Democracy is a political system that is associated with the idea that power or authority in a society rests with the people. In general, the people exercise their authority through elections in which they choose others to represent their interests in a formal legislative structure. Historians have identified two basic forms of democracy: direct democracy and representative democracy.
A direct democracy is one in which the citizens of the country participate directly in the decision-making process. For example, citizens play a direct role in the creation of laws and the administration of the justice system. Perhaps the best historical example is Ancient Athens. At the time, citizens met regularly to vote on matters concerning the city-state. In general, there are few examples of direct democracies due to the time-consuming nature of the system. In a modern democratic nation such as the United States, it is simply impractical for all citizens to participate in all aspects of governance. Whereas, in Ancient Athens, citizens were only considered to be land owning men, meaning that the vast majority of people in the society could not participate. As well, Ancient Athens was a much smaller geographical area, which made it more ideal for the principles of direct democracy.
Representative democracy is much more common today and is currently practiced in many countries, including: the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Australia, Germany, etc. In a representative democracy, the citizens elect people to represent their interests in the governance of the country. In general, representatives are elected at multiple levels of government, including: federal, state or provincial, and municipal. These representatives are then tasked with passing legislation that benefits the citizens who elected them. In this type of democracy, citizens have a say in the governance of the country in the form of regularly held elections. If the representatives are not acting in the best interest of the country, then citizens can elect new representatives in their place. Representative democracy is much more common today than direct democracy, because it is a much more efficient system. In large countries, with tens or hundreds of millions of citizens, it is impractical for all citizens to participate in the decision-making process. Representative democracy allows for citizens to express their wishes in the form of an election, but then leaves the main decision-making up to a small selection of representatives. This allows the citizens to focus on other matters and not be constantly bogged down with legislation. With that said, representative democracies include elements of direct democracy. For example, sometimes, representative democracies hold referendums or plebiscites. Simply put, a referendum is a singular vote in which citizens of a country vote on an important issue. For example, Canada has held several referendums in its history including: 1898 referendum on Prohibition and 1942 referendum on conscription in World War II. Another common feature of representative democracies is representation by population, which is the idea that each citizen should have the same representation in the government. Democracies attempt to achieve this by ensuring that each person, of legal age, is allowed to vote and that representation in the government is based upon equal populations. For example, in the United States, the Electoral College is based upon population. Heavily populated states receive more electors whereas less populated states receive fewer electors. This ensures that each state is equally represented in the election of the President, based upon their population. Although most representative democracies share these similarities, they are also vastly different based a few set of criteria, including: method of elections and the role and responsibilities of legislators. As such, representative democracy can take several different forms, including: constitutional monarchy, republic, liberal democracy, and more.
BRIEF HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY
The earliest history of democracy is often associated with Ancient Greece. As stated previously, this was a direct form of democracy, as it meant that all those deemed to be citizens participated in the governance of the state. While the Roman Republic carried on the basic traditions of Greek democracy, it generally limited the understanding of citizen and therefore limited the ability of people to participate in elections. Throughout the centuries that followed the fall of Rome, democracy struggled. For example, throughout the Middle Ages, Europe was primarily dominated by a series of absolute monarchs who governed through hereditary rule. As a result, the basic aspects of democracy did not flourish again until the 17th and 18th centuries with a series of major events, including: English Civil War, French Revolution and American Revolution. Through these events, the idea of basic human rights were born and led to the growth and prominence of democratic values around the world today. For instance, representative democracies have become the norm in North America, Europe and Australia. In order to protect these rights and to preserve the basic foundation of the government, democracies often contain constitutions. This is a document that lays out the basic framework for governance in the country while also listing any rights and freedoms that are protected in the country. A constitution is a very important part of any democracy as it is the foundation upon which the government and society operates. For example, the United States Constitution, which dates from 1787, formed the framework upon which the United States government functions including the Bill of Rights.
ISSUES FACING DEMOCRACY
While democracy is the dominant form of politics on the planet today, it is plagued by many issues which cause people to questions its strength and ability to deal with certain crises facing society. First, most modern democracies are suffering from a low and declining voter turnout. Simply put, fewer people today vote than did in past decades. While some countries, such as Australia, have attempted to solve this issue by making voting a mandatory practice, it remains a large issue across the developed world. Some fear that a low voter turnout undermines the legitimacy of the results of elections and therefore does not represent the true will of the people. Another major issue facing democracies is its struggle to balance security and rights. Modern democratic states face the issue of terrorism on a regular basis but struggle to strike a balance, that most people agree with, in terms of safeguarding rights and freedoms while also ensuring citizen safety. For example, due to terrorism in recent years, countries such as the United States have had to increase security at the expense of protecting the privacy of citizens. For instance, many in the United States are angry with the increase in airport security following the events of 9/11 and argue that it violates their right to be free of search and seizure. Whereas, increases in airport security occurred in an attempt to protect people and prevent terrorist acts. A third issue facing democracy is its inability to adequately deal with modern global issues related to things such as the environment and overpopulation. At its heart, democracy is based upon the principles of liberalism meaning that individuals are the basis upon which decisions are made, and that individuals enjoy rights and freedoms without too much government involvement. However, emerging global issues sometimes require governments to intervene in the economy in an attempt to prevent things such as climate change and resource depletion. As such, new laws that favor environmental issues sometimes limit the rights and freedoms of individuals to choose for themselves.