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Template:Redirect5 Template:Elections Democracy (from Greek δημοκρατία (demokratia), δημος (demos) the common people + κρατειν (kratein) to rule + the suffix ία (ia), literally "the common people rule") is a form of government where the population of a society controls the government. This simple concept has been interpreted and applied in various ways throughout history. Various mechanisms have been developed through which the people control (or are supposed to control) the government. As such, there are several distinctions between important kinds of democracy.

The word "democracy" has acquired a highly positive connotation over the second half of the 20th century, to such an extent that even widely acknowledged dictators regularly declare their support for "democracy" and often hold pre-arranged show elections. Nearly all of the world's governments claim to be democratic. Most contemporary political ideologies include at least nominal support for some kind of democracy, no matter what they do support.


Kinds of democracy

Main article: Democracy (varieties)

Template:Wikiquote Direct democracy, classically termed pure democracy<ref>A. Democracy in World Book Encyclopedia, World Book Inc., 2006. B. Pure democracy entry in Merriam-Webster Dictionary. C. Pure democracy entry in American Heritage Dictionary"</ref>, is a political system where the people vote on government decisions, such as questions of whether to approve or reject various laws. It is called direct because the power of making decisions is exercized by the people directly, without intermediaries or representatives. Historically, this form of government has been rare, due to the difficulties of getting all the people of a certain territory in one place for the purpose of voting. All direct democracies to date have been relatively small communities; usually city-states. The most notable of these was ancient Athens: see Athenian democracy. In recent times, advances in communications technology (such as the Internet) have made it feasible to hold popular votes without getting all the people in one place. However, this has not led to the creation of any new direct democracies as of yet.

Representative democracy is a political system where the people vote on government members, who are then expected to make decisions in accordance with the interests of their voters. It is called representative because the people do not vote on government decisions directly, but elect representatives to decide for them. This form of government has been increasingly common in recent times, and the number of representative democracies experienced such explosive growth during the 20th century so that the majority of the world's population now lives under representative democratic regimes (which are sometimes also referred to as "republics"). In turn, representative democracies may be subdivided into "liberal" and "illiberal" forms.

Liberal democracy is a type of representative democracy where the ruling government is subject to rule of law and separation of powers, while the people are guaranteed certain inviolable rights. Illiberal democracy is a type of representative democracy where there are no effective limits on the power of elected representatives to rule as they please.

History of democracy

Template:Main The earliest forms of democracy were used by republics in ancient India, which were established sometime before the 6th century BC, and prior to the birth of Buddha. <ref> Steve Muhlberger, (February 8, 1998). Democracy in Ancient India. Retrieved February 19, 2006. </ref> These republics were known as Maha Janapadas, and among these states, Vaishali, in what is now Bihar, India, was the world's first republic. Later during the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, the Greeks wrote about the Sabarcae and Sambastai states in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan, whose "form of government was democratic and not regal" according to Greek scholars at the time.

The term "democracy" in the original word in Ancient Greek - was coined in ancient Athens in the 5th century BC. Athenian democracy is generally seen as one of the earliest examples of a system corresponding to some of the modern notions of democratic rule. Only a sixth or a quarter of the whole adult male population of Athens could vote; but this was a bar of nationality, like the present German franchise, not of economic status: however poor they were, all Athenian citizens were free to vote and speak in the Assembly. Ancient Athenian citizens made decisions directly, rather than voting for representatives. This form of democracy that was present in Athens is known as direct democracy (or pure democracy).

Over time, the meaning of "democracy" has changed, and the modern definition has largely evolved since the 18th century, alongside the successive introduction of "democratic" systems in many nations.

Freedom House argues that there was not a single liberal democracy with universal suffrage in the world in 1900, but that in 2000 120 of the world's 192 nations, or 62% were such democracies. They count 25 nations, or 19% of the world's nations with "restricted democratic practices" in 1900 and 16, or 8% of the world's nations today. They counted 19 constitutional monarchies in 1900, forming 14% of the world's nations, where a constitution limited the powers of the monarch, and with some power devolved to elected legislatures, and none in the present. Other nations had, and have, various forms of non-democratic rule. <ref>Freedom House. 1999. "Democracy’s Century: A Survey of Global Political Change in the 20th Century."</ref>

Their evaluations are, like most in this field, disputable: for example, New Zealand enacted universal suffrage in 1893 (there is some room for quibbling about certain restrictions on the Maori vote). Freedom House omits this on the ground that New Zealand was not fully sovereign. Some states have changed their regimes after 2000, for example Nepal which has become a non-democracy after the government assumed emergency powers because of defeats in the Nepalese civil war.

20th century waves of democracy

The 20th century expansion of democracy has not taken the form of a slow transition in each country, but as successive "waves of democracy", some associated with wars and revolutions. In several cases there was an explicit imposition of democracy by external military force. To some supporters of democracy, this is a "liberation", implying that no prior consent is required. World War I resulted in the creation of new nation-states in Europe, most of them nominally democratic. It did not at first affect the existing democracies: France, Britain, Belgium and Switzerland kept their system of government, the revolutionary violence in Germany subsided, and the democratic Weimar Republic was established. The rise of fascist movements, and fascist regimes in Nazi Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Francisco Franco's regime in Spain and António de Oliveira Salazar's regime in Portugal, limited the extent of democracy in the 1930s, and gave the impression of an "Age of Dictators". The status of most colonies remained unaffected. However democracy is evident from earlier years. For example during the Second Great Awaking, beginning in the 1790s and lasting for the next 40 years, religion became more democractic as people shifted away from Calvinist ideas during the 1820s-1830s.

World War II brought a definitive reversal of this trend, in western Europe. At the time, and since, it was seen as a "Victory for Democracy", showing that democracy can be extended by military force. The occupation of Germany and its successful democratisation from above, served as a model for the later theory of regime change. However, most of Eastern Europe became part of the non-democratic Soviet bloc. Unlike World War I, the war brought decolonisation, and again most of the new independent states had nominally democratic constitutions.

In the decades following World War II, most western democratic nations had a mixed economy and developed a welfare state, reflecting a consensus among their electorates and political parties. In the 1950s and 1960s, economic growth was high in both the western and communist countries, later it declined in the state-controlled economies, and in some western countries. Economic malaise in the 1980s contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the associated end of the Cold War, and the democratisation and liberalisation of the former Soviet bloc countries, including newly independent Soviet Republics. To western public opinion, and to part of their population, this also was a liberation. To a large section of their population, often the majority, the resulting economic collapse, and the sudden disappearance of state health and welfare provisions was a disaster. The sense of disillusion contributed to a political backlash, the rise of illiberal democracy in Central Asia, and a trend to authoritarian rule in Russia itself. 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. The initial negative effects of the free market reforms were corrected to some extent by the re-introduction of social services and programs, although not at western European level.

By 1960, the vast majority of nation-states were nominally independent democracies, although the majority of the world's populations lived in nations that experienced sham elections, "limited democracy", "one-party system", "two-party system", "president for life" and other forms of subterfuge. Subsequent waves of "people-power" democratization brought substantial gains toward true representative or direct democracy to nations that already claimed the title. Eastern Europe and parts of Central Asia experienced this in the 1980s and 1990s, much of Latin America and Southeast Asia, Taiwan and S Korea and some Arab and African states—notably Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority—in the 1990s and 2000s.

The number of liberal democracies currently stands at an all-time high, and has been growing without interruption for some time. 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" theory.

Essential elements of a democracy

Though there remains some philosophical debate as to the applicability and legitimacy of criteria in defining democracy (see philosopher Charles Blattberg, From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, ch. 5. ISBN 0-19-829688-6) what follows is a generally-accepted minimal set of requirements for a decision-making body to be considered democratic:

  • That there is a demos, a group which makes political decisions by some form of collective procedure. Non-members of the demos do not participate. In modern democracies the demos is the adult portion of the nation, and adult citizenship is usually equivalent to membership.
  • That there is a territory where the decisions apply, and where the demos is resident. In modern democracies, the territory is the nation-state, and since this corresponds (in theory) with the homeland of the nation, the demos and the reach of the democratic process neatly coincide. Colonies of democracies are not considered democratic by themselves, if they are governed from the colonial motherland: demos and territory do not coincide.
  • That there is a decision-making procedure, which is either direct, in instances such as a referendum, or indirect, of which instances include the election of a parliament.
  • That the procedure is regarded as legitimate by the demos, implying that its outcome will be accepted. Political legitimacy is the willingness of the population to accept decisions of the state, its government and courts, which go against personal choices or interests. It is especially relevant for democracies, since elections have both winners and losers.
  • That the procedure is effective in the minimal sense that it can be used to change the government, assuming there is sufficient support for that change. Showcase elections, pre-arranged to re-elect the existing regime, are not democratic.
  • That, in the case of nation-states, the state must be sovereign: democratic elections are pointless if an outside authority can overrule the result.

Four conceptions of democracy

Among political theorists, there are at least four major contending conceptions of democracy.

On one account, called minimalism, democracy is a system of government in which citizens give teams of political leaders the right to rule in periodic elections. According to this minimalist conception, citizens cannot and should not “rule” because on most issues, most of the time, they have no clear views or their views are not very intelligent. Joseph Schumpeter articulated this view most famously in his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy <ref>Joseph Schumpeter, (1950). Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0061330086.</ref>. Contemporary proponents of minimalism include William Riker, Adam Przeworksi, and Richard Posner.

A second view is called the aggregative conception of democracy. It holds that government should be a system that produces laws and policies that conform to the vector-sum of citizens’ preferences. A good democratic government is one that produces laws and policies that are close to the views of the median voter — with half to his left and the other half to his right. Anthony Downs laid out this view in his 1957 book An Economic Theory of Democracy. <ref>Anthony Downs, (1957). An Economic Theory of Democracy. Harpercollins College. ISBN 0060417501.</ref>

A third conception, deliberative democracy, is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion. Deliberative democrats contend that laws and policies should be based upon reasons that all citizens can accept. The political arena should be one in which leaders and citizens make arguments, listen, and change their minds.

Participatory democracy, a fourth conception, holds that citizens should participate directly, not through their representatives, in making laws and policies. Proponents of participatory democracy offer varied reasons to support this view. Political activity can be valuable in itself, it socializes and educates citizens, and popular participation can check powerful elites. Most importantly, citizens do not really rule themselves unless they directly decide laws and policies.

Political legitimacy and democratic culture

All forms of government depend on their political legitimacy, that is, their acceptance by the population. Without that, they are little more than a party in a civil war, since their decisions and policies will be resisted, probably by force. Apart from those with anti-statist objections, such as anarchists and libertarians, most people are prepared to accept their governments as necessary. Failure of political legitimacy in modern states is usually related to separatism and ethnic or religious conflicts, rather than political differences. However there are historical examples, notably the Spanish Civil War, where the population split along political lines.

In a democracy, a high degree of political legitimacy is necessary, because the electoral process periodically divides the population into 'winners' and 'losers'. A successful democratic political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power - the concept of a "loyal opposition". Ideally political competitors may disagree, but acknowledge the other side's legitimate role, and ideally society encourages tolerance and civility in public debate. This form of political legitimacy implies that all sides share common fundamental values. Voters must know that the new government will not introduce policies they find totally abhorrent. Shared values, rather than democracy as such, guarantee this.

Free elections alone are not sufficient for a country to become a true democracy; the culture of the country's political institutions and civil service must also change. This is an especially difficult cultural shift to achieve in nations where transitions of power have historically taken place through violence. There are various examples, such as Revolutionary France, modern Uganda and Iran, of countries that were able to sustain democracy only in limited form until wider cultural changes occurred to allow true majority rule.

Comparison of direct and representative democracy

The definition of the word "democracy" from the time of ancient Greece up to now has not been constant. In contemporary usage, the term "democracy" refers to a government chosen by the people, whether it is direct or representative.

In constitutional theory and in historical usages and especially when considering the works of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the word "democracy" refers solely to direct democracy (traditionally called pure democracy), whilst a representative democracy where representatives of the people govern in accordance with a constitution is referred to as a constitutional republic. Using the term "democracy" to refer solely to direct democracy retains some popularity in United States conservative and Libertarian debate.

The original framers of the United States Constitution were notably cognizant of what they perceived as a danger of majority rule in oppressing freedom of the individual. For example, James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10 advocates a constitutional republic over a democracy precisely to protect the individual from the majority. <ref>James Madison, (November 22, 1787). "The Federalist No. 10 - The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (continued)", Daily Advertiser. New York. Republished by Wikisource.</ref> However, at the same time, the framers carefully created democratic institutions and major open society reforms within the United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. They kept what they believed were the best elements of democracy, but mitigated by a constitution with protections for individual liberty, a balance of power, and a layered federal structure.

Modern definitions of the term "republic", however, refer to any state with an elective head of state serving for a limited term, in contrast to most contemporary hereditary monarchies which are representative democracies and constitutional monarchies adhering to parliamentarism. Older elective monarchies are also not considered to be republics.

Liberal democracy


In common usage, democracy is often understood to be the same as liberal democracy. The minimal characteristics of democracy (listed above) are not generally considered to make a democracy 'liberal'. In practice, the term now denotes a collection of defining criteria, some of which are unrelated to each other. They are sometimes presented as a list of demands, to be fulfilled during a democratisation process. Note that many liberal democracies have emergency powers which can make them temporarily less liberal, if applied (by the executive, parliament, or via referenda).

Liberal democracy is, strictly speaking, a form of representative democracy where the political power of the government is moderated by a constitution which protects the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities (also called constitutional liberalism). The constitution therefore places constraints on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised. Usually, the executive and parliament are constitutionally subject to the rule of law, but some liberal democracies allow no judicial review of constitutionality. Theorists consider these to be the most important 'liberal' element of liberal democracy, but the term is widely used for other elements. An illiberal democracy is a democracy where these rights and freedoms are not respected.

The term "liberal" in "liberal democracy" does not imply that the government of such a democracy must follow the political ideology of liberalism. It is merely a reference to the fact that the initial framework for modern liberal democracy was created by liberals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Since then, many non-liberals have given their support to liberal democracy—and, indeed, contributed to its growth.

Liberal democracy is sometimes the de facto form of government, while other forms are technically the case; for example, Canada has a monarchy, but is in fact ruled by a democratically elected Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the sovereign is the hereditary monarch, but the de facto (legislative) sovereign is the people, via their elected representatives in Parliament, hence a democracy.

Preconditions and structure

Although they are not a system of government as such, it is now common to include aspects of society among the defining criteria of a liberal democracy. The presence of a middle class, and a broad and flourishing civil society are often seen as pre-conditions for liberal democracy.

Western support for democratisation is almost always associated with support for a market economy. In western countries, they do seem inseparable, but that is a geographically and historically limited view. China, which is not a liberal democracy, contains elements of a market economy. Many free-market proponents believe that the emergence of capitalism pre-dates the emergence of democracy, which leads some theorists to conclude that there is a historical sequence at work, and that market economics is not only a precondition, but will ultimately ensure the transition to democracy, in countries such as China. However, many Marxists and socialists say that capitalism and true democracy are at best unrelated and at worst contradictory.

The most liberal of the many criteria now used to define liberal democracy, or simply "democracy", is the requirement for political pluralism, which is usually defined as the presence of multiple and distinct political parties. The liberal-democratic political process should be competitive, and analogies with economic markets are often used in this context.

The liberal-democratic constitution defines the democratic character of the state. In the American political tradition, the purpose of a constitution is often seen as a limit on the authority of the government, and American ideas of liberal democracy are influenced by this. They emphasise the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a system of checks and balances between branches of government. European constitutional liberalism is more likely to emphasise the Rechtsstaat, usually translated as rule of law, although it implies a specific form of state or regime.

Liberal democracy is also defined by universal suffrage, granting all citizens the right to vote regardless of race, gender or property ownership. However, the universality is relative: many countries regarded as democratic have practised various forms of exclusion from suffrage, or demand further qualifications (except for being a citizen), like a registration procedure to be allowed to vote. Voting rights are limited to those who are above a certain age, typically 18. In any case, decisions taken through elections are taken not by all of the citizens, but rather by those who choose to participate by voting.

Liberal freedoms

The most often quoted criteria for liberal democracy take the form of specific rights and freedoms. They were originally considered essential for the functioning of a liberal democracy, but they have acquired such prominence in its definition, that many people now think they are democracy. Since no state wants to admit it is "unfree", and since its enemies may be depicted as 'tyrannies' by its propagandists, they are also usually contested.

In practice, democracies do have specific limits on specific freedoms. There are various legal limitations like copyright and laws against defamation. There may be limits on anti-democratic speech, on attempts to undermine human rights, and on the promotion or justification of terrorism. In the United States more than in Europe, during the Cold War, such restrictions applied to Communists. Now they are more commonly applied to Islamist organizations perceived as promoting terrorism or to some racist groups. Some Islamist media now face restrictions in many democracies, including censorship of satellite broadcasting in France, and proposed bans on some Islamist websites in several countries. Most democracies have procedures to ban suspected terrorist organisations, sometimes, critics claim, without a prior judicial procedure. The European Union has an official list of banned organisations, which critics claim overrides the freedom of association in the European Convention on Human Rights and the national constitutions.

The common justification for these limits is that they are necessary to guarantee the existence of democracy, or the existence of the freedoms themselves. For example, allowing free speech for those advocating mass murder undermines the right to life and security. Opinion is divided on how far democracy can extend, to include the enemies of democracy in the democratic process. If relatively small numbers of people are excluded from such freedoms for these reasons, a country may still be seen as a liberal democracy. Some argue that this is not qualitatively different from autocracies that persecutes opponents, but only quantitatively different, since only a small number of people are affected and the restrictions are less severe. Others emphasize that democracies are different. At least in theory, also opponents of democracy are allowed due process under the rule of law. In principle, democracies allow critic and change of the leaders and the political and economic system itself; it is only attempts to do so violently and promotion of such violence that is prohibited.

Comparison of proportional and majoritarian representation

Some electoral systems, such as the various forms of proportional representation, attempt to ensure that all political groups, including minority groups that vote for minor parties, are represented "fairly" in the nation's legislative bodies, according to the proportion of total votes they cast; rather than the proportion of electorates in which they can achieve a regional majority majoritarian representation.

This proportional versus majoritarian dichotomy is not just a theoretical problem, as both forms of electoral system are common around the world; each creates a very different kind of government. One of the main points of contention is whether to use the system of using representatives who are able to represent small regions in a country, versus having all citizens' vote count the same, regardless of where in the country they happen to live. Some countries such as Germany and New Zealand have a large proportion of representatives elected from constituencies and then shares out compensating mandates so that parties are represented proportionally, so as to get balance both needs. This system is commonly called mixed member proportional representation.

Social democracy


Social democracy can be considered to be derived from socialist and communist ideas, in a progessive, gradualist and constitutional setting. Many social democratic parties in the world are evolutions of revolutionary parties that, for ideologic or pragmatic reasons, came to embrace a strategy of gradual change through existing institutions, or a policy of working for liberal reforms prior to more profound social change, instead of sudden revolutionary change. It may for example, involve progressivism.

In North America and Western Europe, most parties calling themselves socialist or communist are in actuality social democratic, according to the definition given here. In some extreme cases, as in Portugal's Social Democratic party, the name actually indicates a right-wing party.

In general, the hallmarks of social democracy are:

Furthermore, for ideological affinity or other reasons, most social democrats are also associated with environmentalism, multiculturalism, and secularity.

Countries often indicated as social democracies are the Nordic countries, for their extensive welfare states and progressive taxation regime.


Anarchists oppose the actually existing democratic states, like all other forms of state government, as inherently corrupt and coercive. For example, Alexander Berkman <ref> Alexander Berkman: Prison Memoirs; the historical introduction to the 1970 edition, </ref> refused to recognize the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enough to defend himself at his trial. Most anarchists support a non-hierarchical and non-coercive system of direct democracy within free associations; but many do not regard this sort of society as being of the same class as the systems of government discussed in this article. Many expect society to operate by consensus; as in News from Nowhere or The Dispossessed. As may be expected among anarchists, there is disagreement: Peter Kropotkin approved of Renaissance Florence in Mutual Aid. Some modern anarchists speak of association as direct democracy. <ref>Anarchist FAQ</ref>

Immanuel Kant said, "Democracy is necessarily despotism, as it establishes an executive power contrary to the general will; all being able to decide against one whose opinion may differ, the will of all is therefore not that of all: which is contradictory and opposite to liberty." (Perpetual Peace, II, 1795)

Individualist philosophies oppose pure democracy, believing it to be a form of collectivism where the community is able to infringe on the liberty of individuals. As a result, they advocate constitutional protections for individual liberty.

Individualist anarchists are vocal opponents of democracy. Benjamin Tucker said, "Rule is evil, and it is none the better for being majority rule....What is the ballot? It is neither more nor less than a paper representative of the bayonet, the billy, and the bullet. It is a labor saving device for ascertaining on which side force lies and bowing to the inevitable. The voice of the majority saves bloodshed, but it is no less the arbitrament of force than is the decree of the most absolute of despots backed by the most powerful of armies."<ref>Eltzbacher, Paul. Anarchism. Plainview, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1960, p. 129.</ref> Pierre-Joseph Proudhon says, "Democracy is nothing but the Tyranny of Majorities, the most abominable tyranny of all, for it is not based on the authority of a religion, not upon the nobility of a race, not on the merits of talents and of riches. It merely rests upon numbers and hides behind the name of the people."<ref>Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. Demokratie und Republik, S. 10.</ref>

The distributivists also tend to reject conventional parliamentary democracy as a worthless talking-shop, and instrument of a corrupt class. In this they reflect the early views of Benjamin Disraeli.

Some far right and monarchist groups also oppose democracy, as they always have.

Illiberal democracy


An illiberal democracy is a political system where democratic elections exist, and the government is elected by a democratic majority, but is not restrained from encroaching on the liberty of individuals, or minorities. This may be due to a lack of constitutional limitations on the power of the elected executive, or violations of the existing legal limitations. The experience in some post-Soviet states drew attention to the phenomenon, although it is not of recent origin. Some critics of illiberal regimes now suggest that the rule of law should take precedence over democracy, implying a de facto Western acceptance of what are called "liberalised autocracies". <ref>Pugwash Online, (2004). Prospects for the Peace Process. Accessed February 19, 2006.</ref>

Advantages and disadvantages of democracy

Critics of democracy as a form of government allege it has inherent disadvantages, both in practice and by its very nature. Some of which may be shared by some or all other forms of government, while others may be unique to democracy.

Ethnic and religious conflicts

Democracy, and especially liberal democracy, necessarily assumes a sense of shared values in the demos, otherwise political legitimacy will fail. In other words, it assumes that the demos is in fact a unit. For historical reasons, many states lack the cultural and ethnic unity of the ideal nation-state. There may be sharp ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural divisions. In fact, some groups may be actively hostile to each other. A democracy, which by definition allows mass participation in decision-making, by definition, also allows the use of the political process against the 'enemy'. That is especially visible during democratisation, if a previous non-democratic government suppressed internal rivalry. However, it is also visible in established democracies, in the form of anti-immigrant populism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the democratisation of Soviet bloc states led to wars and civil war in the former Yugoslavia, in the Caucasus, and in Moldova; wars have also continued in Africa and other parts of the Third World. Nevertheless, statistical research shows that the fall of Communism and the increase in the number of democratic states were accompanied by a sudden and dramatic decline in total warfare, interstate wars, ethnic wars, revolutionary wars, and the number of refugees and displaced people <ref>Center for Systemic Peace, (2006). Global Conflict Trends - Measuring Systematic Peace. Accessed February 19, 2006.</ref>.


A persistent libertarian and monarchist critique of democracy is the claim that it encourages the elected representatives to change the law without necessity, and in particular to pour forth a flood of new laws. This is seen as pernicious in several ways. New laws constrict the scope of what were previously private liberties. Rapidly changing laws make it difficult for a willing non-specialist to remain law-abiding. This may be an invitation for law-enforcement agencies to misuse power. The claimed continual complication of the law may be contrary to a claimed simple and eternal natural law - although there is no consensus on what this natural law is, even among advocates. Supporters of democracy point to the complex bureaucracy and regulations that has occurred in dictatorships, like many of the former Communist states.

Democracies are also criticised for a claimed slowness and complexity of their decision-making.

Short-term focus

Modern liberal democracies, by definition, allow for regular changes of government. That has led to a common criticism of their short-term focus. In four or five years the government will face a new election, and it must think of how it will win that election. That would encourage a preference for policies that will bring short term benefits to the electorate (or to self-interested politicians) before the next election, rather than unpopular policy with longer term benefits. This criticism assumes that it is possible to make long term predictions for a society, something Karl Popper has criticized as historicism.

Besides the regular review of governing entities, short-term focus in a democracy could also be the result of collective short-term thinking. For example, consider a campaign for policies aimed at reducing environmental damage while causing temporary increase in unemployment. However, this risk applies also to other political systems.

Public choice theory

Public choice theory is a branch of economics that studies the decision-making behavior of voters, politicians and government officials from the perspective of economic theory. One studied problem is that each voter has little influence and may therefore have a rational ignorance regarding political issues. This may allow special interest groups to gain subsidies and regulations beneficial to them but harmful to society.


The cost of political campaigning in representative democracies may mean that the system favours the rich, a form of plutocracy who may be a very small minority of the voters. In Athenian democracy, some public offices were randomly allocated to citizens, in order to inhibit the effects of plutocracy. Modern democracy may also be regarded as a dishonest farce used to keep the masses from getting restless, or a conspiracy for making them restless for some political agenda. It may encourage candidates to make deals with wealthy supporters, offering favorable legislation if the candidate is elected - perpetuating conspiracies for monopolization of key areas. However, United States economist Steven Levitt claims in his book Freakonomics, that campaign spending is no guarantee of electoral success. He compared electoral success of the same pair of candidates running against one another repeatedly for the same job, as often happens in United States Congressional elections, where spending levels varied. He concludes:

"A winning candidate can cut his spending in half and lose only 1 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, a losing candidate who doubles his spending can expect to shift the vote in his favor by only that same 1 percent."

Ownership of the media by the few may lead to more specific distortion of the electoral process, since the media are themselves a vital element of that process. Some critics argue that criticism of the status quo or a particular agenda tends to be suppressed by such media cartels, to protect their own self-interests. Proponents respond that constitutionally protected freedom of speech makes it possible for both for-profit and non-profit organizations to debate the issues. They argue that media coverage in democracies simply reflects public preferences, and does not entail censorship.



Probably the most quoted criticism of democracy is the fear that it is "tyranny of the majority". The expression was coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America, written in 1831. However the phrase is more popularly attributed to John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, written in 1859 —not then referring to democratic government, but to social conformity. However, the issue of majority dominance was not unknown to ancient Greek democracies. It is independent of universal suffrage, but it implies a broad franchise, otherwise there would be conflicting minorities. It can apply in both direct democracy or representative democracy. "Tyranny of the majority" implies that a government reflecting the majority view can take action that oppresses a particular minority. Sometimes, this majority is only a relative majority of the voters and therefore only a minority. In those cases, one minority tyrannizes another minority in the name of the majority. The politically dominant majority (either a true majority or a relative majority) might decide that a certain minority, such as a religion, political belief, or those with minority views, should be criminalised, either directly or indirectly. This undermines the idea of democracy as an empowerment of the electorate as a whole.

Possible examples include:

  • several European countries have introduced bans on personal religious symbols. This ban is perceived by some to be aimed at those considered symbolic of Islamism - the hijab or 'Islamic headscarf', the burqa, the niqaab. In France, they are banned in public schools under the law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols. Opponents see this as a violation of rights to freedom of religion. Supporters see it as following from the separation of state and religious activities.
  • prohibition of pornography is typically determined by what the majority is prepared to accept. In the United States distribution of pornography is declared illegal if the material violates "community standards" of decency.
  • the law on abortion is typically determined by the religious attitudes of the majority. For "pro-life" (anti-abortion) activists, unborn children are an oppressed, helpless and disenfranchised minority, and a ban on abortion is a proper use of state power.
  • recreational drug use is also typically legalised (or at least tolerated) to the degree that the majority finds acceptable. Users may see themselves as an oppressed minority, victims of unjustifiable criminalisation.
  • society's treatment of homosexuals is also cited in this context. Homosexual acts were widely criminalised in democracies until several decades ago; in some democracies they still are, reflecting the religious or sexual mores of the majority.
  • The Athenian democracy and the early United States had slavery.
  • in the United States, the draft early in the Vietnam War was criticised as oppression of a disenfranchised minority, 18 to 21 year olds. In response to this, the draft age was raised to 19 and the voting age was lowered nationwide (along with the drinking age in many states). While no longer disenfranchised, those subject to the draft remained significantly outnumbered.
  • the majority often taxes the minority who are wealthy at progressively higher rates, with the intention that the wealthy will incur a larger tax burden for social purposes. However, this is generally offset to some degree, by their better access to relevant expert advice (tax consultants and lawyers).
  • in prosperous western democracies, the poor form a minority of the population, and may be disadvantaged by a majority who resent transfer taxation. Especially when they form a distinct underclass, the majority may use the democratic process to, in effect, withdraw the protection of the state.
  • classical Athenian democracy executed Socrates for impiety, i.e., for dissent, although the relevance of this example to contemporary democracy is itself a matter of dispute.
  • An often quoted example of the 'tyranny of the majority' is that Adolf Hitler came to power by legitimate democratic procedures. The Nazi party gained the largest share of votes in the democratic Weimar republic in 1933. Some might consider this an example of "tyranny of a minority" since he never gained a majority vote, but it is common for a plurality to exercise power in democracies, so the rise of Hitler can not be considered irrelevant. However, his regime's large-scale human rights violations took place after the democratic system had been abolished. Also, the Weimar constitution in an "emergency" allowed dictatorial powers and suspension of the essentials of the constitution itself without any vote or election, something not possible in most liberal democracies.

Proponents of democracy make a number of defences concerning 'tyranny of the majority'. One is to argue that the presence of a constitution in many democratic countries acts as a safeguard. Generally, changes in these constitutions require the agreement of a supermajority of the elected representatives, or require a judge and jury to agree that evidentiary and procedural standards have been fulfilled by the state, or two different votes by the representatives separated by an election, or, sometimes, a referendum. These requirements are often combined. The separation of powers into legislative branch, executive branch, judicial branch also makes it more difficult for a small majority to impose their will. This means a majority can still legitimately coerce a minority (which is still ethically questionable), but such a minority would be very small and, as a practical matter, it is harder to get a larger proportion of the people to agree to such actions.

Another argument is that majorities and minorities can take a markedly different shape on different issues. People often agree with the majority view on some issues and agree with a minority view on other issues. One's view may also change. Thus, the members of a majority may limit oppression of a minority since they may well in the future themselves be in a minority.

A third common argument is that, despite the risks, majority rule is preferable to other systems, and the tyranny of the majority is in any case an improvement on a tyranny of a minority. Proponents of democracy argue that empirical statistical evidence strongly shows that more democracy leads to less internal violence and democide. This is sometimes formulated as Rummel's Law, which states that the less democratic freedom a people have, the more likely their rulers are to murder them.

Political stability

One argument for democracy is that by creating a system where the public can remove administrations, without changing the legal basis for government, democracy aims at reducing political uncertainty and instability, and assuring citizens that however much they may disagree with present policies, they will be given a regular chance to change those who are in power, or change policies with which they disagree. This is preferable to a system where political change takes place through violence.

Some think that political stability may be considered as excessive when the group in power remains the same for an extended period of time. On the other hand, this is more common in nondemocracies.

Effective response in wartime

A pluralist democracy, by definition, implies that power is not concentrated. One criticism is that this could be a disadvantage for a state in wartime, when a fast and unified response is necessary. The legislature usually must give consent before the start of an offensive military operation, although sometimes the executive can do this on its own while keeping the legislature informed. If the democracy is attacked, no consent is usually required for defensive operations. The people may vote against a conscription army. Monarchies and dictatorships can in theory, act immediately and forcefully.

However, actual research shows that democracies are more likely to win wars than non-democracies. One explanation is attributes this primarily to "the transparency of the polities, and the stability of their preferences, once determined" by which "democracies are better able to cooperate with their partners in the conduct of wars". Other research attributes this to superior mobilisation of resources, or selection of wars with a high chance of winning.<ref>Ajin Choi, (2004). "Democratic Synergy and Victory in War, 1816–1992". International Studies Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 3, September 2004, pp. 663-682(20). Template:Doi </ref>


Research by the World Bank suggests that political institutions are extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption: democracy, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of the press are all associated with lower corruption <ref> Daniel Lederman, Normal Loaza, Rodrigo Res Soares, (November 2001). "Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter". World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2708. SSRN 632777. Accessed February 19, 2006.</ref>.


Research shows that terrorism is most common in nations with intermediate political freedom. The nations with the least terrorism are the most democratic nations.[1]

Poverty and famine

Template:Npov-section Statistically more democracy correlates with a higher GDP per capita, a higher score on the human development index and a lower score on the human poverty index.

However, there is disagreement regarding how much credit the democratic system can take for this. Various theories have been put forth, all of them controversial. One observation is that democracy became widespread only after the industrial revolution and the introduction of capitalism. Evidence in peer reviewed statistical studies support the theory that more capitalism, measured for example with one the several Indices of Economic Freedom which has been used in hundreds of studies by independent researchers <ref>Free the World. Published Work Using Economic Freedom of the World Research, accessed February 19, 2006.</ref>, increases economic growth and that this in turn increases general prosperity, reduces poverty, and causes democratization. This is a statistical tendency, and there are individual exceptions like India, which is democratic but arguably not prosperous, or Brunei, which has a high GDP but has never been democratic. There are also other studies suggesting that more democracy increases economic freedom although a few find no or even a small negative effect. <ref>Nicclas Bergren, (2002). "The Benefits of Economic Freedom: A Survey" . Accessed February 19, 2006. </ref> <ref>John W. Dawson, (1998). "Review of Robert J. Barro, Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study". Economic History Services. Accessed February 19, 2006.</ref> <ref>W. Ken Farr, Richard A. Lord, J. Larry Wolfenbarger, (1998). "Economic Freedom, Political Freedom, and Economic Well-Being: A Causality Analysis". Cato Journal, Vol 18, No 2.</ref><ref>Wenbo Wu, Otto A. Davis, (2003). "Economic Freedom and Political Freedom". Encyclopedia of Public Choice. Carnegie Mellon University, National University of Singapore. </ref><ref>Ian Vásquez, (2001). "Ending Mass Poverty". Cato Institute. Accessed February 19, 2006.</ref> <ref>Susanna Lundström, (April 2002). "The Effects of Democracy on Different Categories of Economic Freedom". Accessed February 19, 2006.</ref> One objection might be that nations like Sweden and Canada today score just below nations like Chile and Estonia on economic freedom but that Sweden and Canada today have a higher GDP per capita. However, this is a misunderstanding, the studies indicate effect on economic growth and thus that future GDP per capita will be higher with higher economic freedom. It should also be noted that Sweden and Canada are among the world's most capitalist nations according to the index, due to factors such as strong rule of law, strong property rights, and few restrictions against free trade. Critics might argue that the Index of Economic Freedom and other methods used does not measure the degree of capitalism, preferring some other definition.

It should be noted that correlation is not causation - in other words, if two events happen at the same time, for example democracy and lack of famine, that does not mean that one must cause the other. However, such a causation has been established in some studies of the Index of Economic Freedom and democracy, as noted above.

Even if economic growth has caused democratization in the past, it may not do so in the future. Some evidence suggests that savvy autocrats may have learned how to cut the cord between growth and freedom, enjoying the benefits of the former without the risks of the latter. <ref>Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, George W. Downs, (2005). "Development and Democracy". Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005.</ref> <ref>Joseph T. Single, Michael M. Weinstein, Morton H. Halperin, (2004). "Why Democracies Excel". Foreign Affairs, September/October 2004.</ref>

A prominent economist, Amartya Sen, has noted that no functioning democracy has ever suffered a large scale famine <ref>Amartya Sen, (1999). "Democracy as a Universal Value". Journal of Democracy, 10.3, 3-17. Johns Hopkins University Press.</ref> This includes democracies that have not been very prosperous historically, like India, which had its last great famine in 1943 and many other large scale famines before that in the late nineteenth century, all under British rule. However, some others ascribe the Bengal famine of 1943 to the effects of World War II. The government of India had been becoming progressively more democratic for years. Provincial government had been entirely so since the Government of India Act of 1935.

Democratic peace theory


Numerous studies using many different kinds of data, definitions, and statistical analyses have found support for the democratic peace theory. The original finding was that liberal democracies have never made war with one another. More recent research has extended the theory and finds that democracies have few Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) causing less than 1000 battle deaths with one another, that those MIDs that have occurred between democracies have caused few deaths, and that democracies have few civil wars.

There are various criticisms of the theory, including specific historic wars and that correlation is not causation.


Research shows that the more democratic nations have much less democide or murder by government.


More democracy is associated with a higher average self-reported happiness in a nation. <ref>R.J. Rummel, (2006). Happiness -- This Utilitarian Argument For Freedom Is True. Accessed February 22, 2006. </ref>

Democracy beyond the state level

While this article deals mainly with democracy as a system to rule countries, voting and representation have been used to govern other communities.

Christian monachal orders often appointed their abbots through the votes of the monks. Many Utopian reformers (Thomas More included) have been inspired by monachal communities.

Caribbean pirate crews elected their captains by voting, contrasting with the ruthless hierarchical system of the navies of their time.

In business, companies elect their boards by votes weighed by the number of shares held by each owner. Cooperatives try to be more democratic by giving each person (a worker or a consumer) one vote.




General references

  • Harald Müller, Jonas Wolff (2004): Dyadic Democratic Peace Strikes Back: Reconstructing the Social Constructivist Approach After the Monadic Renaissance. (Paper, 5th Pan-European International Relations Conference, The Hague, September 9-11, 2004).
  • Emerson P J. Beyond the Tyranny of the Majority compares most of the more common voting procedures used in both decision-making and elections; while Defining Democracy looks at both the historical and current practice in decision-making, elections, and governance.

External links

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Alternatives and improvements - see also Wikocracy, e-democracy, Internet democracy, and Futarchy

Workplace democracyTemplate:Link FA

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