As Benjamin Franklin was exiting after writing the U.S. constitution, a woman asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic – if you can keep it.”
What happened to the Roman republic was a slow slide into public illegitimacy, intensified by the way in which elites played by the rules only when it suited them and broke precedents and norms when it came to defending their own interests, complaining loudly when others did the same.
Republics do not suddenly evaporate. The institutions they establish tend to continue — but, over time, in a deeply polarized and increasingly unequal society, they can become less and less potent, as various leaders and their followings fight zero-sum games using the rhetoric of power rather than the dialogue of deliberation. Precedents are broken; habits of mind and behavior erode; the advance of executive power ebbs and flows; but relentlessly, the water line of what is an acceptable level of autocracy rises.– Andrew Sullivan