced government.
However, it was John Adams who best captured the tripartite wisdom of Rome:
"The Roman constitution formed the noblest people, and the greatest power, that has ever existed. But if all the powers of the consuls, senate, and people, had been centered in a single assembly of the people collectively or representatively, will any man pretend to believe that they would have been long free, or ever great?"
If the U.S. is to remain "the one indispensable nation in world affairs," then Obama should look to Gaius Popillius Laenas for inspiration. Sent by the Roman republic to halt the Syrian King Antiochus IV's invasion of Egypt, the Consul Laenas drew a circular line in the sand around the Seleucid monarch.
Knowing that he'd face the full military might and power of Rome if he stepped out of the circle without abandoning his attack, Antiochus retreated and marched his army back to Syria.
• Iaconis, adjunct professor of political science at Briarcliffe College on Long Island, N.Y., is chairman of the Italic Institute of America.