Imagining a New American Republic

Upon the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin responded to a question about whether the convention had given the emerging nation a monarchy or a republic with the quip, “A republic, if you can keep it.” This summer, our host Ken Taylor is busily working on a book with the working title Farewell to the Republic We Once Dreamt Of. In it, he argues that we Americans have failed to keep Franklin’s republic. Indeed, Ken insists that Franklin’s republic was never fully achieved to begin with; it was always only a dream, and one he fears may have faded. That said, Ken tells us that his book is not meant solely as a counsel of despair - it is also meant as an urgent call to arms. He seeks to inspire action in those who still aspire to finally achieve a true American republic and hopes that the book will kickstart the work of imagining a new American republic. Who better, we thought, to begin the task of reimagining the American republic than you, the fans of Philosophy Talk!

To help get your imaginations working, we’ve included a few episodes from our archive in which we ourselves discuss various aspects of democracy and its future. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but we think it’s a good place to start. We also include for your consideration a brief except from Ken’s book as a blog entry, a link to his article, The Will of the People, in which he advocates for the abolition of the electoral college, and a link to a video recording of a half day conference on Trump, Philosophy, and American Politics in which Ken and others sound the alarm about the current state of the republic. It’s all worth listening to, but if you want to skip to Ken’s bit, it begins at about the 1:57:00 mark. Imagine away!

Comments (5)

Matt Nicodemus's picture

Matt Nicodemus

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 -- 1:14 PM

Introducing PRESENTATIVE, vs. representative, DEMOCRACY

See the below the final four paragraphs of an essay I wrote on the even of Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, "We can all be inaugurated along with Obama -- You're the ones to make most of the change you want, not the incoming president" (

"But this is not the leader who is going to tackle most of our problems, bring most of the needed relief, and do most of the moving the U.S. forward and upward. This is not the savior so many of us have been seeking so desperately. That leader – those leaders, those saviors – would be the rest of 'we', the we who can, which is to say, as Barack Obama has so frequently, the rest of us Americans. During the campaign, he urged us to look around and look within, and then decide how we personally would make a difference for the better. From the stage at Grant Park, he reminded us that any valid, lasting solutions to the enormous challenges we face could only come through our common strivings for common goals. And late last week, in Joseph Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, on a train following the historic route taken by the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, to a similar ceremony 148 years ago, Obama promised again that, once in office, he and his vice-president would 'fight for you every day' and 'work hard with you every day.' Again, the world’s most famous living community organizer was clear and consistent in his sober yet inspiring entreaty to all of his fellow Americans: 'Now it falls to us.'

But I fear those Americans, including lots of Obama’s biggest fans, still have not adequately grasped the meanings of his words and the necessities they call for. So many of them love the warm, wonderful feelings they have when they imagine President Obama, his extremely competent, experienced staff and appointees, and a cooperative, collaborating Democratic-controlled Congress taking up the people’s causes, actually representing us, and taking the U.S. in long, glorious strides forward. But what I think Obama has been trying so hard to convey, with his speeches, with the new ways he went about winning the election, and with his attempts to establish a more user-friendly, highly participatory, and self-aware structure of relationship between government and the governed, is something that he would not, as a mainstream politician, be able to admit openly at this point. I think Obama and his team, his closest partners and allies, want us to understand that representative democracy as it has been practiced to date is fundamentally flawed and insufficient to produce the 'more perfect' democracy which they believe is now not only achievable but essential. It simply doesn’t work to vote people into office and hope that they’ll stand for you just because they get your letters, e-mails, and phone calls, see your occasional public demonstrations, and worry that you might not vote for them the next time around. In our two-party, winners-take-all system where public fear and private power play such dominant yet accepted roles, there’s no way that we can primarily rely on those we elect to make the right decisions and effectively implement them for the good of the entire country and the wider global family.

At the dawn of what could be a new, substantially different, and vastly better period of American history, I will coin a term to describe what I believe is Barack Obama’s hope and dream, and what is definitely mine: presentative democracy. We the people, we ourselves, must arrange our situations, must make our life choices, so that we are as fully as possible present to manage our collective affairs, to investigate our world directly, and to be present as vital parts of the treatments for its ailments. If we want justice, we must present ourselves to make and defend justice. If we want peace, we must present ourselves as devoted peacemakers. If we want health and happiness in a clean, safe environment, we must be present to co-create that state of affairs. We do not merely express our opinions to politicians and hope that they might re-present those views when decisions about our future are made; we do all we can to present those opinions ourselves, and to vigorously, insistently present ourselves for meaningful inclusion in all the processes of public intercourse. In presentative democracy, though there is still government, it is government which operates completely in the context of a broad, rich fabric of life-affirming community activity, which reflects and enhances the high aspirations and solid commitments to a vibrant, powerfully caring society of human beings who want to give as much to each other as they receive, who confidently state that when it comes to leading for change, 'Yes, we have. Yes, we are. Yes, we will.' It is the deep, enduring democracy foreseen by another president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his oft-quoted declaration that 'When the people lead, the leaders will follow.'

Today, as you watch or listen to Barack Hussein Obama swear to serve his country to the best of his ability, please recognize that this can also and just as importantly be the day of your inauguration, as citizens who labor daily to be more aware, more concerned and compassionate, more careful, more courageous, more community-minded and self-sacrificing, and more involved in the grand project of evolving our society in ways that will bring forth from each of us the words of my mother: 'I’m so proud. I’m so proud of what we’ve done.'"

Ken Taylor's picture

Ken Taylor

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 -- 1:53 PM

NIce. Inspiring.

NIce. Inspiring.

npauthor's picture


Friday, June 22, 2018 -- 5:38 AM

Very lofty, hopeful,

Very lofty, hopeful, inspiring words (by you and Obama) but his were empty, cynical, manipulative. What else would you expect from a politician, esp. one who obviously was/is a wolf in sheep's clothing, one who chose to sell his soul to the devil and thereby threw in his lot with them. He is now so incredibly inconspicuous and quiet while our nation's moral and legal fabric unravels, or more correctly is torn asunder by those democratic non-believers. I so vividly recall that chilling scene at the end of the film, Cabaret, the camera panning to reveal the once marginalized brown shirts now occupying the front row while the drum roll increases increases its intensity, a foreboding of all-out war and unthinkable atrocities.

We will never have a snow ball's chance in hell of recovering the tattered remnants of our republic and democratic ideals unless finally we wake up and grow up, seeing clearly the reality before us and how far our nation has fallen in so many ways. We are a lost people, pretty much clueless about how we got here and unsure about how to extricate ourselves from this spreading quagmire.

MJA's picture


Saturday, July 14, 2018 -- 7:05 AM

Nicely said Matt, and it has

Nicely said Matt, and it has been said before. " You (We) must be the change we (you) wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

A democratic question: Do we not give away our own self-reliance, our own self-control when we elect others to govern or rule over us? Is democracy our weakness?

I wrote a poem about this:

A True Patriot

It was the sound of chains rattling
That caused me to stop, to turn, to see,
An American flag struggling to be free.

It was the sound of chains rattling
That cause me to see,
Another true patriot just like me.


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, July 14, 2018 -- 10:44 AM

I like philosophy because it

I like philosophy because it asks the sorts of questions that keep other disciplines honest. But, I also read books which are expressions of philosophical thought, set forth by thinkers who are not necessarily (or primarily) philosophers. In a recent book, one you will know if you have read it, I was introduced to Stein's Law and Davies' Corollary:

Stein's Law says: Things that can't go on forever, don't.
Davies' Corollary: Things that can't go on forever, can go on much longer than you think.

After a small amount of thought, I concocted Neuman's Exception:

Things that can't go on forever, may go on, far longer than they should.

Historically, all manner of things have fallen under law or corollary. Presently, more things seem to make the exception the rule.