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Democracy is a form of government in which power is held directly or indirectly by citizens under a free electoral system. It is derived from the Greek δημοκρατία (dimokratia), "popular government" [1] which was coined from δήμος (dēmos), "people" and κράτος (kratos), "rule, strength" in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC. Democracy is people who rule the government directly.[2]

In political theory, democracy describes a small number of related forms of government and also a political philosophy. Even though there is no universally accepted definition of 'democracy', Liberty and justice for some There are two principles that any definition of democracy includes. The first principle is that all members of the society (citizens) have equal access to power and the second that all members (citizens) enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties.

There are several varieties of democracy, some of which provide better representation and more freedoms for their citizens than others. However, if any democracy is not carefully legislated to avoid an uneven distribution of political power with balances, such as the separation of powers, then a branch of the system of rule could accumulate power and become harmful to the democracy itself.Google Books linkGoogle Books link

The "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without responsible government it is possible for the rights of a minority to be abused by the "tyranny of the majority". An essential process in representative democracies are competitive elections, that are fair both substantively. Substantively fairness means equality among all citizens in all respects i.e. equality in chances, in starting point etc. and procedurally (Procedural fairness means that the rules of the elections are clear and set in advance). Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential so that citizens are informed and able to vote in their personal interests Google Books link

Popular sovereignty is common but not a universal motivating philosophy for establishing a democracy. In some countries, democracy is based on the philosophical principle of equal rights. Many people use the term "democracy" as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include additional elements such as political pluralism, rule of law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and elements of civil society outside the government. In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a supporting attribute, but in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the dominant philosophy is parliamentary sovereignty (though in practice judicial independence is generally maintained). In other cases, "democracy" is used to mean direct democracy. Though the term "democracy" is typically used in the context of a political state, the principles are also applicable to private organizations and other groups.

Democracy has its origins in Ancient Greece Google Books link However other cultures have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy such as Ancient India. [3] Democracy has been called the "last form of government" and has spread considerably across the globe."The Global Trend" chart on [4] Suffrage has been expanded in many jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups (such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group), but still remains a controversial issue with regard to disputed territories, areas with significant immigration, and countries that exclude certain demographic groups.


Ancient origins

The term democracy first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought. The philosopher Plato contrasted democracy, the system of "rule by the governed", with the alternative systems of monarchy (rule by one individual), oligarchy (rule by a small élite class) and timocracy.[5]

Although Athenian democracy is today considered by many to have been a form of direct democracy, originally it had two distinguishing features: firstly the allotment (selection by lot) of ordinary citizens to government offices and courts, and secondarily the assembly of all the citizens. All the male Athenian citizens were eligible to speak and vote in the Assembly, which set the laws of the city-state; citizenship was not granted to women, or slaves]. Of the 250,000 inhabitants only some 30,000 on average were citizens. Of those 30,000 perhaps 5,000 might regularly attend one or more meetings of the popular Assembly. Most of the officers and magistrates of Athenian government were allotted; only the generals ([trategoi) and a few other officers were elected.

Even though the Roman Republic contributed significantly into certain aspects of democracy, such as Laws, it never became a democracy. The Romans had elections for choosing representatives, but again women, slaves, and the large foreign population were excluded. Also the votes of the wealthy were given more weight and almost all high officials, such as being member of Senate, came from a few wealthy and noble families.[6]

A serious claim for early democratic institutions comes from the independent "republics" of India, sanghas and ganas, which existed as early as the sixth century BCE and persisted in some areas until the fourth century CE. The evidence is scattered and no pure historical source exists for that period. In addition, Diodorus (a Greek historian at the time of Alexander the Great's excursion of India), without offering any detail, mentions that independent and democratic states existed in India. However, modern scholars note that the word democracy at the third century BC had been degraded and could mean any autonomous state no matter how oligarchic it was.



Representative democracy involves the selection of government officials by the people being represented. It is more properly called a democratic republic. The most common mechanisms involve election of the candidate with a majority or a plurality of the votes.

Representatives may be elected or become diplomatic representatives by a particular district (or constituency), or represent the entire electorate proportionally, with some using a combination of the two. Some representative democracies also incorporate elements of direct democracy, such as referendums. A characteristic of representative democracy is that while the representatives are elected by the people to act in their interest, they retain the freedom to exercise their own judgment as how best to do so.


Parliamentary democracy where government is appointed by parliamentary representatives as opposed to a 'presidential rule' by decree dictatorship. Under a parliamentary democracy, government is exercised by delegation to an executive ministry and subject to ongoing review, checks and balances by the legislative parliament elected by the people.


A Liberal democracy is a representative democracy in which the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law, and usually moderated by a constitution that emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised against the rights of minorities (see civil liberties).



Direct democracy is a political system where the citizens participate in the decision-making personally, contrary to relying on intermediaries or representatives. The supporters of direct democracy argue that democracy is more than merely a procedural issue (i.e. voting).[7] Most direct democracies to date have been weak forms, relatively small communities, usually city-states. However, some see the extensive use of referenda, as in California, as akin to direct democracy in a very large polity with more than 20 million in California, 1898-1998 (2000) (ISBN 0-8047-3821-1). In Switzerland, five million voters decide on national referendums and initiatives two to four times a year; direct democratic instruments are also well established at the cantonal and communal level. Vermont towns have been known for their yearly town meetings, held every March to decide on local issues. No direct democracy is in existence outside the framework of a different overarching form of government.


"Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landowners and professional politicians." Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary "Economics Cannot be Separated from Politics" speech by Che Guevara to the ministerial meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES), in Punta del Este, Uruguay on August 8, 1961

Socialist thought has several different views on democracy. Social democracy, democratic socialism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat (usually exercised through Soviet democracy) are some examples. Many democratic socialists and social democrats believe in a form of participatory democracy and workplace democracy combined with a representative democracy.

Within Marxist orthodoxy there is a hostility to what is commonly called "liberal democracy", which they simply refer to as parliamentary democracy because of its often centralized nature. Because of their desire to eliminate the political elitism they see in capitalism, Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyists believe in direct democracy implemented though a system of communes (which are sometimes called soviets. This system ultimately manifests itself as council democracy and begins with workplace democracy.


The only form of democracy considered acceptable to many Anarchists is direct democracy. Some anarchists, however, oppose it. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon argued that the only acceptable form of direct democracy is one in which it is recognized that majority decisions are not binding on the minority, even when unanimous.. [8] However, anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin criticized individualist anarchists for opposing democracy,[9] Some anarcho-communists oppose the majoritarian nature of direct democracy, feeling that it can impede individual liberty and opt in favour of a non-majoritarian form of consensus democracy, similar to Proudhon's position on direct democracy.


Iroquois society had a form of participatory democracy and representative democracy. Iroquois government and law was discussed by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Though some others disagree, some scholars regard it to have influenced the formation of American representative democracy.


Sometimes called "democracy without elections", sortition is the process of choosing decision makers via a random process. The intention is that those chosen will be representative of the opinions and interests of the people at large, and be more fair and impartial than an elected official. The technique was in widespread use in Athenian Democracy and is still used in modern jury selection.


Consensus democracy requires varying degrees of consensus rather than just a mere democratic majority. It typically attempts to protect minority rights from domination by majority rule.


Interactive Democracy seeks to utilise information technology to involve voters in law making. It provides a system for proposing new laws, prioritising proposals, clarifying them through parliament and validating them through referendum.


Qualified majority voting (QMV) is designed by the Treaty of Rome to be the principal method of reaching decisions in the European Council of Ministers. This system allocates votes to member states in part according to their population, but heavily weighted in favour of the smaller states. This might be seen as a form of representative democracy, but representatives to the Council might be appointed rather than directly elected. Some might consider the "individuals" being democratically represented to be states rather than people, as with many other international organizations.

European Parliament members are democratically directly elected on the basis of universal suffrage, may be seen as an example of a supranational democratic institution.


Aside from the public sphere, similar democratic principles and mechanisms of voting and representation have been used to govern other kinds of communities and organizations.

Criticism of democracy

Economists since Milton Friedman have strongly criticized the efficiency of democracy. They base this on their premise of the irrational voter. To them, voters appear highly uninformed about many political issues, especially relating to economics, and have a strong bias about the few issues on which they are fairly knowledgeable. For example, members of labor unions are most passionate and informed about labor policies. They will organize themselves and lobby the government to adopt policies beneficial to labor unions but not necessarily to the rest of the population. As a result, politicians are unaware of voters' actual desires.

Chicago economist, Donald Wittman, has written numerous works attempting to counter these common views of his colleagues. He argues democracy is efficient based on the premise of rational voters, competitive elections, and relatively low political transactions costs. Economist Bryan Caplan argues, while Wittman makes strong arguments for the latter two points, he cannot overcome the insurmountable evidence in favor of voter irrationality. It still remains the Achilles heel of democratic government. The problem is not mere lack of information; it is that voters badly interpret and judge the information they do have.<ref>Caplan, Bryan. "From Friedman to Wittman: The Transformation of Chicago Political Economy" (April 2005). [10]</ref>

Furthermore, some have argued that voters may not be well educated enough to exercise their democratic right. A population with low intellect may not be capable of making correct decisions. While this view today is increasingly regarded by advocates of democracy as an attempt to maintain or revive traditional hierarchy in order to justify autocratic rule [11], extensions have been made to develop the argument further. One such variant of the argument is that the benefits of a specialised society may be compromised by democracy. As ordinary citizens are encouraged to take part in the political life of the country, they have the power to directly influence the outcome of government policies through the democratic procedures of voting, campaigning and the use of press. The result is that government policies may be more influenced by non-specialist opinions and thereby the effectiveness compromised, especially if a policy is very technically sophisticated and/or the general public inadequately informed. For example, there is no guarantee that those who campaign about the government's economic policies are themselves professional economists or academically competent in this particular discipline, regardless of whether they were well-educated.

Mob rule

Plato's Republic presents a critical view of democracy through the narration of Socrates:

"Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike."

In his work, Plato lists 5 forms of government from best to worst. Assuming that the Republic was intended to be a serious critique of the political thought in Athens, Plato argues that only Kallipolis, an aristocracy lead by the unwilling philosopher-kings (the wisest men) is a just form of government. The other forms of government place too much focus on lesser virtues, and degenerate into each other from best to worst, starting with Timocracy, which overvalues honour. Then comes Oligarchy, overvaluing wealth, which is followed by Democracy. In Democracy, the oligarchs, or merchant, are unable to wield their power effectively and the people take over, electing someone who plays on their wishes, by throwing lavish festivals etc. However, the government grants the people too much freedom, and the state degenerates into the fourth form, Tyranny/mob rule.

The Founding Fathers of the United States intended to address this criticism by combining democracy with republicanism. A Constitution would limit the powers of what a simple majority can accomplish., Federalist No. 10

Moral decay

Traditional Asian cultures, in particular that of Confucian and Islamic thought believe that democracy results in the people's distrust and disrespect of governments or religious sanctity. The distrust and disrespect pervades to all parts of society whenever and wherever there is seniority and juniority, for example between a parent and a child, a teacher and a student. This in turn is suggested to be the cause of frequent divorces, teenage crimes, vandalism, hooliganism and low education attainment in Western societies, though it is many times higher than in any Asian societies, in particular the United States. It is argued by Islamists that moral decay occurs when there is no longer a respectable leader who sets high moral standards and when a politically free environment creates excessive Individualism.

Further, Islamists argue that only an Islamic republic is truly compatible with the will of God.The Criticism of Democracy and the Illustration of its Reality

Political instability

More recently, democracy is criticised for not offering enough political stability. As governments are frequently elected on and off there tends to be frequent changes in the policies of democratic countries both domestically and internationally. Even if a political party maintains power, vociferous, headline grabbing protests and harsh criticism from the mass media are often enough to force sudden, unexpected political change. Frequent policy changes with regard to business and immigration are likely to deter investment and so hinder economic growth. For this reason, many people have put forward the idea that democracy is undesirable for a developing country in which economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top priority.[12]

Non-democratic democracies


The new establishment of democratic institutions in countries where the associated practices have as yet been uncommon or deemed culturally unacceptable, can result in institutions, that are not sustainable in the long term. One circumstance supporting this outcome may be when it is part of the common perception among the populace that the institutions were established as a direct result of foreign pressure. Sustained regular inspection from democratic countries, however effortfull and well-meaning, are normally not sufficient in preventing the erosion of democratic practices. In the cases of several African countries, corruption still is rife in spite of democratically elected governments, as one of the most severe examples, Zimbabwe is often perceived to have backfired into outright militarianism.


The United Nations has declared September 15 as the International Day of Democracy.[13]

Further reading

  • Appleby, Joyce. (1992). Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination. Harvard University Press.
  • Becker, Peter, Heideking, Juergen, & Henretta, James A. (2002). Republicanism and Liberalism in America and the German States, 1750-1850. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521800662
  • Benhabib, Seyla. (1996). Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691044781
  • Blattberg, Charles. (2000). From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198296881.
  • Birch, Anthony H. (1993). The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415414630
  • Castiglione, Dario. (2005). "Republicanism and its Legacy." European Journal of Political Theory. pp 453-65.
  • Copp, David, Jean Hampton, & John E. Roemer. (1993). The Idea of Democracy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521432542
  • Caputo, Nicholas. (2005). America's Bible of Democracy: Returning to the Constitution. SterlingHouse Publisher, Inc. ISBN 978-1585010929
  • Dahl, Robert A. (1991). Democracy and its Critics. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300049381
  • Dahl, Robert A. (2000). On Democracy. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300084559
  • Dahl, Robert A. Ian Shapiro & Jose Antonio Cheibub. (2003). The Democracy Sourcebook. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262541473
  • Dahl, Robert A. (1963). A Preface to Democratic Theory. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226134260
  • Davenport, Christian. (2007). State Repression and the Domestic Democratic Peace. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521864909
  • Diamond, Larry & Marc Plattner. (1996). The Global Resurgence of Democracy. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801853043
  • Diamond, Larry & Richard Gunther. (2001). Political Parties and Democracy. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0801868634
  • Diamond, Larry & Leonardo Morlino. (2005). Assessing the Quality of Democracy. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0801882876
  • Diamond, Larry, Marc F. Plattner & Philip J. Costopoulos. (2005). World Religions and Democracy. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0801880803
  • Diamond, Larry, Marc F. Plattner & Daniel Brumberg. (2003). Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0801878473
  • Elster, Jon. (1998). Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521596961
  • Fotopoulos, Takis. (2006). "Liberal and Socialist “Democracies” versus Inclusive Democracy", The International Journal Of Inclusive Democracy. 2(2)
  • Fotopoulos, Takis. (1992). "Direct and Economic Democracy in Ancient Athens and its Significance Today", Democracy & Nature, 1(1)
  • Gabardi, Wayne. (2001). Contemporary Models of Democracy. Polity.
  • Griswold, Daniel. (2007). Trade, Democracy and Peace: The Virtuous Cycle
  • Halperin, M. H., Siegle, J. T. & Weinstein, M. M. (2005). The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415950527
  • Hansen, Mogens Herman. (1991). The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631180173
  • Held, David. (2006). Models of Democracy. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804754729
  • Inglehart, Ronald. (1997). Modernization and Postmodernization. Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691011806
  • Khan, L. Ali. (2003). A Theory of Universal Democracy: Beyond the End of History. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 978-9041120038
  • Köchler, Hans. (1987). The Crisis of Representative Democracy. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-3820488432
  • Lijphart, Arend. (1999). Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300078930
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin. (1959). "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy." American Political Science Review, 53(1): 69-105.
  • Macpherson, C. B. (1977). The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0192891068
  • Morgan, Edmund. (1989). Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America. Norton. ISBN 978-0393306231
  • Plattner, Marc F. & Aleksander Smolar. (2000). Globalization, Power, and Democracy. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0801865688
  • Plattner, Marc F. & João Carlos Espada. (2000). The Democratic Invention. John Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801864193
  • Putnam, Robert. (2001). Making Democracy Work. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-5551091035
  • Raaflaub, Kurt A., Ober, Josiah & Wallace, Robert W. (2007). Origins of democracy in ancient Greece. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520245624
  • Riker, William H.. (1962). The Theory of Political Coalitions. Yale University Press.
  • Sen, Amartya K. (1999). "Democracy as a Universal Value." Journal of Democracy 10(3): 3-17.
  • Tannsjo, Torbjorn. (2008). Global Democracy: The Case for a World Government. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0748634996. Argues that not only is world government necessary if we want to deal successfully with global problems it is also, pace Kant and Rawls, desirable in its own right.
  • Weingast, Barry. (1997). "The Political Foundations of the Rule of Law and Democracy." American Political Science Review, 91(2): 245-263.
  • Weatherford, Jack. (1990). Indian Givers: How the Indians Transformed the World. New York: Fawcett Columbine. ISBN 978-0449904961
  • Whitehead, Laurence. (2002). Emerging Market Democracies: East Asia and Latin America. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0801872198
  • Willard, Charles Arthur. (1996). Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226898452
  • Wood, E. M. (1995). Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing historical materialism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521476829
  • Wood, Gordon S. (1991). The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0679736882 examines democratic dimensions of republicanism

External links