Direct Democracy

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The freedoms of speech, publication, and assembly, the right to vote, or the right to act freely define democracy. Yet, these are only a few characteristics of this form of government in general. There are more types and forms of it. So, what is direct democracy?

The fundamental idea is that people as a whole govern by themselves. Hence, the people are responsible for the decision-making. That is in contrast to representative democracy, where the people elect their representatives who then decide in their name.

This form was common for the Ancient Greek city-states. A large group of people, chosen through some criteria (gender, wealth, status), met in an assembly and voted on topics. Hence, some form of a governing body was still in place.

Direct democracy
Petitions and referendums are common tools

In Ancient Greece, ostracism was a tool to protect democracy. When the people revealed someone who was a potential threat to the system, they would vote to ostracize them. The vote decided on banning the person from the city. 

Many scholars of the early modern era, such as John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, supported the idea. However, the Founding Fathers of the USA, including the authors of The FederalistAlexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, or the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, despised the idea. They believed that someone would easily abuse it – hence, the tyranny of the majority

Tools of Direct Democracy

Currently, no state is genuine direct democracy. Close to the idea is only Switzerland, which uses a combination with a representative system. Still, some of its primary tools are in every state (namely referendums or recall votes).

A referendum is a form of direct democracy. Using this direct vote, people can vote for a topic. Governments use it to allow the citizens to decide upon something or manifest their wishes. It usually is but does not have to be binding.

Another instrument is a citizen’s initiative. Through a petition, people can force the government (or the general public) to become interested in a topic. And hence, to take action.