The corrupt, womanising sexist Silvio Berlusconi who mismanaged Italy’s economy to the point where it had to be rescued by the EU (Germany, really) was democratically elected several times. In South Africa, the majority of voters support a very similar man.
Australians are so anti-(non-white)-immigrant, Kevin Rudd could not get re-elected by promising to make his Labor party’s policies even more hostile to boat-people because the democracy preferred a man whose “stop the boats” promises included appointing a general(1) to oversee stopping them, and they also now withhold information about what happens to them. This man, newly elected prime minister Tony Abbott, is so sexist and vile, friends from his student days could impress him by exposing themselves an urinating in front of female activists in order to intimidate them. Even as a student, he was so connected to power, he could enlist a legal team that included a QC to get him out of the trouble he caused(2). He will do great harm.
Americans recently preferred Bush jr, and Obama – both men who unleashed bloodshed and secrecy onto the world, along with their ever obedient British counterparts.
The cases of Berlusconi and Zuma show that a democracy can prefer leaders who are bad for the country, while the British, Australian and Americans cases show that a democracy can prefer men who do evil abroad and to refugees.
To avoid that democracies take these regrettable paths, an ethical awareness should live within every citizen. I think this awareness is republicanism. It should should consist of every citizen truly believing in, and fighting for the ideas summarised by the republican slogan of “Liberty, equality, fraternity”. These powerful ideas inspired a lot of good in the world, such as the abolition of slavery in the US, equal rights for women, and the idea that the state should advance economic equality through public education and healthcare. Only if citizens really believe in continually advancing these ideals can they make democracy (and politicians) achieve things the good things democracy is claimed to bring.
What about Marxism?
Marxism also provides a basis for the kind of awareness I am talking about, and Marxists are usually republican. But Marxism is newer, and more elaborate. This means Marxists can be wrong more, and have been wrong a lot of the time through being statist, totalitarian or undemocratic ( I get that Marxism is a way of thinking, and doesn’t necesarily have to support these things)
But Republicans can use ideas from Marxism and also avoid the mistakes and and dogmatism of Marxists, because it only has some core ideals, and can be pragmatic about how to achieve them. Republicans can more easily admit that economies and economics is complex, and can promote an open and free society more easily than than Marxists have tended to.