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Democracy can denote either the power or complete rule by the people. The term is derived from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía (info)), "popular government", which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos), "people" and κράτος (krátos), "rule, strength" in the middle of the fifth-fourth century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC.

In political theory, democracy describes a small number of related forms of government and also a political philosophy. Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy', there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes, equality and freedom. These principles are reflected by all citizens being equal before the law, and have equal access to power. Additionally, all citizens are able to enjoy legitimized freedoms and liberties, which are usually protected by the constitution.

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. The "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without responsible government or constitutional protections of individual liberties from democratic power it is possible for dissenting individuals to be oppressed by the "tyranny of the majority". An essential process in representative democracies are competitive elections, that are fair both substantively and procedurally. 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.

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, equality before the 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.[18][19] However other cultures have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy such as Ancient Rome,[18] Europe,[18] and North and South America.[20] Democracy has been called the "last form of government" and has spread considerably across the globe. [21]. The Right to vote has been expanded in many Jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups (such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group). Suffrage still remains a controversial issue with regard to disputed territories, areas with significant immigration, and countries that exclude certain demographic groups.


History Edit

Ancient origins Edit

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.[22] 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,[23] and secondarily the assembly of all the citizens[24]. 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 (strategoi) and a few other officers were elected.

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 BC and persisted in some areas until the fourth century AD. 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.[25]

A possible example of primitive democracy may have been the early Sumerian city-states.[26] Vaishali in what is now Bihar, India is also one of the first governments in the world to have elements of what we would today consider democracy, similar to those found in ancient Greece. A similar proto-democracy or oligarchy existed temporarily among the Medes in the 6th century BC, but which came to an end after the Achaemenid Emperor Darius the Great declared that the best monarchy was better than the best oligarchy or best democracy.[27]

Even though the Roman Republic contributed significantly into certain aspects of democracy, such as Laws, it never became a democracy. Only Romans citizens had elections for choosing representatives and the votes of the wealthy were given more weight though a system of Gerrymandering. As such almost all high officials, such as being member of Senate, came from a few wealthy and noble families.[28] although many notable exceptions did occur such as Gaius Marius


Democracy Index as published in January, 2007. The palest blue countries get a score above 9.5 out of 10 (with Sweden being the most democratic country at 9.88), while the black countries score below 2 (with North Korea being the least democratic at 1.03).

Middle Ages Edit

During the Middle Ages, there were various systems involving elections or assemblies, although often only involving a small amount of the population, such as the election of Uthman in the Rashidun Caliphate, the election of Gopala in Bengal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Althing in Iceland, certain medieval Italian city-states such as Venice, the tuatha system in early medieval Ireland, the Veche in Novgorod and Pskov Republics of medieval Russia, Scandinavian Things, The States in Tirol and Switzerland and the autonomous merchant city of Sakai in the 16th century in Japan. However, participation was often restricted to a minority, and so may be better classified as oligarchy. Most regions in medieval Europe were ruled by clergy or feudal lords.

A little closer to modern democracy were the Cossack republics of Ukraine in the 16th-17th centuries: Cossack Hetmanate and Zaporizhian Sich. The highest post - the Hetman - was elected by the representatives from the country's districts. Because these states were very militarised, the right to participate in Hetman's elections was largely restricted to those who served in the Cossack Army and over time was curtailed effectively limiting these rights to higher army ranks.


Magna Carta, 1215, EnglandThe Parliament of England had its roots in the restrictions on the power of kings written into Magna Carta, explicitly protected certain rights of the King's subjects, whether free or fettered — and implicitly supported what became English writ of habeas corpus, safeguarding individual freedom against unlawful imprisonment with right to appeal. First elected parliament was De Montfort's Parliament in England in 1265. However only a small minority actually had a voice; Parliament was elected by only a few percent of the population (less than 3% in 1780.[29]), and power to call parliament was at the pleasure of the monarch (usually when he or she needed funds) and the system had problematic features such as rotten boroughs, of which measures were taken against notably Reform Act 1832 that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of the United Kingdom, increasing the size of electorate by 50–80%. After Glorious Revolution 1688, English Bill of Rights 1689 was enacted, which codified certain rights and increased the influence of Parliament.[29] The franchise was slowly increased and Parliament gradually gained more power until monarch became largely a figurehead.[30]

Democracy was also seen to a certain extent in bands and tribes such as the Iroquois Confederacy. However, in the Iroquois Confederacy only the males of certain clans could be leaders and some clans were excluded. Only the oldest females from the same clans could choose and remove the leaders. This excluded most of the population. An interesting detail is that there should be consensus among the leaders, not majority support decided by voting, when making decisions.[31][32] Band societies, such as the Bushmen, which usually number 20-50 people in the band often do not have leaders and make decisions based on consensus among the majority. In Melanesia, farming village communities have traditionally been egalitarian and lacking in a rigid, authoritarian hierarchy. Although a "Big man" or "Big woman" could gain influence, that influence was conditional on a continued demonstration of leadership skills, and on the willingness of the community. Every person was expected to share in communal duties, and entitled to participate in communal decisions. However, strong social pressure encouraged conformity and discouraged individualism.[33]


18th and 19th centuries Edit

Number of nations 1800-2003 scoring 8 or higher on Polity IV scale, another widely used measure of democracy.Although not described as a democracy by the founding fathers, the United States founders shared a determination to root the American experiment in the principle of natural freedom and equality. [34] The United States Constitution, adopted in 1788, provided for an elected government and protected civil rights and liberties for some. In the colonial period before 1776, and for some time after, only adult white male property owners could vote; enslaved Africans, free black people and women were not extended the franchise. On the American frontier, democracy became a way of life, with widespread social, economic and political equality.[35] However, slavery was a social and economic institution, particulaly in eleven states in the American South, that a variety of organizations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom and equality. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to freedom in Africa. It had broad support nationwide among white people, including prominent leaders such as Henry Clay and James Monroe, who saw this as preferable to emancipation in America, and in 1921 the A.C.S. established colony of Liberia, assisting thousands of former African-American slaves and free black people to move there from the United States.

By the 1840s almost all property restrictions were ended and nearly all white adult male citizens could vote; and turnout averaged 60–80% in frequent elections for local, state and national officials. The system gradually evolved, from Jeffersonian Democracy to Jacksonian Democracy and beyond. In the 1860 Census the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.[36], and in Reconstruction after the Civil War (late 1860s) the newly freed slaves became citizens with (in the case of men) a nominal right to vote, and full enfranchisement of citizens was not secured until after the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) which campaigned for freedom of oppression from white Americans, gained passage by the United States Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


In 1789, Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and, although short-lived, the National Convention was elected by all males.[37]

The Australian colonies became democratic during the mid 19th century, with South Australia being the first government in the world to introduce women's suffrage in 1861. (It was argued that as women would vote the same as their husbands, this essentially gave married men two votes, which was not unreasonable.)

New Zealand granted suffrage to (native) Maori men in 1867, white men in 1879, and women in 1893, thus becoming the first major nation to achieve universal suffrage. However, women were not eligible to stand for parliament until 1919.

Liberal democracies were few and often short-lived before the late nineteenth century, and various nations and territories have also claimed to be the first with universal suffrage.


20th century Edit

Since World War II, democracy has gained widespread acceptance. This map displays the official self identification made by world governments with regard to democracy, as of March 2008. It shows the de jure status of democracy in the world.

*Governments self identified as democratic

    *Governments not self identified as democratic: Vatican City, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Brunei. India is the largest current democracy in the world.

20th century transitions to liberal democracy have come in successive "waves of democracy," variously resulting from wars, revolutions, decolonization, religious and economic circumstances. World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires resulted in the creation of new nation-states from Europe, most of them at least nominally democratic. In the 1920s democracy flourished, but the Great Depression brought disenchantment, and most of the countries of Europe, Latin America, and Asia turned to strong-man rule or dictatorships. Fascism and dictatorships flourished in Nazi Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as nondemocratic regimes in the Baltics, the Balkans, Brazil, Cuba, China, and Japan, among others.[38]

World War II brought a definitive reversal of this trend in western Europe. The successful democratization of the American, British, and French sectors of occupied Germany (disputed[39]), Austria, Italy, and the occupied Japan served as a model for the later theory of regime change. However, most of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet sector of Germany was forced into the non-democratic Soviet bloc. The war was followed by decolonization, and again most of the new independent states had nominally democratic constitutions. India emerged as the world's largest democracy and continues to be so.[40] In the decades following World War II, most western democratic nations had mixed economies and developed a welfare state, reflecting a general consensus among their electorates and political parties. In the 1950s and 1960s, economic growth was high in both the western and Communist countries; it later declined in the state-controlled economies. By 1960, the vast majority of nation-states were nominally democracies, although the majority of the world's populations lived in nations that experienced sham elections, and other forms of subterfuge (particularly in Communist nations and the former colonies.)


This graph shows Freedom House's evaluation of the number of nations in the different categories given above for the period for which there are surveys, 1972-2005A subsequent wave of democratization brought substantial gains toward true liberal democracy for many nations. Spain, Portugal (1974), and several of the military dictatorships in South America returned to civilian rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Argentina in 1983, Bolivia, Uruguay in 1984, Brazil in 1985, and Chile in the early 1990s). This was followed by nations in East and South Asia by the mid- to late 1980s. Economic malaise in the 1980s, along with resentment of communist oppression, contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the associated end of the Cold War, and the democratization and liberalization of the former Eastern bloc countries. The most successful of the new democracies were those geographically and culturally closest to western Europe, and they are now members or candidate members of the European Union[citation needed] . The liberal trend spread to some nations in Africa in the 1990s, most prominently in South Africa. Some recent examples of attempts of liberalization include the Indonesian Revolution of 1998, the Bulldozer Revolution in Yugoslavia, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.

Currently, there are 123 countries that are democratic, and the trend is increasing[41] (up from 40 in 1972).[citation needed] As such, it has been speculated that this trend may continue in the future to the point where liberal democratic nation-states become the universal standard form of human society. This prediction forms the core of Francis Fukayama's "End of History" controversial theory. These theories are criticized by those who fear an evolution of liberal democracies to post-democracy, and other who points out the high number of illiberal democracies.


Forms Edit

Political ratings of countries according to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World survey, 2009:

*Free
    *Partly Free
    *Not Free
The report states that economic freedom, not democracy, leads to political freedom.

Representative Edit

Representative democracy involves the selection of government officials by the people being represented. If the head of state is also democratically elected is also 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 proportional systems, 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 Edit

Parliamentary democracy is where government is appointed by parliamentary representatives as opposed to a 'presidential rule' wherein the President is both head of state and the head of government and is elected by the voters. 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.


Liberal Edit

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).


Constitutional Edit

Direct Edit

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).[50] 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.


Participatory Edit

A Parpolity or Participatory Polity is a theoretical form of democracy that is ruled by a Nested Council structure. The guiding philosophy is that people should have decision making power in proportion to how much they are affected by the decision. Local councils of 25-50 people are completely autonomous on issues that affect only them, and these councils send delegates to higher level councils who are again autonomous regarding issues that affect only the population affected by that council. A council court of randomly chosen citizens serves as a check on the tyranny of the majority, and rules on which body gets to vote on which issue. Delegates can vote differently than their sending council might wish, but are mandated to communicate the wishes of their sending council. Delegates are recallable at any time. Referenda are possible at any time via votes of the majority of lower level councils, however, not everything is a referendum as this is most likely a waste of time. A parpolity is meant to work in tandem with a participatory economy See: Parpolity


Socialist Edit

"Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landowners and professional politicians."

— Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary[51] 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. (See Democracy in Marxism)


Anarchist Edit

Anarchists are split in this domain, depending on whether they believe that a majority-rule is tyrannic or not. The only form of democracy considered acceptable to many anarchists is direct democracy. 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.[52] However, anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin criticized individualist anarchists for opposing democracy,[53] and says "majority rule" is consistent with anarchism.[54] 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.[55] Some Anarchists such as Murray Rothbard criticize what they see as the dangers of majority rule, believing that morality should not be dependent on the majority because, as they see it, history has shown majority rule to be fallible. Henry David Thoreau, who did not self-identify as an anarchist but argued for "a better government"[56] and is cited as an inspiration by some anarchists, argued that people should not be in the position of ruling others or being ruled when there is no consent.


Iroquois Edit

Iroquois society had a form of participatory democracy and representative democracy.[57] Iroquois government and law was discussed by Benjamin Franklin[57] and Thomas Jefferson.[58] Though some others disagree,[59] some scholars regard it to have influenced the formation of American representative democracy.[58]


Sortition Edit

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 Edit

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 Edit

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.


Supranational Edit

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.


Cosmopolitan Edit

Cosmopolitan democracy, also known as Global democracy or World Federalism is a political system in which democracy is implemented on a global scale, either directly or through representatives. The supporters of cosmopolitan democracy argue that it is fundamentally different than any form of national or regional democracy, because in a Cosmopolitan Democracy, decisions are made by people influenced by them, while in Regional and National Democracies, decisions often influence people outside the constituency, which by-definition can not vote. [60] In a globalised world, argue the supporters of Cosmopolitan Democracy, any attempt to solve global problems would either be undemocratic or have to implement cosmopolitan democracy. Cosmopolitan Democracy was promoted, among others, by physicist Albert Einstein [61], writer kurt vonnegut, columnist George Monbiot, and professor David Held.


Non-governmental Edit

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.

Many non-governmental organizations decide policy and leadership by voting. Most trade unions choose their leadership through democratic elections. Cooperatives are enterprises owned and democratically controlled by their customers or workers.

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