WHAT IS A DEMOCRACY? …and how is it different from a republic?
[from Lat. res publica,=public affair], today understood to be a sovereign state ruled by representatives of a widely inclusive electorate. The term republic formerly denoted a form of government that was both free from hereditary or monarchical rule and had popular control of the state and a conception of public welfare. It is in this sense that we speak of the ancient Roman republic. Today, in addition to the above characteristics, a republic is a state in which all segments of society are enfranchised and in which the state's power is constitutionally limited. Traditionally a republic is distinguished from a true democracy in that the republic operates through a representative assembly chosen by the citizenry, while in a democracy the populace participates directly in governmental affairs. In actual practice, however, most modern representative governments are closer to a republic than a democracy. The United States is an example of a federal republic, in which the powers of the central government are limited and the component parts of the nation, the states, exercise some measure of home rule. France is an example of a centralized republic, in which the component parts have more limited powers. The USSR, though in theory a grouping of federated republics and autonomous regions, was in fact a centralized republic until its breakup in 1991. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, Copyright 1993, Columbia University Press.
[Gr.,=rule of the people], term originating in ancient Greece to designate a government where the people share in directing the activities of the state, as distinct from governments controlled by a single class, select group, or autocrat. The definition of democracy has been expanded, however, to describe a philosophy that insists on the right and the capacity of a people, acting either directly or through representatives, to control their institutions for their own purposes. Such a philosophy places a high value on the equality of individuals and would free people as far as possible from restraints not self-imposed. It insists that necessary restraints be imposed only by the consent of the majority and that they conform to the principle of equality.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, Copyright 1993, Columbia University Press.