I enjoyed Professor Robert George’s mention of his students’ “shock” at reading Hamilton and Madison to the effect that the United States was constituted as a “republic” and not a “democracy” (“Why We Need Civics,” April issue). He is quoted saying, “No one ever told them.”
None of them, I guess, had ever been my student at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, where, even if they did not read my book, they would have learned that the United States is both. We began as a kingless republic, like Rome and Florence, and became, like them, a republic that was less and less aristocratic and more and more democratic after a few generations. The Roman and Florentine — and First and Second French — republics, however, returned to monarchy with the Caesars, the Medici, and two Bonapartes.
Those who once learned that democracy and republic are antithetical may be unprepared for what shocked my students, which was my suggestion that without a good civics education, a democratic electorate might one day elect to be ruled by one instead of many, turning their republic into a democratic monarchy or elected dictatorship by miseducation. The recent attempted coup by our farcical Napoleon has reminded me that history teachers need to teach some things repeatedly — but I’m retired now.