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[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 democracydemocracy
[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.
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 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™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of government under which all the highest bodies of state are either elected or are formed by national representative institutions (parliaments). The republic emerged in ancient times in opposition to monarchy; the slaveholding democracy in Athens is an example.

There are two main types of bourgeois republics: presidential and parliamentary. In presidential republics, such as the USA, Argentina, and Brazil, the powers of head of state and head of government are combined in the hands of an elected president. A strict delimitation of the competence of the highest bodies of state authority, along with the existence of these bodies as separate entities, produced other features characteristic of presidential republics, including the use of a nonparliamentary procedure in electing the president and forming the government, the exemption of the government from parliamentary accountability, and the right of the president to dissolve the parliament ahead of time.

The parliamentary republic is based on the formal principle of the supremacy of the parliament, to which the government bears a collective political accountability. This means that the government remains in power as long as it has the support of a parliamentary majority. When it loses this support, it either resigns or, through the head of the government, dissolves the parliament and schedules new parliamentary elections. In a parliamentary republic the government is formed only by parliamentary means and is made up of ministers chosen from the body of deputies—as a rule, from the leading figures in the ruling party or, in a coalition government, from the leading figures of several parties. In a parliamentary republic the prime minister, who heads the government, is usually the leader of the ruling party.

A republic is the only possible form of socialist state; irrespective of the type (soviet republic, people’s republic, people’s democratic republic, democratic republic), all socialist republics are constructed on common socialist principles.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a form of government in which the people or their elected representatives possess the supreme power
2. a political or national unit possessing such a form of government
3. a constitutional form in which the head of state is an elected or nominated president
4. any community or group that resembles a political republic in that its members or elements exhibit a general equality, shared interests, etc
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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