Just What is a “Republic” Anyway? Part 1

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, August 1, 2017 0 comments

by Bill Fortenberry

Conservatives are often fond of pointing out that America is a republic and not a democracy, but do we really understand what it means to be a republic?

Since the beginning of time, men have been experimenting with various systems of government. Some of those governments produced great safety and prosperity for the people, and others led the people into danger and poverty. Some of them were successful for varying lengths of time until a weakness in the system was exploited to rob the people of their safety and prosperity. There have been thousands, if not tens of thousands, of these experimental attempts to produce a government that benefits the people and that eliminates the weaknesses that lead to poverty and destruction.

Over time, human philosophers began to create catalogues of these experiments with various governments and to organize them into distinct classes and categories. As they did this, they found that there were three basic species or classes of governments. The most common form of government was the monarchy, a system in which a single individual determined what laws were to be followed and how those laws were to be implemented. The second most common form of government was the aristocracy, a system in which a small group of individuals determined what laws were to be followed and how those laws were to be implemented. The third form of government was the democracy, in which all the people of a given society voted to determine what laws were to be followed and how those laws were to be implemented.

These are the three basic classifications of government that were recognized by the Greek philosophers in the third and fourth centuries before Christ, but the philosophers also recognized a fourth type of government that was better than either of the three but that didn’t fit within their system of classification. This fourth type of government was a hybrid government, which sought to combine the best elements of all three of the basic classes of governments.

Societies implementing this class of government had a single ruler who was the final authority on which laws were implemented, but he did not create the laws himself. That task fell upon a small group of individuals who would debate among themselves as to which laws should be sent to the ruler for his approval and implementation. Additionally, the larger body of the people was given a say in this form of government by choosing which men among them should be their ruler and their law makers. This fourth type of government was given the name “republic.”

As the philosophers extolled the virtues of this hybrid government, a small but influential group of people began laughing. This small group of people were the Jews, who saw in the works of the Greek philosophers nothing more than an attempt by the Greeks to claim the wisdom of the Old Testament as their own. Aristobulus was one of the first Jews to make this claim public in the second century BC. He was followed by Philo in the next century and Josephus in the first century AD.

But the Jews weren’t the only ones who recognized this fact. Several Greeks made the same claim. Hermippus, for example, claimed that Pythagorus “transferred many things out of the Jewish institutions into his own philosophy.” Numenius once wrote, “What is Plato, but Moses atticizing?” (Atticizing means being fit into the culture of Athens, Greece.) The Christian philosophers came to the same conclusion with early writers of the church such as Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and Augustine, being in nearly universal agreement that the Greek philosophers had taken their ideas from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Why did such a diverse group of people claim that the Greek philosophers took their ideas from the Bible? So much of the writings from those philosophers lines up with what had already been written in the Bible. When we compare the republican form of government that was so highly praised by the philosophers with the government established by God in Israel, we find that the two are nearly identical. The Greek philosophers took God’s model of government, gave it the name of a republic, and claimed it as their own invention. The Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas recognized this explicitly when he wrote in the thirteenth century:

“Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rulers are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.

“Such was the form of government established by the Divine Law. For Moses and his successors governed the people in such a way that each of them was ruler over all; so that there was a kind of kingdom. Moreover, seventy-two men were chosen, who were elders in virtue: for it is written (Deut. i. 15): I took out of your tribes men wise and honorable, and appointed them rulers: so that there was an element of aristocracy. But it was a democratical government in so far as the rulers were chosen from all the people; for it is written (Exod. xviii. 21): Provide out of all the people wise men, etc.; and, again, in so far as they were chosen by the people; wherefore it is written (Deut. i. 13): Let me have from among you wise men, etc. Consequently it is evident that the ordering of the rulers was well provided for by the Law.”

From Aristobulus to Josephus, from the church fathers to Aquinas, and all the way down to the writings of Locke, Harrington, and Sydney which so heavily influenced our founding fathers – throughout all this time there has been a consistent and persistent witness that the form of government which the Greek philosophers called a republic was nothing more than the form of government that God established for the nation of Israel.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.