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A republic (from the Latin res publica , literally actually “public matter”, “public matter”, mostly meaning community , state ) is a collective term for all non- monarchical forms of government . In most cases, the people of the state have the highest power in a republic and are the highest source of state legitimacy . Exceptions are the dictatorship and the aristocratic republic . The term republic is often used without a clear definition.


Historically, the word republic has three definitions, some of which overlap or complement each other:

  1. a state in which rule is exercised by temporary electoral offices. The antonym is monarchy . In this sense, both aristocracies and democracies can be republics.
  2. a state that is oriented towards the common good . Antonyms for this are despotism and anarchy .
  3. States with popular sovereignty in which the participation of the citizens is considered necessary. A liberal conception of the state that leaves it at the safeguarding of basic rights is considered to be deficient in republicanism understood in this way . Antonyms to this are both monarchy and aristocracy.

For the period since the 20th century, Wolfgang Mager or Josef Isensee found a meaninglessness and inflationary use of the word. The term democracy defined and replaced the term republic, blurring the differences between the meanings “government elected by the people” (democracy) and “politics serving the common good” (republic), as Hans Buchheim has worked out.

Individual constitutional lawyers like Rolf Gröschner have tried to regain the original meaning of the term republic in its fundamental meaning for state and politics. He defines the republic as a constitutional order that is legitimized by freedom, organized in offices and oriented towards the common good. In this sense, the legitimacy of the government through popular elections must also correspond to the commitment of the elected to the common good. The democratic principle therefore necessarily needs to be supplemented by the republican principle, since the democratic election alone does not guarantee a policy oriented towards the people's welfare.

In the history of meaning according to Wolfgang Mager's presentation in the basic historical concepts , various ancient, medieval and modern concepts can be distinguished. For Cicero, a republic was a matter for the people and the senate; in the empire it was a matter for the emperor as the official who represented the people and his state apparatus in the service of the public good.

Resumed by the Carolingians as a personal royal rule over the people, the term changed to designate corporations, whereby Christianity or a university could also be understood as res publica . A distinction was made between res publica in three meanings: as a designation of the Roman constitution , as a corporation and as a community .

With the late medieval reception of Aristotle, the concept of republic was decisively redesigned by the idea of ​​sovereignty , which brought with it the distinction between sovereign and subject : the republic was now the political organization of society (civitas, societas civilis) by a sovereign government and thus almost synonymous with the modern Concept of the state. "The state (république) is understood to mean the law-oriented, sovereign power of government over a large number of households and what they have in common" ( Jean Bodin ). In this fixed by Bodin Republic meaning equivalent to the term community (Commonwealth communauté) , the most common good (common good, bien commun) is oriented. Until the 17th century, republic was used in this broader sense and included aristocratic states, oligarchies and monarchies.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the meaning of the term shifted to express a distance from the absolutist forms of rule. The positive concept of the republic thus eliminated those elements of the term that were regarded as unacceptable: republic should only be a form of government whose leader is determined according to the rules of a constitution , instead of inheriting his office as a member of a dynasty.

During the time of the Restoration, however, in the early romantic writings of Friedrich Schlegel , who was based on counter-images to the political understanding of the French Revolution, republicanism could again be viewed as compatible with a monarchy in the sense of the orientation of politics towards the common good.

In the doctrine of the forms of government , the republic is usually understood today as the counter model to the monarchy , as the form of government in which there is no king. In the specialist literature, however, there are differentiations that also allow the British monarchy and autocratic forms of rule to be classified as a republic. The narrowing goes back to the German pre-March, when radical republicans expected the abolition of the monarchy to solve all problems.



The first beginnings of a society oriented towards the common good appeared in Aristotle's book Politika (Πολιτικά) . He divided the six forms of rule known to him into two categories :

  • the good ones, oriented towards the common good ( monarchy , aristocracy , politics ) and
  • their degenerations, which are based only on the needs of the ruling group ( tyranny , oligarchy , democracy or ochlocracy ). It should be noted that the form of government, which Aristotle describes as "politia", corresponds to our understanding of democracy, while he understands its degeneration, namely the unrestricted arbitrariness of the majority, as "democracy".

The republic as a political concept for the control of the community and as a name for it appears for the first time with the ancient Roman republic . It built on the philosophical ideas of the Greeks. In his work De re publica, Cicero interpreted the state as a matter of the people: Res publica res populi - translated public matter; Cause of the people .

The republic owes its creation to the phenomenon that can still be observed today, that great or even unrestricted power in the hands of an individual is not infrequently used for the purpose of personal enrichment, accompanied by the oppression and exploitation of the ruled. Such a situation occurred around 500 BC. For the revolt of the population of Rome against the royal rule and for the expulsion of the last Roman king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus . It was decided from now on never to tolerate a king ( lat. Rex ) again. Instead, consuls (from Latin consules, "interrogators of the people or senates") were appointed to lead the community, whose power was limited several times: On the one hand, they were elected by the Roman people for only one year (principle of annuity ). On the other hand, two consuls were appointed for each term of office (principle of collegiality ), although each was given full power. The consuls were increasingly empowered to appoint assistants for certain tasks.

Parallel to the Roman Republic, the Attic democracy developed in Greece, which lasted from 461 to 322 BC. Existed.

Modern times

Honoré Daumier's painting from 1848 with the personified republic that nourishes and teaches.

Niccolò Machiavelli differentiated the states of the world exclusively into republics and principalities. During the American and French revolutions , the republic was seen as a counter-model to direct democracy . It should adhere to the principles of representation and the separation of legislative and executive powers . In the teaching of Rousseau this should not be a contradiction to the monarchy: In a footnote of his social contract that is not included in every translation, he explicitly refers to the fact that a monarchy can also be republican. For Rousseau, the decisive criterion for a republican government is its legality and legitimacy. He regards any form of arbitrariness and despotism as not republican.

With the establishment of the concept of representative democracy , the democratic elements broke away from the concept of republic. Today this is limited to the abolition of the monarchy and the alignment of the community with the common good .

Forms of republic

World map over the systems of government
Forms of government and government in the world
  • Presidential Republic
  • Semi-Presidential Republic
  • Republic with an executive head of state appointed by the legislature
  • Parliamentary republic
  • Constitutional monarchy
  • Parliamentary monarchy
  • Absolute Monarchy
  • One-party system (possibly with block parties )
  • Constitutional provisions suspended
  • No constitutionally established regime
  • No government
  • Status: 2021

    The internal structure of a republic varies from state to state. Often there are republics with a democratic government, for example the Federal Republic of Germany . That does not have to be that way. The republican feature only says that no monarch rules the state. All other forms of rule and government systems are conceivable. The participation of the people in the formation of the state's will is not absolutely necessary.

    In contrast, monarchies can also be very democratic. For example, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy governed by a democratic parliament . Despite democracy, it is not a republic. The designation of the form of government does not make any statement about the quality of the prevailing democratic co-determination.

    Democratic Republic

    Both the head of state and the representatives of the people are directly or indirectly elected by the electorate in a democratic republic for a limited period. Most democratic republics have a representative democratic system of government .

    Presidential Republic

    In a presidential one direct through a (quasi-) popular vote elected has president as head of state and head of government , the governance held. A system of strict separation of powers prevails . This system is available e.g. B. in the USA and in almost all Latin American countries.

    Semi-presidential republic

    For the semi-presidential system of government there is a two-person executive consisting of a president and a head of government ( prime minister , chancellor or prime minister ), as is typical for a parliamentary system of government (see below). However, in contrast to this system of government, both have significant power . This system is available e.g. B. in France or Ukraine .

    Parliamentary republic

    In a parliamentary system of government there is a strong intertwining of powers . The parliament elects a head of government who is dependent on the confidence of the parliamentary majority. It is nevertheless controlled by a weak president who is elected either by parliament or directly by the people. This system is in place in many European countries, including in Germany .

    System of parliamentary executive power

    In a system of executive power bound by parliament, there is an even stronger interlocking of powers, since here the parliament elects the head of government who is dependent on the confidence of the parliamentary majority and who is also head of state. Such a system can be found in South Africa , for example .

    Republic in German constitutional law

    Friedrich Ebert , first Reich President of the German Republic, 1922

    The Weimar Imperial Constitution (WRV) already made the republican principle a binding form of government, both for the state as a whole (Art. 1 Para. 1 WRV : “The German Reich is a Republic.”) And for the individual countries (Art. 17 Para. 1 WRV : "Every country must have a free state constitution.") - it symbolized the turning away from the empire , but also represents a rejection of the type of the Soviet republic . The republican idea was incorporated into the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany . The republican principle only appears explicitly in Art. 20 Paragraph 1: “The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social federal state.” The word component “Republic” in Article 20 Paragraph 1 has a normative character.

    In connection with the eternity guarantee from Art. 79 Para. 3 of the Basic Law, the monarchy is officially excluded in the long run, but not impracticable. The situation is similar in the federal states through Article 28, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1 of the Basic Law.

    People's Republic

    At the 750th anniversary of Berlin (East), 1987: portrayal of Karl Liebknecht , who proclaimed a socialist republic in 1918. The raised fist is the symbol of struggle (here) of the communists.

    A people 's republic is a state with a socialist or communist form of government (as understood by the respective governments) . The members of the government are usually selected according to a bureaucratic scheme. A mostly indispensable criterion is belonging to the social class of the working people or proletarians . This means that members of the nobility , the clergy or a wealthy bourgeoisie , the so-called bourgeoisie , are normally denied access to political office. Communist one-party states with this form of government often refer to their model of rule as the dictatorship of the proletariat . Examples are: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea , the Democratic People's Republic of Laos and the People's Republic of China .

    Soviet Republic

    A council republic generally describes a system of rule in which rule is exercised by the people over directly elected councils . Examples of this form of rule were the Munich Soviet Republic or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Russian for Council).

    Socialist republic

    Some communist-ruled countries also called or referred to themselves as "socialist republics", including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Burma, and still today the Socialist Republic of Vietnam , the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Socialist Republic of Cuba .

    Aristocratic Republic

    In an aristocratic republic, a form of government supported by the nobility ( aristocratic republic ), the affluent bourgeoisie ( patricians ) or certain classes ( class order ), a privileged minority elects the government. Almost all democratic forms of government found in Europe today are based on country-specific, aristocratic predecessor models, in which the aristocracy, the affluent bourgeoisie or church representatives had a say in tax collection, questions of the separation of powers or the election of rulers. The transition from aristocratic to democratic forms of government took place mostly in the form that first of all citizens a right to vote was granted and later differences in the weighting of votes ( census suffrage ), or exclusions of civil rights for individual population groups ( slaves , women , ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities ).

    Examples of the past are the Attic Democracy , the Roman Republic , the Republic of Venice , the aristocratic republic Poland-Lithuania , Switzerland in various cantonal forms from the beginning of its state constitution up to the beginning of the Helvetic Republic and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands .

    Constitutional Republic

    The form of government of the constitutional republic is intended to prevent the dangers of pure majority rule in a democracy by protecting minority rights from the “tyranny of the majority” through measures restricting the power of government organs. A constitutional republic is designed in such a way that “no person or group can attain absolute power.” The head of state and important officials are elected representatives of the people and act according to existing constitutional law (constitution), which guarantees the limitation of the power of the government over the citizens . In a constitutional republic, the executive, legislative and judicial organs are strictly separated from one another so that no individual or group can acquire absolute power.

    Dictatorial republic

    The form of government of a republic is called a dictatorship when the head of state effectively rules for life and the government is based on a dictatorship . People's republics are often counted among the republics ruled by dictatorship. The demarcation of the dictatorship from the democratic republic is often associated with even greater difficulties, since almost all dictators pretend to act in the name of the people or to have been legitimized by them. With the exception of a few people's republics, no state constitution is known that openly describes itself as dictatorial. The question of whether a state is governed by dictatorship can therefore only be derived from the actual circumstances. Since these circumstances can usually only be assessed subjectively , opinions about the existence of a dictatorship sometimes differ widely.

    Federal Republic

    A federal republic (federal state) is a federal republic, an amalgamation ( association ) of several partially sovereign member states . That does not mean that it would be allowed to one of the constituent states readily escape from a Federal Republic, which a federal republic or a federal state as a whole by a federation of states (also confederation called) is different.

    Islamic Republic

    States with a high proportion of Islamic populations often call the form of government in their political system the Islamic Republic , which is intended to express consideration for Islamic, traditional, religious values. An Islamic republic is governed according to Islamic principles, such as Sharia law .

    Demarcation republic / democracy

    The terms republic and democracy are often used synonymously, but strictly speaking they refer to different situations. As opposed to the monarchy, a republic denotes a form of government in which the head of state is not dynastic but legitimized by the people of the state; On the other hand, a democracy, as opposed to a dictatorship, describes a system in which the actual state power also comes from the people and political decisions are made according to the principle of majority .

    However, there are also republics in which the succession is regulated by dynasty. Especially in North Korea where the constitution says that the Kim dynasty should rule forever. In Syria and elsewhere, too , sons (daughters) follow their fathers (mothers) as state presidents.

    Different combinations of republic and democracy can be distinguished:

    • Democracy and republic
    • Democracy, but not a republic
    • no democracy, but republic
    • no democracy and no republic

    In addition to this distinction, an expanded concept of democracy is often used, which also includes aspects such as individual basic rights , the free market economy or an open society . The term Western or liberal democracy is often used for this purpose (originally to differentiate it from the socialist “people's democracies”). At the same time, due to the bourgeois-anti-aristocratic tradition of these values, one speaks of republican principles in this context , although the parliamentary monarchies mentioned are also based on them.

    The Republican Party is one of the two major parties in the United States (1900 poster).

    Another distinction between the terms democracy and republic was found in the early stages of the United States. The Democrats of the time wanted to largely determine their fate themselves in the smallest possible constituencies. They considered the direct democracy of the Greek polis to be ideal. Therefore they strove to leave as much power as possible with the states and thus to keep the federation rather weak and loose. The federalists , seen as the forerunners of the Republican Party , advocated a strong state . Their main argument against direct democracy was the danger of the formation of small groups that put their own short-term interests above those of the long-term common good. According to the federalists, the danger that such a group would prevail was considerably greater with only a small electorate (see Federalist Paper No. 10). In the Civil War , the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln defended the Union against the Confederates of the southern states , where mainly Democrats were in power.

    free State

    In Germany from the 17th and 18th centuries - as the translation of the Latin word for republic (" libera res publica ") - the term Freystaat was used on various occasions . The Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck declared itself a Free State in its 1848 constitution .

    The Weimar Constitution (1919) uses the term as a synonym for republic, when it stipulates in Art. 17: “Every country must have a free state constitution.” Accordingly, the concept of the free state was taken up in many state constitutions in the German Reich in the Weimar Republic .

    In the Federal Republic of Germany, the German states of Bavaria , Saxony and Thuringia see themselves in the tradition of the term and use this designation as an official part of the name to refer to their republican tradition (since the November revolution 1918/19).


    • Willi Paul Adams: Republicanism in Political Rhetoric before 1776 , in Political Science Quarterly, 85 (1970).
    • William R. Everdell: The End of Kings. A History of Republics and Republicans (1983), rev. ed., University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2000.
    • William R. Everdell: From "State" to "Free-State". The Meaning of the Word “Republic” from Jean Bodin to John Adams , 7th ISECS, Budapest 1987; in Valley Forge Journal, June 1991.
    • Rolf Gröschner : The Republic , in: Isensee / Kirchhof (Ed.): Handbook of the State Law of the Federal Republic of Germany , Volume II, 3rd edition 2004, pp. 369-428.
    • Jürgen Habermas : Three normative models of democracy . In: Jürgen Habermas: The inclusion of the other. Studies on political theory , Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1996.
    • Helmut G. Koenigsberger (Ed.): Republics and Republicanism in Europe in the Early Modern Age (= Writings of the Historical College. Colloquia, Vol. 11). Oldenbourg, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-486-54341-5 ( digitized version ).
    • Wolfgang Mager, Article Republic , in Basic Historical Concepts. Historical lexicon on political and social language in Germany , 5th edition, E. Klett, Stuttgart 1972.
    • Philip Pettit: Republicanism. A Theory of Freedom and Government , Oxford University Press, 1997.
    • Jean-Michel Ducomte: La République , Les Essentiels, Milan 2002.
    • Marc André Wiegand: Democracy and Republic. Historicity and normativity of two basic concepts of the constitutional state , Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2017.

    Web links

    Wiktionary: Republic  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    Individual evidence

    1. Federal Agency for Civic Education : Republic. In: Retrieved June 14, 2016 .
    2. ^ Günter Rieger: Republic . In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics , Vol. 7: Political Terms , directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 559.
    3. a b c d Wolfgang Mager: Republic , common good. In: Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, Reinhart Koselleck (eds.): Basic historical terms: Historical lexicon on the political-social language in Germany. 8 volumes in 9, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1972–1997.
    4. Josef Isensee : Republic - Meaning Potential of a Term , in: JZ 1981, p. 1.
    5. Hans Buchheim: The modern republican state . Mohr Siebeck, 2013, ISBN 978-3-16-152941-2 ( [accessed June 14, 2016]).
    6. ^ Rolf Gröschner, Die Republik, in: Isensee / Kirchhof (ed.), Handbuch des Staatsrechts der Bundes Republik Deutschland , Vol. II, 3rd edition 2004, pp. 369–428.
    7. Rolf Gröschner, Republic, in: Heun et al. (Ed.), Evangelisches Staatslexikon , new edition 2006, pp. 2041–2045. To the spirit of republican freedom because we want to be free , 2016.
    8. Josef Isensee / Paul Kirchhof (ed.): Handbuch des Staatsrechts, Volume XII: Normativität und Schutz der Verfassungs . CF Müller, 2014, ISBN 978-3-8114-5812-3 ( [accessed June 14, 2016]).
    9. ^ Hanno Kube, Rudolf Mellinghoff, Ulrich Palm: Guiding principles of the law to the state and the constitution: study edition . BoD - Books on Demand, 2014, ISBN 978-3-8114-3942-9 ( [accessed June 14, 2016]).
    10. Jean Bodin (1993) Les six livres de la République Un abrégé du texte De l'édition de Paris de 1583 ÉDITION ET PRÉRSENTATION DE République est un droit gouvernement de plusieurs ménages, et de ce qui leur est commun, avec puissance souveraine. " German: "The state is understood to be the law-oriented, sovereign power of government over a large number of households and what they have in common" (cf. Jean Bodin, "Six books on the state"; Bd.I, 98) Archived copy ( Memento from June 14, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
    11. republic | government. In: Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 14, 2016 .
    12. ^ Friedrich Schlegel, Experiment on the Concept of Republicanism , 1796.
    13. Christoph Grabenwarter, Michael Holoubek: Constitutional Law - General Administrative Law . facultas.wuv, 2009, ISBN 978-3-7089-0451-1 ( [accessed June 14, 2016]).
    14. ^ Christoph Grabenwarter, Michael Holoubek: Constitutional Law - General Administrative Law . facultas.wuv, 2009 ( [accessed June 14, 2016]).
    15. Karl Doehring: Allgemeine Staatslehre: a systematic representation . CF Müller GmbH, 2004, ISBN 978-3-8114-9008-6 ( [accessed June 14, 2016]).
    16. ^ Cicero : De re publica I, 39.
    17. ^ Ralph Balzer: Republic principle and civil service. Publications on Public Law, Volume 1120, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2008, p. 30.
    18. Georges, Concise Dictionary… , sv consul .
    19. ^ Rousseau, Du contrat social , Livre II, chap. 6th
    20. Delattre, Edwin. Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing , American Enterprise Institute, 2002, p. 16.
    21. Cf. State Center for Political Education Thuringia: History of the term "Free State" .