Democracy (varieties)

From Academic Kids

Here is a partial list of varieties of democracy. The types of democracy listed here are not mutually exclusive.


Direct democracy

Main article: Direct democracy

Direct democracy is any form of government based on a theory of civics in which all citizens can directly participate in the decision-making process. Some adherents want both legislative and executive powers to be handled by the people, but most extant systems only allow legislative decisions.

Modern direct democracy is characterised by three pillars:

The second pillar can include the ability to hold a binding referendum on whether a given law should be scrapped. This effectively grants the populace a veto on government legislation. The third pillar gives the people the right to recall elected oficials by petition and referendum.

Switzerland provides the strongest example of modern direct democracy, as it exhibits the first two pillars at both the local and federal levels. In the past 120 years more than 240 initiatives have been put to referendum. The populace has been conservative, approving only about 10% of the initiatives put before them; in addition, they have often opted for a version of the initiative rewritten by government.

Another distinctive example comes from the United States, where, despite being a federal republic where no direct democracy exists at the federal level, over half the states (and many localities) provide for citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives (also called "ballot measures" or "ballot questions") and the vast majority of the states have either initiatives and/or referenda.

With the advent of the Internet, there have been suggestions for e-democracy/Internet democracy, which comprises various mechanisms for implementing direct democracy concepts.

Scaling to global democracy

Direct democracy becomes more and more difficult, and necessarily more closely approximates representative democracy, as the number of citizens grows. Historically, the most direct democracies would include the New England town meeting, the political system of the ancient Greek city states and oligarchy of Venice.

There are concerns about how such systems would scale to larger populations; in this regard there are a number of experiments being conducted all over the world to increase the direct participation of citizens in what is now a representative system:

Referenda and semi-direct democracy

We can view direct and indirect democracies as ideal types, with actual democracies approximating more closely to the one or the other.

Some modern political entities are closest to direct democracies, such as Switzerland or some U.S. states, where frequent use is made of referenda, and means are provided for referenda to be initiated by petition instead of by members of the legislature or the government.

Another form of semi-direct democracy is sortition, in which people's representatives are not elected but randomly drafted among the population.

Indirect democracy

Indirect democracy is a broad term describing a means of governance by the people through elected representatives.

The most common system found in today's democratic states is the representative democracy. The people elect government officials who then make decisions on their behalf. Essentially, a representative democracy is a form of indirect democracy in which representatives are democratically selected, and usually difficult to recall.

A doctrine often known as Edmund Burke's Principle states that representatives should act upon their own conscience in the affairs of a representative democracy. This is contrasted to the expectation that such representatives should consider the views of their electors—an expectation particularly common in states with strong constituency links, or with recall provisions (such as modern British Columbia).

Another form of indirect democracy is delegative democracy. In delegative democracy, delegates are selected and expected to act on the wishes of the constituency. In this form of democracy the constituency may recall the delegate at any time. Representatives are expected only to transmit the decisions of electors, advance their views, and if they fail to do so they are subject to immediate recall with only minimal process.

One critique of indirect democracy is that it centralizes power into the hands of a few, thereby increasing the likelihood of corruption in and abuse of power by the government. In the United States, the chief means to reduce this risk is the form of government called a constitutional democracy (or more accurately, a republic with constitutionally ordained democratic institutions), wherein a separation of powers is used to constitutionally establish a system of checks and balances. Such checks and balances are a critical element of a Jeffersonian democracy. Other democracies among advanced industrial nations rely on the strength of political participation, particularly through multi-party systems, and do not generally try to institute constitutionally structured checks and balances.

Moreover, while some contend indirect democracy eliminates demagoguery, there is little reason to believe the elected representatives are not themselves demagogues, or subject to the persuasive appeal of demagogues.

Alternative models of democracy

Some believe that the distinction between direct and representative, or between broadly franchised majority rule, and more limited supervision of police and military primarily engaged in defending property rights, are not as important as the actual process by which decision making occurs. Some further consider the adversarial process implied by legalist mechanisms (e.g., Supreme Court challenges, election campaigns themselves, political party structures) to often obscure the larger opportunities the public may have, or the long-term dangers they may face, which are not amenable to the kind of quick-retort interplay that characterizes both direct and representative means of governing. Some of the models that are proposed to reform it include:

  • Anticipatory democracy which relies on some degree of disciplined and usually market-informed anticipation of the future, to guide major decisions.
  • Bioregional democracy (or the "Bioregional State") is a set of electoral reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body and environmental concerns (e.g., water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This movement is variously called bioregional democracy, watershed cooperation, bioregional representation or one of other similar names—all of which denote democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions.
  • Deliberative democracy which focuses on hearing out every policy alternative, from every direction, and providing time to research them all.
  • Demarchy which has people randomly selected from the citizenry to either act as representatives, or to make decisions in specific areas of governance (defense, environment, etc.). One of the results of this would be the cessation of political parties and elections.
  • Grassroots democracy emphasizing trust in small decentralized units at the municipal government level, possibly using urban secession to establish the formal legal authority to make decisions made at this local level binding.
  • Participatory democracy which involves consensus decision making and offers greater political representation, e.g., wider control of proxies others trust them with, to those who get directly involved and actually participate.

There are also debates about street democracy and electoral reform which emphasize the more local and situated means by which the public comes to know the issues, and directly encounter the consequences of making major decisions. Some of these debates overlap with those about truth, anarchism, and the role of tolerances versus preferences in making major public decisions.

One may argue that the free market is also a form of democracy in that buying a product is a vote for the continued production of that product. This is also known as dollar voting.

World democracy

World democracy simultaneously comprises two approaches, both mutually reinforcing:

There has been a great deal of research about global trends of democracy. For example, over the last century, the percent of world population living in democracy has increased from 12% in 1900 to 63% in 2000. The majority of increase in democracy has been in developed countries, but about half of less developed countries are now democracies as well.

See also


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