This article discusses many points of view in relationship to direct democracy, including definition, history, examples, and much more.
Wikipedia; “Direct democracy (also known aspure democracy)
is a form of democracy
in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy
in which people vote for representatives who then decide policy initiatives.
Depending on the particular system in use, it might entail passing executive decisions, the use of sortition
, directly electing or dismissing officials and conducting trials
. Two leading forms of direct democracy areparticipatory democracy
and deliberative democracy
Most countries that are representative democracies allow for three forms of political action that provide limited direct democracy: referendum
, and recall
. Referendums may include the ability to hold a binding vote on whether a given law should be rejected. This effectively grants the populace which holds suffrage a veto
on a law adopted by the elected legislature (one nation to use this system isSwitzerland
). Initiatives, usually put forward by members of the general public, compel the consideration of laws (usually in a subsequent referendum) without the consent of the elected representatives, or even against their expressed opposition.
Recalls give public the power to remove elected officials from office before the end of their term, although this is very rare in modern democracies.
Writers with anarchist sympathies have argued that direct democracy is opposed to a strong central authority, as decision making power can only reside at one level – with the people themselves or with the central authority.
Some of the most important modern thinkers who were inspired by the concept of direct democracy are Cornelius Castoriadis
, Hannah Arendt
, and Pierre Clastres
The earliest known direct democracy is said to be the Athenian democracy
in the 5th century BC, although it was not an inclusive democracy: women, foreigners and slaves
were excluded from it. The main bodies in the Athenian democracy were the assembly
, composed of male citizens; theboulê
, composed of 500 citizens; and the law courts, composed of a massive number of jurors chosen by lot, with no judges.
There were only about 30,000 male citizens, but several thousand of them were politically active in each year, and many of them quite regularly for years on end. The Athenian democracy was direct not only in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also in the sense that the people through the assembly, boulê and law courts controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business.
Modern democracies do not resemble the Athenian system.
Also relevant is the history of Ancient Rome
, specifically the Roman Republic
, beginning around 509 BC.
The ancient Roman Republic had a system of citizen lawmaking, or citizen formulation and passage of law, and a citizen veto of legislature-made law. Many historians mark the end of the Republic with the passage of a law named the Lex Titia
, 27 November 43 BC.
Yet Rome displayed many aspects of democracy, both direct and indirect, from the era of Roman monarchy
all the way to the collapse of the Roman Empire
. Indeed the Senate
, formed in the first days of the city, lasted through the Kingdom, Republic, and Empire, and even continued after the decline of Western Rome; and its structure and regulations continue to influence legislative bodies worldwide.
Modern-era citizen lawmaking began in the towns of Switzerland
in the 13th century. In 1847, the Swiss added the “statute referendum” to their national constitution. They soon discovered that merely having the power to veto Parliament’s laws was not enough. In 1891, they added the “constitutional amendment initiative”. Swiss politics since 1891 have given the world a valuable experience base with the national-level constitutional amendment initiative.
In the past 120 years, more than 240 initiatives have been put to referenda.
The populace has been conservative, approving only about 10% of these initiatives; in addition, they have often opted for a version of the initiative rewritten by government. (See Direct democracy in Switzerland
below.) Another example is the United States
, where, despite being a federal republic
where no direct democracy exists at the federal level, almost 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 referendums. (See Direct democracy in the United States
Some of the issues surrounding the related notion of a direct democracy using the Internet
and other communications technologies are dealt with in e-democracy
and below under the termelectronic direct democracy. More concisely, the concept of open source governance
applies principles of the free software movement
to the governance of people, allowing the entire populace to participate in government directly, as much or as little as they please.
EXAMPLE; ANCIENT ATHENS
Athenian democracy developed in the Greek city-state
, comprising the city of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica
, around 500 BC. Athens was one of the very first known democracies
. Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model, none were as powerful, stable, or well-documented as that of Athens. In the direct democracy of Athens, the citizens did not nominate representatives to vote on legislation and executive bills on their behalf (as in the United States) but instead voted as individuals. Participation was by no means open, but the in-group of participants was constituted with no reference to economic class[citation needed
] and they participated on a big scale. The public opinion
of voters was influenced by the political satire
of the comic poets
in the theatres
(594 BC), Cleisthenes
(508-7 BC), and Ephialtes
(462 BC) all contributed to the development of Athenian democracy. Historians differ on which of them was responsible for which institution, and which of them most represented a truly democratic movement. It is most usual to date Athenian democracy from Cleisthenes, since Solon’s constitution fell and was replaced by the tyranny of Peisistratus
, whereas Ephialtes revised Cleisthenes’ constitution relatively peacefully. Hipparchus
, the brother of the tyrant Hippias
, was killed by Harmodius and Aristogeiton
, who were subsequently honored by the Athenians for their alleged restoration of Athenian freedom.
The greatest and longest-lasting democratic leader was Pericles
; after his death, Athenian democracy was twice briefly interrupted by oligarchic revolution towards the end of thePeloponnesian War
. It was modified somewhat after it was restored under Eucleides
; the most detailed accounts are of this 4th-century modification rather than of the Periclean system. It was suppressed by the Macedonians
in 322 BC. The Athenian institutions were later revived, but the extent to which they were a real democracy is debatable.
, with no need to register, every citizen receives the ballot papers
and information brochure for each vote, and can return it by post. Switzerland has various directly democratic instruments; votes are organised about four times a year.
Most western countries have representative systems.Switzerland
is a rare example of a country with instruments of direct democracy (at the level of the towns, cantons
and federal state
). Citizens have more power than in a representative democracy. At the federal level, citizens can propose changes to the constitution (federal popular initiative
) or ask for a referendum to be held on any law voted by the parliament
Between January 1995 and June 2005, Swiss citizens voted 31 times, on 103 questions. During the same period, French citizens participated in only two referendums.
, simple majorities are sufficient at the town, city, and canton
level, but at the national level, double majorities
are required on constitutional issues, in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of any citizen-made law.
A double majority requires approval by a majority of individuals voting, and also by a majority of cantons. Thus in Switzerland a citizen-proposed law (i.e. initiative
) cannot be passed at the national level if a majority of the people approve but a majority of the cantons disapprove.
For referendums or propositions in general terms (like the principle of a general revision of the Constitution), a majority of those voting is sufficient (Swiss constitution, 2005).
In 1890, when the provisions for Swiss national citizen lawmaking were being debated by civil society and government, the Swiss adopted the idea of double majorities from the United States Congress
, in which House votes were to represent the people and Senate votes were to represent the states
According to its supporters, this “legitimacy-rich” approach to national citizen lawmaking has been very successful. Kris Kobach claims that Switzerland has had tandem successes both socially and economically which are matched by only a few other nations. Kobach states at the end of his book, “Too often, observers deem Switzerland an oddity among political systems. It is more appropriate to regard it as a pioneer.” Finally, the Swiss political system, including its direct democratic devices in a multi-level governance
context, becomes increasingly interesting for scholars of European Union
Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.
[A] pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence
, said “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.” Alexander Hamilton
said, “That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity.”
Despite the framers’ intentions in the beginning of the republic, ballot measures and their corresponding referendums have been widely used at the state and sub-state level. There is much state and federal case law
, from the early 1900s to the 1990s, that protects the people’s right to each of these direct democracy governance components (Magleby, 1984, and Zimmerman, 1999). The first United States Supreme Court
ruling in favor of the citizen lawmaking was in Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Company v. Oregon, 223 U.S. 118 in 1912 (Zimmerman, December 1999). President Theodore Roosevelt
, in his “Charter of Democracy” speech to the 1912 Ohio
constitutional convention, stated “I believe in the Initiative and Referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative.”
In various states, referendums through which the people rule include:
Referrals by the legislature to the people of “proposed constitutional amendments” (constitutionally used in 49 states, excepting only Delaware
– Initiative & Referendum Institute, 2004).
Referrals by the legislature to the people of “proposed statute laws” (constitutionally used in all 50 states – Initiative & Referendum Institute, 2004).
US CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT INITIATIVE
Constitutional amendment initiative is a constitutionally-defined petition process of “proposed constitutional law”, which, if successful, results in its provisions being written directly into the state’s constitution. Since constitutional law cannot be altered by state legislatures, this direct democracy component gives the people an automatic superiority and sovereignty, over representative government (Magelby, 1984).
It is utilized at the state level in nineteen states:Arizona
, North Dakota
and South Dakota
(Cronin, 1989). Among these states, there are three main types of the constitutional amendment initiative, with different degrees of involvement of the state legislature distinguishing between the types (Zimmerman, December 1999).
Statute law initiative is a constitutionally-defined, citizen-initiated, petition process of “proposed statute law”, which, if successful, results in law being written directly into the state’s statutes. The statute initiative is used at the state level in twenty-one states: Alaska
, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho
, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah
(Cronin, 1989). Note that, in Utah, there is no constitutional provision for citizen lawmaking. All of Utah’s I&R law is in the state statutes (Zimmerman, December 1999). In most states, there is no special protection for citizen-made statutes; the legislature can begin to amend them immediately.
Statute law referendum is a constitutionally-defined, citizen-initiated, petition process of the “proposed veto of all or part of a legislature-made law”, which, if successful, repeals the standing law. It is used at the state level in twenty-four states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky
, Maine, Maryland
, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico
, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming (Cronin, 1989).
The recall is a constitutionally-defined, citizen-initiated, petition process, which, if successful, removes an elected official from office by “recalling” the official’s election. In most state and sub-state jurisdictions having this governance component, voting for the ballot that determines the recall includes voting for one of a slate of candidates to be the next office holder, if the recall is successful. It is utilized at the state level in nineteen states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia
, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas
, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey
, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island
, Washington and Wisconsin
(National Conference of State Legislatures, 2011, Recall Of State Officials
There are now a total of 24 U.S. states with constitutionally-defined, citizen-initiated, direct democracy governance components (Zimmerman, December 1999). In the United States, for the most part only one-time majorities are required (simple majority of those voting) to approve any of these components.
In addition, many localities around the U.S. also provide for some or all of these direct democracy governance components, and in specific classes of initiatives (like those for raising taxes), there is a supermajority
voting threshold requirement. Even in states where direct democracy components are scant or nonexistent at the state level, there often exists local options
for deciding specific issues, such as whether a county should be “wet” or “dry” in terms of whether alcohol sales are allowed.
DEMOCRATIC REFORM TRILEMMA
Democratic theorists have identified a trilemma
due to the presence of three desirable characteristics of an ideal system of direct democracy, which are challenging to deliver all at once. These three characteristics are participation – widespread participation in the decision making process by the people affected; deliberation – a rational discussion where all major points of view are weighted according to evidence; and equality – all members of the population on whose behalf decisions are taken have an equal chance of having their views taken into account. Empirical evidence
from dozens of studies suggests deliberation leads to better decision making.
Most popularly disputed form of direct popular participation is the referendum on constitutional matters.
However, the more participants there are the more time and money is needed to set up good quality discussions with clear neutrally presented briefings. Also it is hard for each individual to contribute substantially to the discussion when large numbers are involved.
For the system to respect the principle of political equality, either everyone needs to be involved or there needs to be a representative random sample of people chosen to take part in the discussion. In the definition used by scholars such as James Fishkin
, deliberative democracy
is a form of direct democracy which satisfies the requirement for deliberation and equality but does not make provision to involve everyone who wants to be included in the discussion.
, by Fishkin’s definition, allows inclusive participation and deliberation, but at a cost of sacrificing equality – because widespread participation is allowed there will rarely be sufficient resources to compensate people who give up their time to take part in the deliberation, and so the participants tend to be those with a strong interest in the issue to be decided, and therefore will often not be representative of the overall population.
Fishkin instead argues that random sampling should be used to select a small but still representative number of people from the general public.
Fishkin concedes it is possible to imagine a system that transcends the trilemma, but it would require very radical reforms if such a system is to be integrated into mainstream politics. To an extent, the Occupy movement
attempted to create a system that satisfies all three desirable requirements at once, but at a cost of the resulting system being widely criticized for being slow and unwieldy.
ELECTRONIC DIRECT DEMOCRACY
EDD requires electronic voting
or some way to register votes on issues electronically. As in any direct democracy, in an EDD, citizens would have the right to vote on legislation, author new legislation, and recall representatives (if any representatives are preserved).
Technology for supporting EDD has been researched and developed at the Florida Institute of Technology
where the technology is used with student organizations. Numerous other software development projects are underway,
along with many supporting and related projects.
Several of these projects are now collaborating on a cross-platform architecture, under the umbrella of the Metagovernment project.
EDD as a system is not fully implemented in a political government anywhere in the world, although several initiatives are currently forming. Ross Perot
was a prominent advocate of EDD when he advocated “electronic town halls
” during his 1992
and 1996 presidential campaigns
in the United States
, already partially governed by direct democracy, is making progress towards such a system.
, an Australian political party running for the Senate in the 2007 federal elections
, proposed to institute an EDD system so that Australians can decide which way the senators vote on each and every bill.
A similar initiative was formed 2002 in Sweden where the party Aktivdemokrati
, running for the Swedish parliament
, offers its members the power to decide the actions of the party over all or some areas of decision, or alternatively to use a proxy with immediate recall for one or several areas. Since early 2011 EDD parties are working together on the Participedia wiki E2D
The first mainstream direct democracy party to be registered with any country’s electoral commission [checked against each country’s register] is the UK’s People’s Administration Direct Democracy party.
The People’s Administration have developed and published the complete architecture for a legitimate reform to EDD [including the required Parliamentary reform process].
Established by musicians and political activists, the People’s Administration advocates using the web and telephone to enable the majority electorate to create, propose and vote upon all policy implementation. The People’s Administration’s blueprint has been published in various forms since 1998 and the People’s Administration is the first direct democracy party registered in a vote-able format anywhere in the world – making transition possible through evolution via election with legitimate majority support, instead of potentially through revolution via violence.
RELATION TO OTHER MOVEMENTS
Anarchists have advocated forms of direct democracy as an alternative to the centralized state and capitalism; however, others (such as individualist anarchists
) have criticized direct democracy and democracy in general for ignoring the rights of the minority, and instead have advocated a form of consensus decision-making
DIRECT DEMOCRACY IN SCHOOLS
A democratic school
is a school that centers on providing a democratic educational environment featuring “full and equal” participation
from students and staff. These learning environments position youth voice as the central actor in the educative process by engaging students in every facet of school operations, including learning, teaching, leadership, justice, and democracy, through experience.
Adult staff support students by offering facilitation according to students’ interests.
of democratic education schools are run by a School Meeting
where the students and staff participate exclusively and equally. Everyone who wishes to attend can vote, and there are no proxies. As with direct democracy elsewhere, participants are usually only those who have an interest in the topic.
in England has operated a direct democracy approach to decision making for over 90 years and has often come into conflict with the UK government as a result. The school won an appeal to the High Court in 1999 after it was threatened with closure. A joint statement confirmed that: “The minister recognised the school had a right to its own philosophy and that any inspection should take into account its aims as an international ‘free’ school … both sides went on record as agreeing that the pupils’ voice should be fully represented in any evaluation of the quality of education at Summerhill and that inspections must consider the full breadth of learning at the school – learning was not confined to lessons”.[35
Direct Democracy Versus Representative Democracy And Other Forms Of Government
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