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Direct democracy
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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:

Various governments around the world exhibit one or more of the above pillars; for example, just over half the states in the United States have citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives and the vast majority have either initiatives and/or referenda.

Switzerland provides the strongest example of a 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, granting about 10% of the initiatives put; in addition, they have often opted for a version of the initiative rewritten by government.

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.

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

Table of contents
1 History
2 Pros and cons
3 See also
4 External links

History

Direct democracy was first experimented with in the ancient Athenian democracy of ancient Greece, which was governed for two centuries by a council of randomly selected representatives and a general assembly of all citizens.

The restrictive conditions for citizenship (only a very small male elite could participate) and the small size of the Athens city-state minimized the logistical difficulties inherent to this form of government. Since then, however, this form of government has rarely been used (for example in some cantons of Switzerland (Landsgemeinde) and in town meetings in parts of New England). Modern mass-suffrage democracies generally rely on representatives elected by citizens (that is, representative democracy).

Many political movements seek to restore some measure of direct democracy or a more deliberative democracy (based on consensus decision-making rather than simple majority rule). Such movements advocate more frequent public votes and referenda on issues, and less of the so-called "rule by politician". Collectively, these movements are referred to as advocating grassroots democracy or consensus democracy, to differentiate it from a simple direct democracy model. Another related movement is community politics which seeks to engage representatives with communities directly.

Pros and cons

The traditional, and to many still compelling, objection to direct democracy is that it is open to demagoguery. Another objection to direct democracy is that of practicality and efficiency. Deciding all or most matters of public importance by direct referendum is slow and expensive, and can result in public apathy and voter fatigue. Modern advocates of direct democracy often suggest e-democracy (sometimes including wikis, television and internet forums) as a method of reducing these problems.

Since referendum questions have to be short and have a yes/no answer, voters may choose incoherent policies: for instance, a majority may vote in favor of reducing taxes, while a majority may also vote for increasing expenses for public education.

A common answer to the above problem in normal governance is hypothecation of taxes. The common reply to the second point with respect to direct democracy is that the problem of inconsistent decision making is not only found in direct democracy.

In seeking to limit the popularity and societal foothold that direct democratic principles could naturally attain, government officials and adherents to strict republican principles tend to utilize memes such as mob rule and mobocracy to exacerbate a natural tendency in citizens to fear what might happen (especially with regards to their fundamental civil liberties) if all their fellow citizens were to directly make decisions on a significant degree of public policy.

Some political scholars use the term semi-direct democracy to describe direct democracy systems that are mediated in some way to protect civil liberties as well as protecting minority interests from majoritarianism. However, since direct democracy mechanisms are almost always mediated in this way, this term suggests a grey area where there is most likely none.

Interestingly, direct democracy models in practice usually focus on the adversarial process of advocating and choosing one of usually two broad or sweeping options defined for the citizens by experts. They usually de-emphasize the deeper, and some would argue more "direct" to public concerns, deliberation required for agreement that actually stands the test of time. For this reason, direct democracy is associated more with right-wing politics or left-wing politics, as evidenced by who backs many initiatives in U.S. states that provide for them. Note however that any decision resulting from an initiative must comply with prevailing constitutional law, which usually includes disallowing any abrogation of civil liberties. Thus, initiative results are often challenged in the courts.

See also

External links