republic [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.
See F. Hermens, The Representative Republic (1958) and Introduction to Modern Politics (1959).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.