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European Foreign Policy After Lisbon

posted 19 Feb 2010, 18:21 by Davit Chumburidze

European Foreign Policy After Lisbon: Strengthening the EU as an International Actor
Kateryna Koehler holds MA degree in International Relations from Dresden University of Technology (Dresden, Germany). She also worked as a Lecturer of Ukrainian at the same university.


Following years of compromise, the Treaty of Lisbon finally came into force on December 1, 2009. This article analyses the new substantive law regulations and institutional arrangements of the Lisbon Treaty in the field of external relations and their impact on the effectiveness of the European foreign policy and the European Union as an international actor. For this purpose, this paper starts with analyses of the principle of coherence and continues with the reformed structure and legal personality of the EU, which was previously a serious challenge for the coherence of the EU’s foreign policy. Finally, this article examines the functions and implications of institutional innovations, namely, the positions of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the President of the European Council and the European External Action Service. This paper argues that the Treaty of Lisbon improves the preconditions for a higher degree of coherence in European external relations and strengthens the EU as an international actor, even if the success of the European foreign policy, especially in the field of CFSP, still depends to a great extent on the Member States’ willingness to cooperate.

Keywords: European Foreign Policy, Treaty of Lisbon, Common Foreign and Security Policy, legal personality of the EU, coherence


After the failure of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe and a “period of reflection”, the agreement on a “Reform Treaty” was reached at an informal summit in Lisbon on October 19, 2007. Three months later, on December 13, the Treaty of Lisbon was signed and came into force on December 1, 2009. The innovations of the Treaty of Lisbon are not as far reaching as those of the Constitutional Treaty. Nevertheless, they have the potential to increase the effectiveness of European foreign policy1 and to strengthen the EU as an international actor. Coherence is a necessary precondition for the efficacy of foreign policy not only of the EU but of all international actors.2 In the past, however, coherence constituted a challenge to European foreign policy. One of the reasons was the structure of the EU and the differences in the institutional involvement and procedures between different issue areas of the EU’s foreign policy. The issue of the legal personality of the EU, which is closely connected to the EU’s structure, has been presented as a serious obstacle to the EU’s foreign policy and to the perception of the EU as an international actor. On the other hand, there have also been discrepancies between the agreed Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) at European level and the varying behaviour of the Member States at national level.

The Treaty of Lisbon has led to a simplification of the EU’s structure, the explicit provision on the EU’s legal personality and institutional amendments related to the European foreign policy, namely, the new position of the President of the European Council, the revised position of the High Representative and a new institution, the European External Action Service. These substantive and institutional innovations affect European external relations, particularly their coherence, in a positive way. In contrast, the Treaty of Lisbon has no effect on the principle of coherence codified in the Treaty on European Union (TEU), since the wording of the relevant Articles was marginally changed; the legal value of the principle of coherence remained unchanged.

Since coherence is a crucial precondition for the efficacy of foreign policy, it seems appropriate to begin this paper by examining the treaty’s obligations related to the coherence of the European foreign policy. Subsequently, the article will analyse how the abovementioned amendments influence the European foreign policy and the role of the EU as an international actor. Starting with the analysis of the reformed structure and the legal personality of the EU, the article continues with the examination of the institutional innovations and their consequences for the European foreign policy.

Coherence as a Principle of European Foreign Policy

As previously stated, coherence is a necessary precondition for the efficacy of foreign policy not only of the EU but of all international actors. Coherence can be defined as a principle that guides foreign policy. In the case of the EU, coherence indicates, on the one hand, the degree of congruence between the external policies of the Member States and that of the EU (vertical direction) while, on the other hand, it refers to the level of internal coordination of EU policies (horizontal direction).3 Since the establishment of the EU with the Treaty of Maastricht, the principle of coherence in the external relations of the EU has been codified in the TEU. According to Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union in its consolidated version of Nice (2002)/TEU(N),4 the Union “shall in particular ensure the consistency of its external activities as a whole in the context of its external relations, security, economic and development policies”. The Article therefore provides for the coordination of and coherence in the “external activities as a whole”, while consistency has to be ensured within and between all components of the EU’s external relations.5 This provision can be understood as a principle of horizontal coherence since it refers to the level of internal coordination of the EU policies and implies that the various external policies of the EU should converge or at least not contradict one another. The Council and the Commission are charged with the particular responsibility to “ensure such consistency and shall cooperate to this end”.6 The objective of achieving coherence in the external activities of the EU is, therefore, to ensure that the Union can “assert its identity on the international scene”.7

Member States are also obliged to “support the Union’s external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity”, and to “work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity”.8 Furthermore, Member States are required to “refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations”.9 The abovementioned provisions of Article 11(2) of the TEU(N) apply to the CFSP and can be understood as a principle of vertical coherence. The Council is charged with the responsibility to ensure compliance with this principle of loyalty.10

The Lisbon Treaty maintains the principles of both horizontal and vertical coherence. According to Article 21(3) of the revised Treaty on European Union (TEU(L)), “The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies”. As a result, the wording and the obligations of Article 21(3) of the aforementioned treaty are very similar to those of Article 3 of the TEU(N). Nevertheless, in contrast to the previous responsibility for compliance borne by the Commission and the Council, now, also the High Representative is responsible for horizontal coherence.11

With respect to vertical coherence, Article 24(3) of the TEU(L) can be therefore considered. Similar to the principle of horizontal coherence, the wording and the substance of the principle of vertical coherence, which was previously laid down by Article 11(2) of the TEU(N), was not amended significantly by the Lisbon Treaty. Article 24(3) of the TEU(L) states:

The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the Union's action in this area.

The Member States shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity. They shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.

Alongside the previous responsibility of the Council for conformity, now the High Representative is also responsible for compliance with the principle of vertical coherence.12

Therefore, with respect to the principles of vertical and horizontal coherence, the Treaty of Lisbon did not bring significant changes since under the TEU the institutions of the EC/EU, as well as the Member States, were already obliged to cooperate and to coordinate their policies in order to achieve a higher degree of coherence in the European foreign policy. The Lisbon Treaty does not influence the legal nature of the principle of coherence. The legal effect of the obligations to cooperate and to coordinate is still relativised by the fact that neither the principle of horizontal coherence of Article 21(3) nor the principle of vertical coherence of Article 24(3) of the TEU(L) are justiciable, because these Articles do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), which was the case concerning Articles 3 and 11(2) of the TEU(N).13 The exclusion of the principle of vertical coherence in the CFSP from the supervision of the ECJ illustrates the lingering discrepancy between the Member States’ general willingness to cooperate and their more specific willingness to determine the character of the European foreign policy in concrete situations, and continues to limit the legal aspects of the EU’s foreign policy. With respect to vertical coherence, the Treaty of Lisbon has failed to discourage Member States from pursuing national foreign policies, diverging from the agreed European positions and, therefore, to increase the vertical coherence of the European foreign policy.

Furthermore, the explicit obligations of the Member States “to comply with the Union’s action” and “to support the Union’s external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity”14 appear to become ambivalent when taking into account Declarations 13 and 14 concerning the CFSP.15 Declaration 13 states:

The Conference underlines that the provisions in the Treaty on European Union covering the Common Foreign and Security Policy, […] do not affect the responsibilities of the Member States, as they currently exist, for the formulation and conduct of their foreign policy nor of their national representation in third countries and international organisations.

Moreover, Declaration 14 reiterates once again the sovereignty of national foreign policy by affirming that:

The provisions covering the Common Foreign and Security Policy […] will not affect the existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each Member State in relation to the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, its national diplomatic service, relations with third countries and participation in international organisations, including a Member State’s membership of the Security Council of the United Nations. (ibid.)

In light of these Declarations, it is not clear how “an ever-increasing degree of convergence of Member States’ actions”16 and compliance with the EU’s foreign policy can be achieved when the provisions on the CFSP do not affect the Member States’ responsibility for the formulation and conduct of their foreign policies. Furthermore, the specific emphasis on the UN Security Council seems to reduce the added value of Article 34(2) of the TEU(L), according to which “when the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position”.17 In view of the ongoing debates on strengthening the European profile within the UN and on the advantages and disadvantages of a single EU seat in the UN Security Council,18 this provision could potentially contribute to a more consistent and, therefore, more influential representation of the EU in the UN.19 However, Declaration 14 seems to constrain the provisions of the abovementioned article, reducing the possibility of the High Representative, and the EU as a whole, to extend their influence within withi the UN Security Council.

As a result, the overall impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on the codified principles of coherence in the European foreign policy is very moderate. Nevertheless, some positive effects can be expected from the reformation of the EU’s structure and the explicit regulation of its legal personality, as well as from certain institutional innovations that will be discussed below.

Structure and the Legal System of the EU after Lisbon

The relationship between the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) was a subject for discussion since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. The prevalent form to describe the structure of the EU was a temple model featuring the three pillars.20 The pillar structure of the EU and the differences in the institutional involvement and procedures between different issue areas of the European foreign policy constituted a challenge to the coherence of the EU’s foreign policy in the past.

Although the Treaty of Lisbon sets out the relationship between the European treaties in a new way, the EU is still founded on two treaties as was the case prior to the Treaty of Lisbon. In contrast to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, which envisaged the incorporation of the TEU and the TEC into one treaty, under the Treaty of Lisbon the EU is founded on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the Treaty on European Union (TEU(L)).21 According to Article 1 of the TEU(L), both Treaties have the same legal value. They constitute a largely homogeneous core of the EU.22

Nevertheless, the Treaties’ equal value does not, of course, mean a similar application of the supranational regulations and procedures in all areas. The Treaty of Lisbon does not change the CFSP’s exceptional position; instead it systematically emphasises its special status by the fact that, in contrast to the Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters (PJCC) which became part of the TFEU, the CFSP is an intergovernmental part of the TEU(L), with unanimity as a prevailing decision-making procedure.23 The wording of the Treaty emphasises the exceptional status of the CFSP, which is further defined as “subject to specific rules and procedures” and “the specific role of the European Parliament and of the Commission in this area”,24 which in turn is further determined by the Treaties. Thus, the Treaty of Lisbon does not abolish the separation of the issue areas, but it merely displaces the axis of separation, while the dualism of the EU’s supranational and intergovernmental external relations remains the same. In other words, the Treaty of Lisbon simplified the structure of the EU but it failed to unify it.

The EU’s Single Legal Personality

The question of the EU’s legal capacity was closely connected to the debate on the relationship between the TEU and the TEC. In contrast to the expressly regulated legal personality of the European Community in Article 281 of the TEC, the issue of the EU’s legal personality was neither explicitly regulated in the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam nor in the Treaty of Nice, while every previous revision of the EU’s legal basis reinforced the discussion on its legal capacity with strong arguments on both sides – in favour of an implicit derivation of the EU’s legal personality from the provisions of the TEU, as well as against it.25 The ambiguity of the legal regulations with respect to the EU’s legal personality was a source of uncertainty in the international legal relationships.

By the Treaty of Lisbon, the High Contracting Parties established among themselves a new European Union,26 which has – according to Article 47 of the TEU(L) – a legal personality. The acquirement of legal personality of the newly established EU was a logical consequence of the amendment of the three-pillar structure, since the EU replaced and succeeded the European Community (EC).27 The fact that the EU’s legal personality is now formally recognised under Article 47 of the TEU(L) “simplifies its status and appears as an important step towards legal certainty”.28 In other words, the EU became indisputably an actor under international law.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the controversy surrounding the institutions of the EU/EC, which are now listed in Article 13(1) of the TEU(L), and includes, alongside the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission, the European Council, the position of which within the institutional framework was long a subject of debate in the literature.29

As a consequence of this legal personality being acquired by the EU, the diplomatic representation came under the Union’s authority: the Commission’s delegations became the Union’s delegations under the authority of the High Representative and are part of the structure of the European External Action Service (EEAS).30

These amendments clearly strengthen the EU’s status as an international actor, since the Treaty explicitly regulate the legal personality of the EU, and, furthermore, it clarifies the question concerning the Union’s diplomatic relations and the status of its institutions, which solidifies the EU’s position in the international arena under international law.


Consequences of the EU’s Legal Personality for the CFSP

Regarding the CFSP, the explicit regulation of the EU’s legal personality has at least two consequences: first, it refers to the question concerning the person who acts as a European party in international relations, particularly as a “European contracting party” in international agreements, and second, it corresponds to the external means of the EU to implement the CFSP.

Uncertainty with respect to the EU’s legal capacity prior to the Treaty of Lisbon meant uncertainty concerning first abovementioned question. Accepting the arguments in favour of the implicit derivation of the EU’s legal personality from the provisions of the TEU meant that the activities in the field of the CFSP were – from a legal point of view – to be classified as the EU’s activities in accordance with the TEU. Rejecting these arguments meant that the EU’s Member States, rather than the EU itself, were acting jointly on the legal basis of the TEU. The subsequent ambiguity with regard to the EU’s legal personality gave rise to uncertainty with respect to the European legal partner in international legal relationships. Following the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty, it is now the EU that always acts “without regard to the question whether a specific action is a matter of European competency or of Member States’ responsibility – or of both”.31

The second consequence of Article 47 of the TEU(L) corresponds to the EU’s external means to implement the CFSP. The main instruments to implement the CFSP, such as common strategies, joint actions or common positions, were previously listed in Article 12 of the TEU(N). The Treaty of Lisbon reorganises the system of the instruments of the CFSP by listing the general guidelines and decisions as the central instruments of the CFSP in Article 25 of the TEU(L).32 The instruments of Article 12 of the TEU(N), as well as those of Article 25 of the TEU(L), have as primary internal function the coordination of the Member States’ external activities:

Although the external dimension of those competences in Title V [CFSP] and VI [PJCC] TEU is obvious, it is ironic to note that […] they basically relate to the relationship between the Union and its Member States rather than its relationship with third states and other international organisations. This means that explicit external competencies are largely absent in these areas […].33

With regard to the external means for the implementation of the CFSP, the authority to conclude international agreements may be considered, which was previously regulated by Article 24 of the TEU(N):

When it is necessary to conclude an agreement with one or more States or international organisations in implementation of this title [CFSP], the Council may authorise the Presidency, assisted by the Commission as appropriate, to open negotiations to that effect. Such agreements shall be concluded by the Council on a recommendation from the Presidency. (ibid.)

In contrast to Article 300 of the TEC, Article 24 of the TEU(N) contained no explicit reference to the contracting party and let the question unanswered about whether the EU or the Member States acting jointly could conclude such international agreements. On the one hand, these could be understood as an “abbreviated formulation” for the conclusion of a series of treaties of the Member States’; however, such interpretation does not explain why the Member States that abstained from voting became a contracting party.34 This contradiction would be resolved if one considered the EU as a contracting party to an international agreement concluded under Article 24 of the TEU(N). Nevertheless, this interpretation is again not convincing in light of Article 24(5) of the TEU(N), according to which

No agreement shall be binding on a Member State whose representative in the Council states that it has to comply with the requirements of its own constitutional procedure; the other members of the Council may agree that the agreement shall nevertheless apply provisionally. (ibid.)

This provision supports the interpretation that it is not the EU but the Member States, that act within a framework of the EU, conclude international agreements under Article 24 of the TEU(N).

In light of the debates on international agreements and the EU’s legal capacity, the provision of Article 24(6) of the TEU(N), according to which agreements concluded under Article 24 of the TEU(N) “shall be binding on the institutions of the Union”, was ambivalent. On the one hand, this provision was understood as evidence of the EU’s legal personality.35 On the other hand, it has been argued that the institutions listed in Article 5 of the TEU(N) are institutions of the EC, and the European Council mentioned in Article 4 of the same treaty is not independent enough to be considered as an institution of the EU.36 Thus, from a legal point of view the EU had no institutions of its own that could be bound by international agreements under Article 24 of the TEU(N).

The increasing praxis of international agreements, concluded in the name of the European Union on the basis of Article 24 of the abovementioned treaty, put forth arguments in favour of the EU’s legal personality.37 On the other hand, even if the EU acted as if it had the legal capacity, the lack of commitment by the Member States to grant the EU its legal personality explicitly or implicitly through the amendment of the Treaty could not be substituted through the Council’s varying contractual practice. As a result, the Member States jointly, and not the EU, constituted a contracting party to international agreements concluded on the basis of Article 24 of the TEU(N), while the external instrument of legal international agreements on the CFSP was not a legal instrument of the EU.

With an explicit provision on its legal personality in the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU is now able to take legal actions concerning itself, while the legal actions taken on the basis of the TEU(L) – including those in the area of the CFSP – are actions of the EU and not of the Member States. Since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force the EU became a contracting party to international agreements. Article 216(1) of the TFEU contains an explicit provision on the conclusion of international agreements by the EU in the scope of its responsibilities:

The Union may conclude an agreement with one or more third countries or international organisations where the Treaties so provide or where the conclusion of an agreement is necessary in order to achieve, within the framework of the Union's policies, one of the objectives referred to in the Treaties, or is provided for in a legally binding Union act or is likely to affect common rules or alter their scope. (ibid.)

Furthermore, Article 216(2) of the TFEU stipulates that international “agreements concluded by the EU are binding upon the institutions of the Union”, which are now expressly listed in Article 13(1) of the TEU(L), as well as on the Member States.38

The Union’s authority to conclude international agreements on the CFSP is explicitly regulated by Article 37 of Chapter 2 on “Specific Provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy” of the TEU(L), according to which “The Union may conclude agreements with one or more States or international organisations in areas covered by this Chapter”.39

The procedure for the conclusion of an international agreement within the framework of the CFSP is still based on unanimity,40 and thus differs from the general procedure for the conclusion of international agreements based on qualified majority.41 Nevertheless, with the explicit treaty-making authority in the scope of the CFSP the EU acquired for the first time an external legal instrument to execute the CFSP, which goes beyond the instruments for coordination of the Member States’ external activities within the EU framework.

Institutional Reforms and their implications for European Foreign Policy

With regard to the EU’s foreign policy, the Treaty of Lisbon introduced three major institutional innovations, namely, the position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the position of the President of the European Council and the European External Action Service. In this part of the paper, the functions of each of these institutions and their influence on the coherence and the effectiveness of European foreign policy will be analysed in view of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Compared with the position of the High Representative for the CFSP, the Lisbon Treaty strengthens the new position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy (FASP), who is responsible for conducting the Union’s foreign and security policy. The High Representative for FASP enjoys the right to submit proposals for the development of the CFSP and the common security and defence policy (CSDP), which he or she shall carry out as mandated by the Council.42

Furthermore, the High Representative for FASP chairs the newly established Foreign Affairs Council43 and is simultaneously one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission.44 Consequently, the formation previously known as “the Troika” is now incorporated into the one position of the High Representative for FASP.45

The incorporation of the supranational and intergovernmental elements into the one position of the High Representative aims at increasing the horizontal coherence of the European foreign policy. The High Representative “shall ensure the consistency of the Union’s external action” and is – as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission – “responsible within the Commission for responsibilities incumbent on it in external relations and for coordinating other aspects of the Union's external action”.46 On the one hand, the wide scope of the High Representative’s responsibility for coherence in external relations can be understood as a single mandate over the external relations of the Commission,47 which would constrain the power of certain Commissioners. On the other hand, it seems to be more appropriate to interpret this position as an overall coordinating function enclosing all external dimensions of the Commission’s policy.48 Nevertheless, the High Representative obtains a special status within the Commission, which results from his or her appointment by the European Council. This exceptional status, as well as the responsibility for overarching coordination of the Commission’s policies with an external dimension, is a potential source of tension between the High Representative and certain Commissioners, as well as the President of the Commission.49 Concerning the latter, tension may arise because the High Representative challenges the President’s primus inter pares position within the Commission.50

Despite possible conflicts, the new position of the High Representative for FASP is an answer to criticism regarding the previous failure to address the incoherence and ineffectiveness of the EU associated with the pillar-structure and the separation of the issue areas, as well as the EU’s “fragmented” representation in international relations. As argued by Pernice, the “double hat” and “double role” of the High Representative “in some way mirrors the unity of the supranational (Commission) and the intergovernmental (Council) logic of the Union, it combines in one person the European and the Member States’ lines of interest”.51 The responsibility of the High Representative for ensuring the coherence and consistency of the Union’s external action52 “precisely describes what the Treaty of Lisbon is aiming at: The Union shall be perceived as one unit, speak with one mouth and implement consistent policies in external matters”.53 At the same time, the High Representative may contribute to more vertical coherence in the European foreign policy, taking into account his or her chairmanship in the Foreign Affairs Council with a potentially positive effect on the harmonisation of the Member States’ positions.54

Catherine Ashton was appointed as the first High Representative for FASP on November 19, 2009 by the European Council, with the agreement of the President of the Commission.55 Comments on this appointment vary. On the one hand, Ashton is referred to as a weak figure because of her lack of visible experience for the post of foreign policy chief. Her appointment can be understood as the unwillingness of the Member States to underpin the strengthened position of the High Representative by a strong personality. On the other hand, her previous experience may shift the working style in the field of the CFSP in favour of a greater consideration of the European interests, since Ashton was a Commissioner for Trade prior to her appointment to the post of High Representative. As a member of the Commission, she worked in the EU’s supranational institution and was accustomed to advocate the European idea and European interests. Moreover, it has been argued that the first incumbent of the post of High Representative for FASP would have a personal bias in favour of promoting the foreign policy interests of the Council and the Member States instead of acting as an honest broker between the Council and the Commission.56 The appointment of Ashton to the position may have a positive effect on the balance between the external policies of the Council and those of the Commission.

As a result, in spite of possible conflicts regarding the delimitation of responsibilities between the High Representative, on the one hand, and the members of the Commission, on the other hand, the Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the institutional preconditions for more coherence and efficacy of the European foreign policy by introducing the “double position” of the High Representative for FASP.

President of the European Council

One the most important innovations introduced by the Lisbon Treaty concerns the formal introduction of the European Council as one of the EU’s constituent institutions57 and the introduction of the position of the President of the European Council.

Prior to the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council had never officially acquired the status of an EU institution.58 Nevertheless, its declarations have served as important reference points for the formulation and implementation of the foreign policy by the institutions of the EC/EU and those of the Member States, and it has therefore served as an important instrument to increase the coherence in foreign policy.59 The formal introduction of the European Council as an institution of the EU is accompanied by the manifestation of the right of the European Council to identify the strategic interests and objectives of the Union, which relate to the CFSP and to other areas of the Union’s external action.60 In legal terms, this constitutes a significant extension of the European Council’s authority, although it already exercised those functions before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.61

The introduction of the new position of the President of the European Council affects first the continuity of the European foreign policy. Before the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the Head of State or Government of the Member State that held the Presidency of the Council of Ministers also held a chairmanship during the meetings of the European Council; however, this position was not explicitly set out in the Treaty.62 The Presidency of the Council of Ministers rotates every six months between the Member States in an order defined by the Council, and all positions related to the Presidency also rotate. According to the reforms of the Lisbon Treaty, the President of the European Council will be elected by the European Council by qualified majority for the period of two and a half years that can be renewed once,63 thus the post is no longer subject to alternation every six months. In other words, this innovation now has a positive effect on the continuity of the European foreign policy.

Furthermore, the President chairing the European Council should endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council and to ensure the preparation and continuity of its work in cooperation with the President of the Commission, as well as on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council.64 Thus, according to the provisions of the TEU(L), the President of the European Council is supposed to increase the coherence of the supranational and intergovernmental aspects of the EU’s external relations, while the cooperation between the President of the European Council and the President of Commission is of particular importance for the facilitation of coherence.

Stressing the importance of the Presidency of the European Council for the coherence of European foreign policy, the amendments of the Lisbon Treaty are, at the same time, ambiguous with respect to the delimitation of responsibilities. The responsibility of the President of the European Council for the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council, as well as for driving forward its work, means that he or she is involved in the formulation and implementation of the intergovernmental or even the Community aspects of the EU’s foreign policy,65 which bear potential conflicts and tensions with the authority of the High Representative.

The provisions of the Lisbon Treaty are particularly ambiguous with respect to the EU’s external representation. Article 15(6) of the TEU(L) stipulates that the President of the European Council “shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”.66 The delimitation of responsibilities between those of the President of the European Council and those of the High Representative is difficult from a legal perspective and could be rendered impossible in the praxis,67 which may result in the incoherence of European foreign policy.

The function of the EU’s external representation at the highest level is exercised not only by the President of the European Council but also by the President of the Commission in the areas under the Union’s authority. Following the argumentation of Ingolf Pernice, this means that the unity achieved at the ministerial level by uniting the Troika representation in the one position of the High Representative is not realised at the level of Heads of State or Government.68

The Treaty of Lisbon, on the one hand, consolidates the representative function with respect to the CFSP at the ministerial level and, on the other hand, bears new potential for conflicts between the President of the European Council and the High Representative, and, to a lesser extent, the President of the Commission. Thus, the effectiveness of the European foreign policy greatly depends on a possible agreement between single institutions.

European External Action Service

The establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) is of paramount importance in order to ensure the coherence of the EU’s external relations and the strengthening of its role as an international actor. According to the Presidency report, the EEAS “should play a leading role in the strategic decision-making”.69 Article 27(3) of the TEU(L) stipulates that “the High Representative shall be assisted by a European External Action Service”. Taking into account the scope of tasks and the responsibilities of the High Representatives, the creation of the EEAS was a necessary step to ensure the capacity of the High Representative to perform his or her functions. The scope of the EEAS “should allow the [High Representative] to fully carry out his/her mandate as defined in the Treaty”.70 At the same time, to ensure the coherence of European external relations, the EEAS “should also assist the President of the European Council and the President as well as the Members of the Commission” in the areas of external relations and closely cooperate with the Member States.71

With regard to the scope of the EEAS, the service “should be composed of single geographical [...] and thematic desks, which will continue to perform under the authority of the High Representative the tasks [previously] executed by the relevant parts of the Commission and the Council Secretariat”.72 At the same time, the Commission’s exclusive authority in trade, development and enlargement policy will not be transferred to the EEAS; however, the service will have “desks” on those issues. Regarding the European Security and Defence Policy, the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD), the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) and the Military Staff (EUMS) should constitute parts of the EEAS and form an entity placed under the direct authority and responsibility of the High Representative.73 Even if the separation of the issue-related decision-making powers and the duality of the supranational and intergovernmental dimensions of the EU’s external relations still remain, the allocation of all issue areas to one institution has without doubt the potential for a more coherent European foreign policy once the development of the EEAS is completed.74 The composition of the EEAS may likewise contribute to a higher degree of coherence in the EU’s external relations, since the service should comprise officials from relevant departments of the Council’s General Secretariat and of the Commission, as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the Member States.75 The EEAS is thought to play a “unique role” and should be “a service of a sui generis nature”76 that is separate from the Commission and the Council Secretariat. However, although the High Representative and the EEAS can prepare initiatives, Member States make the final decisions and the Commission also plays a part in the technical implementation.


The analysed numerous innovations of the Lisbon Treaty aim at enhancing the coherence of EU’s external actions and at expanding its resource base, thus increasing the effectiveness of European foreign policy and strengthening the role of the EU as an international actor. At the same time, the Lisbon Treaty does not bridge the duality of European Foreign Policy while the separation between the CFSP and the other issue areas of external relations remains in place. Concerning the CFSP, unanimity is still the prevailing decision-making procedure, which protects national interests and bargaining behaviour at the expense of common European interests. In this area, the implementation of the European foreign policy in concrete situations continues to depend, to a great extent, on the Member States’ willingness to cooperate and compromise. Nevertheless, the Lisbon Treaty considerably strengthens the EU as an international actor through the explicit provision of the EU’s legal personality by equipping the EU with its own external instruments to implement the CFSP and its own institutions, and by reorganising the EU’s diplomatic relations as the successor of the European Community. All these amendments simplify the international status of the EU and constitute an important step towards legal certainty in international relations.

By revising the institutional arrangements related to European foreign policy, the Treaty of Lisbon expands the institutional preconditions for more a coherent, and thus more effective, foreign policy, even if it does not change the legal nature of the principles of horizontal and vertical coherence, which is still non-justiciable and depends on the willingness to cooperate among the Member States and the EU institutions. Positive effects are supposed to result first from the strengthened position of the High Representative for FASP and his or her “double hat”, which contribute to more coherence in European external relations and may enhance the effectiveness of European foreign policy and the EU’s credibility as an international actor. At the same time, the High Representative – in his or her function as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Council – may facilitate the vertical coherence in the European foreign policy by contributing to the harmonisation of the Member States’ positions. The new position of the President of the European Council also aims at facilitating the coherence of the supranational and intergovernmental aspects of the EU’s external relations, while the cooperation between the President of the European Council and the President of Commission is of particular importance. Furthermore, by extending the term in office of the President of the European Council from six months to two and a half years, the Lisbon Treaty improves the institutional preconditions for continuity of the European foreign policy.

By stressing the importance of coherence and creating “new faces” of European foreign policy, the Lisbon Treaty, at the same time, creates new potential for conflicts between the High Representative, the President of the European Council and the President of the Commission. This is because the provisions of the Treaty are ambiguous with respect to the delimitation of their responsibilities. Institutional tensions could be expected first between the coordinating function of the High Representative for FASP and Members of the Commission with responsibilities for external policies, and second, between the High Representative and the President of the European Council. These tensions may concern the particular function of the EU’s external representation.

Despite possible conflicts, the Treaty provides a stronger institutional basis for a more effective foreign policy of the EU, through the creation of the EEAS, among others. This institution is supposed to play a “unique role” and should be “a service of a sui generis nature” that is separate from the Commission and the Council Secretariat and should ensure the coherence and better coordination of the Union’s external action. Supporting the High Representative in carrying out his or her mandate as defined in the Treaty, the EEAS should also assist the President of the European Council, the President and the Members of the Commission, as well as closely cooperate with the Member States, thus contributing to horizontal and vertical coherence. The service should be composed of geographical and thematic desks, which should perform the tasks previously performed by the Commission and the Council Secretariat. Even if the exclusive authority in trade, development and enlargement policy executed by the Commission is not transferred to the EEAS, the service should have “desks” on those issues. This allocation of all issue areas to one institution has a strong potential for an increase in the coherence of European external relations, although the duality of the supranational and intergovernmental dimensions of the EU’s external relations still remains. The composition of the EEAS may similarly facilitate coherence since the service should comprise officials from the General Secretariat of the Council and the Commission, as well as national diplomatic staff of the Member States.

In conclusion, the main finding of the article is that the Treaty of Lisbon contributes to a more coherent foreign policy of the EU, thus strengthening the EU as an international actor. With its contributions, the Treaty is a positive step towards a higher degree of coherence in the EU’s external relations, even if it is still far away from achieving its goal of a truly common European foreign policy. Currently, there are no reasons to believe that this kind of policy can be reached in the future. Nevertheless, coherence in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy at national level also constitutes an exception rather than the norm.


1 For the purpose of this article, the term “European foreign policy” refers to the intergovernmental and supranational aspects of the EU’s foreign policy, as well as the national foreign policies of the 27 EU Member States.

2 See Clara Portela and Kolja Raube, “(In-)Coherence in EU Foreign Policy: Exploring Sources and Remedies” (Paper presented at the European Studies Association Bi-annual Convention, Los Angeles, April2009); Uwe Schmalz, „Kohärenz der EU-Außenbeziehungen? Der Dualismus von Gemeinschaft und Gemeinsamer Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik in der Praxis“ [Coherence of the EU’s External Relations? The Duality of Community and Common Foreign and Security Policy in the Praxis] (Arbeitspapier/working paper, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Sankt Augustin, 1997), 4.

3 For the purpose of this article, the term “coherence” is used as a synonym of “consistency”. For a discussion on the difficulties associated with the definition of “coherence” and with the delimitation between “coherence” and “consistency,” see Simon Nuttall, “Coherence and Consistency”, in International Relations and the European Union, ed. Christopher Hill and Michael Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 91–112; Christian Tietje, “The Concept of Coherence in the Treaty on European Union and the Common Foreign and Security Policy”, European Foreign Affairs Review, vol. 2 (1997): 211-233; Pascal Gauttier, “Horizontal Coherence and the External Competencies of the European Union”, European Law Journal, vol. 10 (2004): 23-41.

4 Article C of the Treaty on European Union in the Maastricht version /TEU(M).

5 See Simon Duke, “Consistency as an Issue in EU External Activities” (working paper 99/W/06, European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht, 1999). It is worth noting that the TEU did not refer specifically to “foreign policy” as might have been expected.

6 Article (3) of the TEU(N).

7 Article 2 of the TEU(N).

8 Article 11(2) of the TEU(N).

9 Article 11(2) of the TEU(N).

10 See Article 11(2) of the TEU(N).

11 See Article 21(3) of the TEU(L), which is nearly identical with Article III-292 of the Constitutional Treaty  according to which “The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect.”

12 See Article 24(3) of the TEU(L).

13 According to Article 24 of the TEU(L) and Article 275 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has no jurisdiction in the field of the CFSP. See Hans-Holger Herrnfeld, “Artikel 46 EUV” [Article 46 TEU], in EU-Kommentar, ed. Jürgen Schwarze, (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009, 229.

14 Article 24(3) of the TEU(L).

15 See TEU(L).

16 Article 24(2) of the TEU(L).

17 See Article 34(2) of the TEU(L).

18 See Edith Drieskens, Daniele Marchesi, and Bart Kerremans, “In Search of a European Dimension in the UN Security Council”, International Spectator, 42:3 (2007), 421–30.

19 See Jan Gaspers, “The quest for European foreign policy consistency and the Treaty of Lisbon”, Humanitas Journal of European Studies, vol. 2:1 (2008): 38.

20 The TEU separates the three issue areas: according to Article 1 of the TEU(N) (Article A of the TEU(M)), “The Union shall be founded on the European Communities, supplemented by the policies and forms of cooperation established by this Treaty”. Thus, the intergovernmental areas of Titles V (CFSP) and VI (Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters/PJCC) should “supplement” the supranational European Communities. The common provisions of the TEU should resemble the roof (Articles 1 to 7 of the TEU(N)) and the final provisions the bottom of the temple (Articles 46 to 53 of the TEU(N)), which are meant to connect the three pillars (see Rudolf Streinz, Europarecht [European Law] (Heidelberg, 2008), 34 – 35). Although the literature increasingly pointed to the fact that “the ‘bits and pieces’, which together make up the entity which is referred to as the European Union, are more connected” (Ramses A. Wessel, “The Inside looking out: Consistency and Delimitation in EU External Relations”, Common Market Law Review, vol. 37 (2000): 1135) and that the metaphor of the Greek temple does not mirror the connection between pillars in an appropriate way (see Armin Hatje, Loyalitätsprinzip als Rechtsprinzip in der Europäischen Union [Principle of Loyalty as a Legal Principle in the European Union] (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2001), 11); nevertheless, the EU’s separated structure was not to deny, and the temple model continued to be a prevalent instrument to describe it.

21 See Article 1(2) of the TFEU.

22 See Jörg Philipp Terhechte, “Der Vertrag von Lissabon: Grundlegende Verfassungsurkunde der europäischen Rechtsgemeinschaft oder technischer Änderungsvertrag?”[ The Treaty of Lisbon: Fundamental Constitutional Document of the European Law Community or Technical Revision Treaty?], Europarecht, vol. 2 (2008): 153.

23 Although there is a small number of exceptions (Article 31(2) of the TEU(L)), unanimity is still the prevailing rule in the area of the CFSP (Articles 24(1) and 31(1) of the TEU(L)). Article 31(1) of the TEU(L) contains the option of “qualified abstention” as a flexible alternative to unanimity. “Qualified abstention” was already accepted by Article 23(1) of the TEU(N), where every Member State could abstain in a vote by making a formal declaration. Subsequently, the Member State “shall not be obliged to apply the decision, but [it] shall accept that the decision commits the Union”.

24 See Article 24(1) of the TEU(L). Furthermore, the ECJ does not have jurisdiction with respect to the CFSP, with the exception of the monitoring of compliance with Article 40 of the TEU(L) and the review of the legality of certain decisions as provided for by Article 275 of the TFEU.

25 See Roland Bieber, Astrid Epiney and Marcel Haag, Die Europäische Union. Recht und Politik [The European Union. Law and Politics], 7. Auflage, (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2006), 99 & 534; Oliver Dörr, “Zur Rechtsnatur der Europäischen Union” [On the Legal Nature of the European Union], Europarecht, vol. 4 (1995): 334-348; Jan Klabbers, „Presumptive Personality: The European Union in International Law“, in International Law Aspects of the European Union, ed. Martti Koskenniemi (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1998), 231 – 253; Daniel Thym, „Die völkerrechtlichen Verträge der Europäischen Union“ [The International Agreements of the European Union], Zeitschrift für Ausländisches Öffentliches Recht, vol. 66 (2006): 863 – 925; Christian Tomuschat, „Die Europäische Union als ein Akteur in den internationalen Beziehungen“ [The European Union as an Actor in International Relations], in Verhandeln für den Frieden – Negotiating for Peace, Liber Amicorum Tono Eitel, eds. Jochen Frowein, Klaus Scharioth, Ingo Winkelmann and Rüdiger Wolfrum (Berlin: Springer, 2003), 799 – 821; Ramses A. Wessel, “The International Legal Status of the European Union”, European Foreign Affairs Review, vol. 2 (1997): 109 – 130; Matthias Pechstein, “Rechtssubjektivität für die Europäische Union?” [Legal Personality for the European Union?], Europarecht, vol. 31 (1996): 137 – 144.

26 See Article 1 of the TEU(L).

27 See Article1 of the TEU(L).

28 Ingolf Pernice, “The Treaty of Lisbon: Multilevel Constitutionalism in Action”, Columbia Journal of European Law, vol. 15: 3 (2009): 396.

29 See Andreas Haratsch, Christian Koenig and Matthias Pechstein, Europarecht [European Law] (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 42; Cordula Stumpf, „Artikel 3 EUV“ [Article 3 TEU], in EU-Kommentar, ed. Jürgen Schwarze , 2. Auflage, (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009), 77.

30 See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, 23 October 2009, 14930/09).

31 Ingolf Pernice, “The Treaty of Lisbon: Multilevel Constitutionalism in Action”, Columbia Journal of European Law, vol. 15: 3 (2009): 397.

32 The previous instruments of common action and common position fall under the category of “decision”, which is further differentiated into “decisions” and “arrangements for the implementation of the decisions”; see Article 25(b) of the TEU(L).

33 Andrea Ott and Ramses Wessel, “The EU’s External Relations Regime”, in The European Union and Its Neighbours, eds. Steven Blocksmans and Adam Lazewski (The Hague: Asser Press, 2006), 29.

34 The possibility of “qualified abstention” is regulated by Article 23(1) of the TEU(N).

35 See Jörg Philipp Terhechte, „Artikel 24 EUV“ [Article 24 TEU], EU-Kommentar, ed. Jürgen Schwarze, 2. Auflage, (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009), 146.

36 See Andreas Haratsch, Christian Koenig and Matthias Pechstein, Europarecht [European Law], 5. Auflage, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck., 2006), 40.

37 See Daniel Thym, „Die völkerrechtlichen Verträge der Europäischen Union“ [The International Agreements of the European Union], Zeitschrift für Ausländisches Öffentliches Recht, vol. 66 (2006): 863 - 925.

38 See Article 216(2) of the TFEU.

39 Article 37 of the TEU(L).

40 See Article 218(8) of the TFEU and Article 31(1) of the TEU(L).

41 See Article 218(8) of the TFEU.

42 See Article 18(2) of the TEU(L).

43 See Articles 18(3) and 27(1) of the TEU(L). After the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the previous General Affairs and External Relations Council is now divided into a General Affairs and a Foreign Affairs Council. The previous General Affairs and External Relations Council was chaired by the Presidency which rotated every six months. Now the rotating Presidency continues to chair the General Affairs Council.

44 See Article 18(4) of the TEU(L).

45 The formation known as “the Troika” referred previously to the High Representative for CFSP, the Commissioner for External Relations and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Presidency-in-Office, who changes every six months.

46 See Article 18(4) of the TEU(L).

47 First in the areas of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Enlargement and Trade, Development and Humanitarian Aid.

48 See Graham Avery, “The new architecture for EU foreign policy”, in The people’s project? The new EU Treaty and the prospects for future integration, ed. Graham Avery et al. (Brussels: European Policy Centre, 2007), 20.

49 See Jan Gaspers, “The quest for European foreign policy consistency and the Treaty of Lisbon”, Humanitas Journal of European Studies, vol. 2:1 (2008): 24.

50 The authority of the President of the Commission within the Commission, as well as in relation to the High Representative, is challenged, for instance, by the fact that the Commission’s President no longer has the authority to request the resignation of the Commissioner for External Relations without having obtained the prior consent of the European Council (Article 17(6) of the TEU(L)). See Graham Avery, “The new architecture for EU foreign policy”, in The people’s project? The new EU Treaty and the prospects for future integration, ed. Graham Avery et al (Brussels: European Policy Centre, 2007), 19; Brian Crowe, Foreign Minister of Europe, (London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2005), 5.

51 Ingolf Pernice, “The Treaty of Lisbon: Multilevel Constitutionalism in Action”, Columbia Journal of European Law, vol. 15: 3 (2009): 399.

52 See Article18(4) of the TEU(L).

53 Ingolf Pernice, “The Treaty of Lisbon: Multilevel Constitutionalism in Action”, Columbia Journal of European Law, vol. 15: 3 (2009): 399.

54 See Jan Gaspers, “The quest for European foreign policy consistency and the Treaty of Lisbon”, Humanitas Journal of European Studies, vol. 2:1 (2008): 24.

55 According to Article 18(1) of the TEU(L) “the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, with the agreement of the President of the Commission, shall appoint the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”. Concurrent with Ashton’s appointment as High Representative, she becomes a Vice-President of the Commission, which is subject to confirmation by the European Parliament (Article 17(7) of the TEU(L)). After the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the posts of the High Representative and the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union are held by two different people. Subsequently, Pierre de Boissieu was appointed as Secretary-General.

56 See Jan Gaspers, “The quest for European foreign policy consistency and the Treaty of Lisbon”, Humanitas Journal of European Studies, vol. 2:1 (2008): 26.

57 See Article 13 of the TEU(L).

58 For a discussion on the institutional status of the European Council, see Andreas Haratsch, Christian Koenig and Matthias Pechstein Europarecht [European Law] (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 42; Simon Hix, The Political System of the European Union (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 35 – 38; Philippe de Schoutheete and Helen Wallace, „The European Council,“ Research and European Issues, vol 19 (2002) (accessed December 13, 2009); Cordula Stumpf, „Artikel 3 EUV“ [Article 3 TEU], in EU-Kommentar, ed. Jürgen Schwarze (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009), 77.

59 See Simon Nuttall, “Coherence and Consistency,” in International Relations and the European Union, ed. Christopher Hill and Michael Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 104.

60 See Article 22(1) of the TEU(L).

61 See Stephan Keukeleire and Jennifer MacNaughtan, The Foreign Policy of the European Union (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 68-69.

62 For the chairmanship of the European Council refer to Article 4 of the TEU(N).

63 See Article 15 of the TEU(L). On November 19, 2009, Herman Van Rompuy was nominated as the first “permanent” President of the European Council.

64 See Article 15(6) of the TEU(L).

65 See Jan Gaspers, “The quest for European foreign policy consistency and the Treaty of Lisbon”, Humanitas Journal of European Studies, vol. 2:1 (2008): 30.

66 Article 15(6) of the TEU(L).

67 See Jörg Philipp Terhechte, “Der Vertrag von Lissabon: Grundlegende Verfassungsurkunde der europäischen Rechtsgemeinschaft oder technischer Änderungsvertrag?”[ The Treaty of Lisbon: Fundamental Constitutional Document of the European Law Community or Technical Revision Treaty?], Europarecht, vol. 2 (2008): 167; Daniel Thym, “Die neue institutionelle Architektur der Europäischen Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik“ [The New Institutional Architecture of the European Foreign and Security Policy], Archiv des Völkerrechts, vol. 42 (2004): 64.

68 See Ingolf Pernice, “The Treaty of Lisbon: Multilevel Constitutionalism in Action”, Columbia Journal of European Law, vol. 15: 3 (2009): 400.

69 Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

70 See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

71 See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

72 See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

73 See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

74 The final proposal on the formation of the EEAS should be made by April 2010, and the institution is supposed to become fully operational by 2012. See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

75 See Article 27(3) of the TEU(L); see also Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).

76 See Council of the European Union, “Presidency Report to the European Council on the European External Action Service” (Brussels, October 23, 2009, 14930/09).


posted 18 Jan 2010, 04:12 by Davit Chumburidze


Feudalism is a decentralized sociopolitical structure in which a weak monarchy attempts to control the lands of the realm through reciprocal agreements with regional leaders. In its most classic sense, feudalism refers to the Medieval European political system composed of a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs. Although derived from the Latin word feodum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Medieval Period.

There is no broadly accepted modern definition of feudalism. The term, which was coined in the early modern period (17th century), was originally used in a political context, but other definitions of feudalism exist. Since at least the 1960s, many medieval historians have included a broader social aspect, adding the peasantry bonds of manorialism, sometimes referred to as a "feudal society". Still others since the 1970s have re-examined the evidence and concluded that feudalism is an unworkable term and should be removed entirely from scholarly and educational discussion, or at least used only with severe qualification and warning.

Outside a European context, the concept of feudalism is normally used only by analogy (called semi-feudal), most often in discussions of Japan under the shoguns, and sometimes medieval and Gondarine Ethiopia. However, some have taken the feudalism analogy further, seeing it in places as diverse as ancient Egypt, the Parthian empire, the Indian subcontinent, and the antebellum American South.

The term feudal has also been applied—often inappropriately or pejoratively—to non-Western societies where institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to prevail. Ultimately, the many ways the term feudalism has been used has deprived it of specific meaning, leading many historians and political theorists to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society.


Lords, vassals and fiefs

Three primary elements characterized feudalism: lords, vassals and fiefs; the structure of feudalism can be seen in how these three elements fit together. A lord was a noble who owned land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the fief, the vassal would provide military service to the lord. The obligations and relations between lord, vassal and fief form the basis of feudalism. Before a lord could grant land (a fief) to someone, he had to make that person a vassal. This was done at a formal and symbolic ceremony called a commendation ceremony composed of the two-part act of homage and oath of fealty. During homage, the lord and vassal entered a contract in which the vassal promised to fight for the lord at his command.

Roland pledges his fealty to Charlemagne; from a manuscript of a chanson de geste

Fealty comes from the Latin fidelitas and denotes the fidelity owed by a vassal to his feudal lord. "Fealty" also refers to an oath that more explicitly reinforces the commitments of the vassal made during homage. Such an oath follows homage. Once the commendation was complete, the lord and vassal were now in a feudal relationship with agreed-upon mutual obligations to one another.

The vassal's principal obligation to the lord was to provide "aid," or military service. Using whatever equipment the vassal could obtain by virtue of the revenues from the fief, the vassal was responsible to answer to calls to military service on behalf of the lord. This security of military help was the primary reason the lord entered into the feudal relationship. In addition, the vassal sometimes had to fulfill other obligations to the lord. One of those obligations was to provide the lord with "counsel," so that if the lord faced a major decision, such as whether or not to go to war, he would summon all his vassals and hold a council. The vassal may have been required to yield a certain amount of his farm's output to his lord. The vassal was also sometimes required to grind his own wheat and bake his own bread in the mills and ovens owned and taxed by his lord.

The land-holding relationships of feudalism revolved around the fief. Depending on the power of the granting lord, grants could range in size from a small farm to a much larger area of land. The size of fiefs was described in irregular terms quite different from modern area terms (see medieval land terms). The lord-vassal relationship was not restricted to members of the laity; bishops and abbots, for example, were also capable of acting as lords.

There were thus different 'levels' of lordship and vassalage. The King was a lord who loaned fiefs to aristocrats, who were his vassals. The aristocrats, through subinfeudation, were lords to their own vassals, Knights who were in turn lords of the manor to the peasants who worked on the land. Ultimately, the Emperor was a lord who loaned fiefs to Kings, who were his vassals. This traditionally formed the basis of a 'universal monarchy' as an imperial alliance and a world order.



The word feudalism was not a medieval term but an invention of 16th century French and English lawyers to describe certain traditional obligations between members of the warrior aristocracy.[5] The earliest known use of the term feudal was in the 17th century (1614), when the system it purported to describe was rapidly vanishing or gone entirely. No writers in the period in which feudalism was supposed to have flourished are known to have used the word itself.

It was often used as a pejorative by later commentators to describe any law or custom that they perceived as unfair or out-dated. Most of these laws and customs were related in some way to the medieval institution of the fief (Latin: feodum, a word which first appears on a Frankish charter dated 884), and thus lumped together under this single term. "Feudalism" comes from the French féodalisme, a word coined during the French Revolution.

Evolution of the term

Feudalism became a popular and widely used term in 1748, thanks to Montesquieu's De L'Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws). In the 18th century, writers of the Enlightenment wrote about feudalism to denigrate the antiquated system of the Ancien Régime, or French monarchy. This was the Age of Enlightenment when writers valued Reason and the Middle Ages were viewed as the "Dark Ages." Enlightenment authors generally mocked and ridiculed anything from the "Dark Ages" including feudalism, projecting its negative characteristics on the current French monarchy as a means of political gain.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, John Horace Round and Frederic William Maitland, both historians of medieval Britain, arrived at different conclusions as to the character of English society before the Norman conquest in 1066. Round argued that the Normans had imported feudalism, while Maitland contended that its fundamentals were already in place in Britain. The debate continues today.

In the 20th century, the historian François-Louis Ganshof was very influential on the topic of feudalism. Ganshof defined feudalism from a narrow legal and military perspective, arguing that feudal relationships existed only within the medieval nobility itself. Ganshof articulated this concept in Feudalism (1944). His classic definition of feudalism is the most widely known today and also the easiest to understand, simply put, when a lord granted a fief to a vassal, the vassal provided military service in return.

Bloch and sociological views

One of Ganshof's contemporaries, the French historian Marc Bloch, was arguably the most influential 20th century medieval historian. Bloch approached feudalism not so much from a legal and military point of view but from a sociological one. He developed his ideas in Feudal Society (1939-40; English 1960). Bloch conceived of feudalism as a type of society that was not limited solely to the nobility. Like Ganshof, he recognized that there was a hierarchical relationship between lords and vassals, but Bloch saw as well a similar relationship obtaining between lords and peasants.

It is this radical notion that peasants were part of the feudal relationship that sets Bloch apart from his peers. While the vassal performed military service in exchange for the fief, the peasant performed physical labour in return for protection. Both are a form of feudal relationship. According to Bloch, other elements of society can be seen in feudal terms; all the aspects of life were centered on "lordship," and so we can speak usefully of a feudal church structure, a feudal courtly (and anti-courtly) literature, and a feudal economy.


Karl Marx also used the term in political analysis. In the 19th century, Marx described feudalism as the economic situation coming before the inevitable rise of capitalism. For Marx, what defined feudalism was that the power of the ruling class (the aristocracy) rested on their control of arable land, leading to a class society based upon the exploitation of the peasants who farm these lands, typically under serfdom. "The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist."[9] Marx thus considered feudalism within a purely economic model.

Revolt against the term

In 1974, U.S. historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown rejected the label feudalism as an anachronism that imparts a false sense of uniformity to the concept. Having noted the current use of many—often contradictory—definitions of feudalism, she argued that the word is only a construct with no basis in medieval reality, an invention of modern historians read back "tyrannically" into the historical record. Supporters of Brown have suggested that the term should be expunged from history textbooks and lectures on medieval history entirely.

In Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (1994), Susan Reynolds expanded upon Brown's original thesis. Although some contemporaries questioned Reynolds's methodology, other historians have supported it and her argument. Note that Reynolds does not object to the Marxist use of feudalism.

The term feudal has also been applied to non-Western societies in which institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to have prevailed (See Other feudal-like systems). Ultimately, critics say, the many ways the term feudalism has been used have deprived it of specific meaning, leading many historians and political theorists to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society.

Use and definition of the term

The following are historical examples given by Susan Reynolds that call into question the traditional use of the term feudalism:

Extant sources reveal that the early Carolingians had vassals, as did other leading men in the kingdom. This relationship did become more and more standardized over the next two centuries, but there were differences in function and practice in different locations. For example, in the German kingdoms that replaced the kingdom of Eastern Francia, as well as in some Slavic kingdoms, the feudal relationship was arguably more closely tied to the rise of Serfdom, a system that tied peasants to the land.

Moreover, the evolution of the Holy Roman Empire greatly affected the history of the feudal relationship in central Europe. Long-accepted feudalism models could imply that there was a clear hierarchy from Emperor to lesser rulers, be they kings, dukes, princes, or margraves. These models are patently untrue: the Holy Roman Emperor was elected by a group of seven magnates, three of whom were princes of the church, who in theory could not swear allegiance to any secular lord.

The French kingdoms also seem to provide clear proof that the models are accurate, until it is considered that, when Rollo of Normandy knelt to pay homage to Charles the Simple in return for the Duchy of Normandy, accounts tell that he knocked the king down as he rose, demonstrating his view that the bond was only as strong as the lord—in this case, not strong at all. This reveals that it was possible for 'vassals' to openly disparage feudal relationships.

The autonomy with which the Normans ruled their duchy supports the view that, despite any legal "feudal" relationship, the Normans did as they pleased. In the case of their own leadership, however, the Normans utilized the feudal relationship to bind their followers to them. It was the influence of the Norman invaders which strengthened and to some extent institutionalized the feudal relationship in England after the Norman Conquest.

In modern times, controversy has existed over the use of the term feudalism. Though it is sometimes used indiscriminately to encompass all reciprocal obligations of support and loyalty in the place of unconditional tenure of position, jurisdiction or land, the term is restricted by most historians to the exchange of specifically voluntary and personal undertakings, to the exclusion of involuntary obligations attached to tenure of "unfree" land: the latter are considered to be rather an aspect of Manorialism, an element of feudal society but not of feudalism proper.

Cautions on use of feudalism

Owing to the range of meanings they have, feudalism and related terms should be approached and used with considerable care. A circumspect historian like Fernand Braudel puts feudalism in quotes when applying it in wider social and economic contexts, such as "the seventeenth century, when much of America was being 'feudalized' as the great haciendas appeared" (The Perspective of the World, 1984, p. 403).

Medieval societies never described themselves as feudal. Popular parlance generally uses the term either for all voluntary or customary bonds in medieval society or for a social order in which civil and military power is exercised under private contractual arrangements. However, feudal is best used only to denote the voluntary, personal undertakings binding lords and free men to protection in return for support which characterized the administrative and military order.

Westminster system

posted 18 Jan 2010, 04:00 by Davit Chumburidze

Westminster system

The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The system is a series of procedures for operating a legislature. It is used, or was once used, in the national legislatures and subnational legislatures of most Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth nations upon being granted responsible government, beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890. There are other parliamentary systems whose procedures differ considerably from the Westminster system.

The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, in London.

Key characteristics

Important features of the Westminster system include the following, although not all of the following aspects have been preserved in every Westminster-derived system:

  • a sovereign or head of state who is the nominal or theoretical holder of executive power, and holds numerous reserve powers, but whose daily duties mainly consist of performing the role of a ceremonial figurehead. Examples include the British monarch, the presidents of many countries and state/provincial governors in federal systems.
  • a head of government (or head of the executive), known as the prime minister (PM), premier or first minister, who is officially appointed by the head of state. In practice, the head of government is almost always the leader of the largest elected party in parliament.
  • a de facto executive branch usually made up of members of the legislature with the senior members of the executive in a cabinet led by the head of government; such members execute executive authority on behalf of the nominal or theoretical executive authority.
  • parliamentary opposition (a multi-party system);
  • an elected legislature, often bicameral, in which at least one house is elected, although unicameral systems also exist; legislative members are usually elected by district in first-past-the-post elections (as opposed to country-wide proportional representation). Exception to this are New Zealand which changed to proportional representation, Israel which always used country wide proportional representation and Australia which uses Preferential voting.
  • a lower house of parliament with an ability to dismiss a government by "withholding (or blocking) Supply" (rejecting a budget), passing a motion of no confidence, or defeating a confidence motion. The Westminster system enables a government to be defeated, or forced into a general election, independently of a new government being chosen.
  • a parliament which can be dissolved and elections called at any time.
  • parliamentary privilege, which allows the Legislature to discuss any issue deemed by itself to be relevant, without fear of consequences stemming from defamatory statements or records thereof.
  • minutes of meetings, often known as Hansard, including an ability for the legislature to strike discussion from these minutes.

Most of the procedures of the Westminster system have originated with the conventions, practices and precedents of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which are a part of what is known as the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Unlike the unwritten British constitution, most countries that use the Westminster system have codified the system in a written constitution.

However, uncodified conventions, practices and precedents continue to play a significant role in most countries, as many constitutions do not specify important elements of procedure: for example, some older constitutions using the Westminster system do not mention the existence of the cabinet and/or the prime minister, because these offices were taken for granted by the authors of these constitutions. Sometimes these conventions, reserve powers and other influences collide in times of crisis, and in such times the weaknesses of the unwritten aspects of the Westminster system, as well as the strengths of the Westminster system's flexibility, are put to the test. One of the best, and the most recent example, is the 1975 Australian Constitutional Crisis, when the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on his own reserve power authority and replaced him with Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser.


The pattern of executive functions within a Westminster System is quite complex. In essence, the head of state, usually a monarch or president, is a ceremonial figurehead who is the theoretical, nominal or de jure source of executive power within the system. In practice, such a figure does not actively exercise executive powers, even though executive authority may be exercised in his/her name.

The head of government, usually called the prime minister or premier, will ideally have the support of a majority in the responsible house, and must in any case be able to ensure the existence of no absolute majority against the government. If the parliament passes a resolution of no confidence, or refuses to pass an important bill such as the budget, then the government must either resign so that a different government can be appointed or seek a parliamentary dissolution so that new general elections may be held in order to re-confirm or deny the government's mandate.

Executive authority within a Westminster System is essentially exercised by the Cabinet, along with more junior ministers, although the head of government usually has the dominant role within the ministry. In the United Kingdom, the sovereign theoretically holds executive authority, even though the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Cabinet effectively implement executive powers. In a parliamentary republic like India, the President is the de jure executive, even though executive powers are essentially instituted by the Prime Minister of India and the Council of Ministers.

As an example, the Prime Minister and Cabinet (as the de facto executive body in the system) generally must seek the permission of the head of state when carrying out executive functions. If, for instance the British Prime Minister wished to dissolve parliament in order for a general election to take place, the Prime Minister is constitutionally bound to request permission from the sovereign in order to attain such a wish. This power (along with others such as appointing ministers in the government, appointing diplomats, declaring war, and signing treaties, for example) are known as the Royal Prerogative, which in modern times are exercised by the sovereign solely on the advice of the Prime Minister. Since the British sovereign is a constitutional monarch, he or she abides by the advice of his or her ministers, except when executing reserve powers in times of crisis.

This custom also occurs in other Westminster Systems in the world, in consequence from the influence of British colonial rule. In Commonwealth Realms such as Canada, New Zealand or Australia, the Prime Minister is obligated to seek permission from the Governor-General when implementing executive decisions, in a manner similar to the British practice. An analogous scenario also exists in Commonwealth Republics, such as India or Trinidad and Tobago.

The head of state will often hold meetings with the head of government and cabinet, as a means of keeping abreast of governmental policy and as a means of advising, consulting and warning ministers in their actions. Such a practice takes place in the United Kingdom and India. In the UK, the sovereign holds confidential weekly meetings with the Prime Minister to discuss governmental policy and to offer her opinions and advice on issues of the day. In India, the Prime Minister is constitutionally bound to hold regular sessions with the President, in a similar manner to the aforementioned British practice. In essence, the head of state, as the theoretical executive authority, "reigns but does not rule". This phrase means that the head of state's role in government is generally ceremonial and as a result does not directly institute executive powers. The reserve powers of the head of state are sufficient to ensure compliance with some of their wishes. However, the extent of such powers varies from one country to another and is often a matter of controversy.

Such an executive arrangement first emerged in the United Kingdom. Historically, the British sovereign held and directly exercised all executive authority. George I of Great Britain was the first British monarch to delegate some executive powers to a Prime Minister and a cabinet of the ministers, largely because he was also the monarch of Hanover in Germany and did not speak fluent English. Over time, arrangement continued to exercise executive authority on the sovereign's behalf. Such a concept was reinforced in The English Constitution (1876) by Walter Bagehot, who emphasised the "dignified" and "efficient" aspects of government. In this sense Bagehot was stating that the sovereign should be a focal point for the nation, while the PM and cabinet actually undertook executive decisions.

Role of the head of state

The head of state or his/her representative (such as a governor general), formally invites the head of government to form a government (that is, an administration). In the UK, this is known as kissing hands. There are notable exceptions to the above in the Republic of Ireland, where the President of Ireland has a mandate through direct election, and the Taoiseach (prime minister) prior to appointment by the President of Ireland is nominated by the democratically elected lower house, Dáil Éireann.

Because of the mandate and the potentially significant constitutional powers of the Irish president, some authorities believe the Irish constitution is as similar to semi-presidential systems as it is to Westminster. Similarly, under the constitutions of some Commonwealth countries, a president or Governor-General may possess clearly significant reserve powers. One example is the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, in which the Governor-General dismissed the Prime Minister, who held a majority in the Australian House of Representatives. Because of differences in their written constitutions, the formal powers of presidents and Governors-General vary greatly from one country to another. However, as Governors-General are not directly elected, they lack the popular mandate held, for example, by an Irish president. Because of this, Governors-General rarely risk the public disapproval which could result from their making unilateral and/or controversial uses of their powers.

Although the dissolution of the legislature and the call for new elections is formally done by the head of state, by convention the head of state acts according to the wishes of the head of government.

In exceptional circumstances the head of state may either refuse a dissolution request, as in the Canadian King-Byng Affair, or dismiss the government, as in the Australian crisis of 1975. Either action is likely to bend or break existing conventions. The Lascelles Principles were an attempt to create a convention to cover similar situations, but have not been tested in practice.

Cabinet government

In The English Constitution, Bagehot emphasised the divide of the constitution into two components, the Dignified (that part which is symbolic) and the Efficient (the way things actually work and get done), and called the Efficient "Cabinet Government". Although there have been many works since emphasising different aspects of the "Efficient", no one has seriously questioned Bagehot's premise that the divide exists in the Westminster system.

Members of the Cabinet are collectively seen as responsible for government policy. All Cabinet decisions are made by consensus, a vote is rarely taken in a Cabinet meeting. All ministers, whether senior and in the Cabinet, or junior ministers, must support the policy of the government publicly regardless of any private reservations. When a Cabinet reshuffle is imminent, a lot of time is taken up in the conversations of politicians and in the news media, speculating on who will, or will not, be moved in and out of the Cabinet by the Prime Minister, because the appointment of ministers to the Cabinet, and threat of dismissal from the Cabinet, is the single most powerful constitutional power which a Prime Minister has in the political control of the Government in the Westminster system.

Linked to Cabinet government is the idea, at least in theory, that ministers are responsible for the actions of their departments. It is no longer considered to be an issue of resignation if the actions of members of their department, over whom the minister has no direct control, make mistakes or formulate procedures which are not in accordance with agreed policy decisions. One of the major powers of the Prime Minister under the Westminster system is to decide when a fellow minister is accountable for the actions of a department.

The Official Opposition and other major political parties not in the Government, will mirror the governmental organisation with their own Shadow Cabinet made up of Shadow Ministers.

Bicameral and unicameral parliaments

In a Westminster system, some members of parliament are elected by popular vote, while others are appointed. All Westminster-based parliaments have a lower house with powers based on those of the House of Commons (under various names), comprising local, elected representatives of the people. Most also have a smaller upper house, which is made up of members chosen by various methods:

  • De facto appointees of the cabinet or premier (such as the Canadian Senate and most members of the British House of Lords)
  • Direct election (such as the Australian Senate)
  • Election by sub-national governments (such as the Indian Rajya Sabha)
  • Membership determined only by heredity (91 members of the House of Lords)

In the UK, the lower house is the de facto legislative body, while the upper house practices restraint in exercising its constitutional powers and serves as a consultative body. In other Westminster countries, however, the upper house can sometimes exercise considerable power.

Some Westminster-derived parliaments are unicameral for two reasons:

  • some, such as the Parliament of New Zealand have abolished their upper houses
  • others have never had them, such as the Parliament of Malta and the Papua New Guinea Parliament.

Australia is, in many respects, a unique hybrid with influences from the United States Constitution as well as from the traditions and conventions of the Westminster system. Australia is exceptional because the government faces a fully elected upper house, the Senate, which must be willing to pass its budgets. Although government is formed in the lower house, the House of Representatives, the support of the Senate is necessary in order to govern. The Senate maintains the ability similar to that held by the British House of Lords, prior to the enactment of the Parliament Act 1911, to block supply against the government of the day. A government that is unable to obtain supply can be dismissed by the Governor-General: however, this is generally considered a last resort and is a highly controversial decision to take, given the conflict between the traditional concept of confidence as derived from the lower house and the ability of the Senate to block supply. Many political scientists have held that the Australian system of government was consciously devised as a blend or hybrid of the Westminster and the United States systems of government, especially since the Australian Senate is a powerful upper house like the U.S. Senate; this notion is expressed in the nickname "the Washminster mutation" . The ability of upper houses to block supply also features in the parliaments of most Australian states.


The office of a Westminster prime minister is often criticised for being too powerful, as he or she effectively determines when "consensus" is reached in cabinet, cabinet members do not have much independence to actively disagree with government policy, even for productive reasons. A cabinet member may be forced to resign simply for opposing one aspect of a government's agenda, even though they agreed with the majority of other proposals. Westminster cabinets also have a tendency to be very large. As cabinet is the chief organ of power and influence in the government, members of parliament may actively lobby for a position in cabinet once their party is elected to power. The Prime Minister, who is also party leader, will have an active interest in promoting as many these members from his own party as possible.

Westminster governments usually do not have a very strong tradition of separation of powers, in practice. Though the head of state, be it governor-general, monarch, or president, will have nominal powers to "check" those of the prime minister, in practice these individuals are usually regarded as little more than figureheads who are not expected to actively intervene in day-to-day politics. It must be noted, however, that Prime ministers under any Westminster system have ample freedom to appoint a large variety of individuals, such as judges, cabinet ministers, and other senior bureaucrats.

But it must also be remembered that prime ministers can usually do only as much as public opinion and the balance of party membership of parliament will let them do. And it is relatively rare that a prime minister will have a big enough majority to cancel opposition from smaller parties; in practice, government in most parliamentary systems is made up of coalitions, and prime ministers must keep the coalitions happy.

The threat posed by non-confidence votes is often used to justify extremely well-disciplined legislative parties in Westminster systems. In order to ensure the government always has the confidence of the majority of the house, the political culture of Westminster nations often makes it highly unusual for a legislator to vote against their party. Critics argue this in turn undermines the freedom and importance of Members of Parliament (MPs) in day-to-day legislating, making cabinet the only organ of government where individual legislators can aspire to influence the decisions of the government.

Most senior policy will be made at the cabinet level, regardless of what individual MPs may or may not decide in committee, thus reducing the strength of committees. Their greatest power is often the ability to force a government to reveal certain pieces of information.


The Westminster system has a very distinct appearance when functioning, with many British customs incorporated into day-to-day government function. A Westminster-style parliament is usually a long, rectangular room, with two rows of seats and desks on either side. The chairs are positioned so that the two rows are facing each other. This arrangement is said to have derived from an early Parliament which was held in a church choir. Traditionally, the opposition parties will sit in one row of seats, and the government party will sit in the other. Of course, sometimes a majority government is so large that it must use the "opposition" seats as well. In the lower house at Westminster (the House of Commons) there are lines on the floor in front of the government and opposition benches that members may cross only when exiting the chamber. It is often rumoured that the distance between the lines is that of the length of two swords although no documentary evidence exists to support this and in fact, weapons have never been allowed in the Palace of Westminster at any time.

At one end of the room sits a large chair, for the Speaker of the House. The speaker usually wears a black robe, and in many countries, a wig. Robed parliamentary clerks often sit at narrow tables between the two rows of seats, as well.

Other ceremonies sometimes associated with the Westminster system include an annual Speech from the Throne (or equivalent) in which the Head of State gives a special address (written by the government) to parliament about what kind of policies to expect in the coming year, and lengthy State Opening of Parliament ceremonies that often involve the presentation of a large ceremonial mace.


posted 18 Jan 2010, 03:48 by Davit Chumburidze


Theocracy is a form of government in which a god or deity is recognized as the state's supreme civil ruler, or in a higher sense, a form of government in which a state is governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. In Common Greek, “theocracy” means a rule [kra′tos] by God [the.os′]. For believers, theocracy is a form of government in which divine power governs an earthly human state, either in a personal incarnation or, more often, via religious institutional representatives (i.e., a church), replacing or dominating civil government. Theocratic governments enact theonomic laws.

Theocracy should be distinguished from other secular forms of government that have a state religion, or are merely influenced by theological or moral concepts, and monarchies held "By the Grace of God".

A theocracy may be monist in form, where the administrative hierarchy of the government is identical with the administrative hierarchy of the religion, or it may have two 'arms,' but with the state administrative hierarchy subordinate to the religious hierarchy.

History of the concept

The word theocracy originates from the Greek θεοκρατία, meaning "the rule of God". This in turn derives from the Greek words θεός (theós, from an Indo-European root occurring in religious concepts), meaning “god,” and κράτειν (krátein), meaning “to rule.” Thus the meaning of the word in Greek was “rule by god(s)” or human incarnation(s) of god(s).

It was first coined by Josephus Flavius in the first century A.D. to describe the characteristic government for Jews. Josephus argued that while the Greeks recognized three types of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and anarchy, the Jews were unique in that they had a system of government that did not fit into those categories. Josephus understood theocracy as a fourth form of government in which only God and his law is sovereign. Josephus' definition was widely accepted until the Enlightenment era, when the term started to collect more universalistic and undeniably negative connotations, especially in Hegel's hands.

The first recorded English use was in 1622, with the meaning "sacerdotal government under divine inspiration" (as in Biblical Israel before the rise of kings); the meaning "priestly or religious body wielding political and civil power" is recorded from 1825.

The word has been mostly used to label certain politically unpopular societies as less rational or developed. The concept is used in sociology and other social sciences, but the term is often used inaccurately, especially in popular rhetoric.

In the most common usage of the term theocracy, some civil rulers are leaders of the dominant religion (e.g., the Byzantine emperor as patron of the head of the official Church); the government claims to rule on behalf of God or a higher power, as specified by the local religion, and divine approval of government institutions and laws. These characteristics apply also to a caesaropapist regime. The Byzantine Empire however was not theocratic since the patriarch answered to the emperor, not vice versa; similarly in Tudor England the crown forced the church to break away from Rome so the royal (and, especially later, parliamentary) power could assume full control of the now Anglican hierarchy and confiscate most church property and income.

Taken literally or strictly, theocracy means rule by God or gods and refers primarily to an internal "rule of the heart", especially in its biblical application. The common, generic use of the term, as defined above in terms of rule by a church or analogous religious leadership, would be more accurately described as an ecclesiocracy.

In a pure theocracy, the civil leader is believed to have a direct personal connection with God. For example, a prophet like Moses led the Israelites, and the prophet Muhammad ruled the early Muslims. Law proclaimed by the ruler is also considered a divine revelation, and hence the law of God. An Ecclesiocracy, on the other hand, is a situation where the religious leaders assume a leading role in the state, but do not claim that they are instruments of divine revelation. For example, the prince-bishops of the European Middle Ages, where the bishop was also the temporal ruler. The papacy in the Papal States occupied a middle ground between theocracy and ecclesiocracy, since the pope did not claim he is a prophet who receives revelation from God, but merely the (in rare cases infallible) interpreter of already-received revelation. Religiously endorsed monarchies fall between these two poles, according to the relative strengths of the religious and political organs.

The example which Flavious gave for theocracy, the rule of the Temple of Jerusalem's High Priest, would under the present definition be an Ecclesiocracy, since these (often worldly) priests did not claim to have any revelation or direct connection with God.

Secular governments can also coexist with a state religion or delegate some aspects of civil law to religious communities. For example, in Israel civil marriage is governed by Jewish religious institutions for Jews, by Muslim religious institutions for Muslims, and by Christian religious institutions for Christians. India similarly delegates control of marriage and some other civil matters to the religious communities, in large part as a way of accommodating its Muslim minority. Egypt was run in both monarchic and theocracy in which the pharaoh was the head priest.

Current states with theocratic aspects


Iran's government is described as a "theocratic republic". Iran's head of state, or Supreme Leader, is an Islamic cleric appointed for life by an elected body called Assembly of Experts. The Council of Guardians, considered part of the executive branch of government, is responsible for determining if legislation is in line with Islamic law and customs (the Sharia), and can bar candidates from elections, and greenlight or ban investigations into the election process.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's legal system is based entirely on Islamic law, or Sharia. Islamic law dictates anything from prohibitions on non-Muslim proselytism, alcohol, pork products, fornication, and Women's Rights. It also dictates aspects of economic life. See Islamic Banking.

Holy See (Vatican City)

Following the unification of Italy, The Holy See (commonly known as the Vatican or Vatican City) became the last surviving territory of the former Papal States. In 1929, the Holy See was formally recognized as an independent state through treaties with the Italian government. The head of state of the Vatican is the pope, elected by the College of Cardinals, an assembly of senior Catholic clerics. A pope is elected for life, and voting is limited to cardinals under 80 years of age. A secretary of state, directly responsible for international relations, is appointed by the pope. The Vatican legal system is rooted in Canon Law, and subject to the dictates of the pope and changes to Canon Law made by conferences of senior clergy.

Historical theocracies

The largest and best known theocracies in history were the Umayyad and early Abassid Caliphate, and the Papal States. And as with any other state or empire, pragmatism was part of the politics of these de jure theocracies.


An example often given from Antiquity is Pharaonic Egypt when the king was a divine or semi-divine figure who ruled largely through priests. Properly speaking this was originally a caesaropapist order, rather than a theocratic one, since the worldly rulers took charge of religion, rather than vice versa, but once the pharaoh (since Ramses the Great) was recognized as a living (incarnated) god both definitions concurred.

In ancient Greece and Rome denying the gods of the state was a crime. In ancient Rome, the emperors were often deified.

Historical Christian theocracies

Protestant theocracies

Geneva, during the period of John Calvin's greatest influence and the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the "Puritans" had many characteristics of Protestant theocracies.


During the short reign (1494-1498) of Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican priest, the city of Florence could have been considered a theocracy. During his rule, un-Christian books, statues, poetry, and other items were burned (in the Bonfire of the Vanities), sodomy was made a capital offense, and other Christian practices became law.


Another ecclesiocracy was the administration of the short-lived State of Deseret, an independent entity briefly organized in the American West by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its original borders stretched from western Colorado to the southern California coast. When the Mormons arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847, the Great Basin was still a part of Mexico and had no secular government. As a result, Brigham Young administered the region both spiritually and temporally through the highly organized and centralized Melchizedek Priesthood. This original organization was based upon a concept called theodemocracy, a governmental system combining Biblical theocracy with mid-19th-century American political ideals, including heavy reliance upon the U.S. Constitution.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo resulted in the Mexican Cession by which Deseret was incorporated into the United States. In 1849, the Saints organized a secular government in Utah, although many ecclesiatical leaders maintained their positions of secular power. The Mormons also petitioned Congress to have Deseret admitted into the Union as a state. However, under the Compromise of 1850, Utah Territory was created and Brigham Young was appointed governor. In this situation, Young still stood as head of the LDS Church as well as Utah's secular government.

After the abortive Utah War of 1857-58, the replacement of Young by an outside Federal Territorial Governor, the eventual resolution of controversies regarding plural marriage, and accession by Utah to statehood, the apparent temporal aspects of LDS theodemocracy receded markedly. However, — like many Christians, Jews, and Muslims — Latter-day Saints regard some form of theocracy with God as the head (king) of a chiliastic world government to be the true political ideal. But, until the Second Coming of Christ, the Mormons teach in their 12th Article of Faith: submission to the powers that be. But true to their beliefs in individual liberty and moral accountability, they exhibit a strong preference for democratic-republican, representative government as embodied in the Constitution of the United States. See also Theodemocracy.


Montenegro offers a singular example of monarchs willingly turning their power to ecclesiastic authority (Serbian Orthodox), as the last of the House of Crnojević (styled Grand Voivode, not sovereign princes) did, in order to preserve national unity before the Ottoman onslaught as a separate millet under an autochthonous ethnarch. When Montenegro re-established secular dynastic succession by the proclamation of princedom in 1851, it did so in favor of the last Prince-bishop, who changed his style from Vladika i upravitelj Crne Gore i Brde "Vladika [bishop] and Ruler of Montenegro and Brda" to Po Bozjoj milosti knjaz i gospodar Crne Gore i Brde "By the grace of God Prince and Sovereign of Montenegro and Brda," thus rendering his de facto dynasty (the Petrović-Njegoš family since 1696) a hereditary one.

Historical Islamic theocracies

In Islam, the period when Medina was ruled by the Islamic prophet Muhammad is, occasionally, classed as a theocracy. By 630, Muhammad had established a theocracy in Makkah. Most Sunni Muslims believe that only the Prophet Muhammad was able to be both a governmental as well as religious leader. Other plausible examples of Islamic theocracy might be Mahdist Sudan and the Taliban state in Afghanistan (1996-2001). Most irregular was the non-permanent rule of the Akhoonds (imams) in the later princely state of Swat, a valley in (first British India's, later Pakistan's) North-West Frontier Province. Theocratic movements arose in the Arab world in the 1970s.

Historical Buddhist theocracies

Unified religious rule in Tibet began in 1642, when the Fifth Dalai Lama allied with the military power of the Mongol Gushri Khan to consolidate the political power and control centered around his office as head of the Gelug school. Prior to 1642, particular monasteries and monks had held considerable power throughout Tibet, but had not achieved anything approaching complete control, though power continued to be held in a diffuse, feudal system after the ascension of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Power in Tibet was held by a number of traditional elites, including members of the nobility, the heads of the major Buddhist sects (including their various tulkus), and various large and influential monastic communities. Tibet during this period existed as a feudal theocracy, with a large class of serfs (consisting largely of non-noble Buddhist laymen) working on estates owned by monastic leaders and members of the secular aristocracy.

Political power was sometimes used by monastic leaders to suppress rival religious schools through the confiscation of property and direct violence.Social mobility was somewhat possible through the attainment of a monastic education, or recognition as a reincarnated teacher, but such institutions were dominated by the traditional elites and governed by political intrigue. Non-Buddhists in Tibet were members of an outcast underclass.

Mongolia also had a theocratic lama before the Soviets installed a satellite communist state, but there since the start in 1639 when the son of the Mongol Khan of Urga was named a Living Buddha (Bogdo gegeen), the dynasty espoused theocracy and secular aristocracy

Islam and democracy

posted 18 Jan 2010, 03:26 by Davit Chumburidze

Islam and democracy

Known as Islamic democracy, two kinds of democratic states can be recognized in the Islamic countries. The basis of this distinction has to do with how comprehensively Islam is incorporated into the affairs of the state.

  1. A democratic state which recognizes Islam as state religion, such as Malaysia, Pakistan, Algeria. Some religious values are incorporated into public life, but Islam is not the only source of law.
  2. A democratic state which endeavours to institute Sharia. It is also called as Islamist democracy. Islamist democracy offers more comprehensive inclusion of Islam into the affairs of the state. Islamist democracy is a highly controversial topic.

On democracies with religious law, see Religious democracy.

The compatibility of Islam and democracy

Most Islamic democracies fall under the first definition, leading many to dismiss the compatibility of Islam with democracy. If democracy is for the people, of the people and by the people, Islam prohibits many areas on which these fundamentals can not be practised. In Islam only God reserves the right to make laws while in democarcy people make laws. As these are exact opposites of each other democracy (as understood in West) is incompatible with Islam. This prohibition of Law making by people is reiterated in many verses from Quran,

"Do they then seek the legislation of (the Days of) Ignorance? And who is better in legislating than God for a people who have Faith." [5:50]

"And whoever rules not by what God has revealed, those are the wrongdoers." [5:45]

"The rule is only for God." [12:40]

"And He (God) allows none to share in his rule." [18:26]

In Sunni Islam it is also prohibited to allow or prohibit anything for which a ruling from God Almighty already exists based on this tradition of Prophet Muhammad, Adi Ibn Hatim was a Christian before becoming a Muslims and it is reported through him that he heard Prophet Muhammad reciting this Qur'anic verse "They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides God, and Messiah, son of Mary (as a lord too), while they were commanded to worship none but One God, none has the right to be worshipped but He. Praise and glory is to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)." (Qur'an 9:31)to this Adi Ibn Hatim said: "We don't worship them." Prophet Muhammad replied: "Do they not forbid what God has permitted and do you not then forbid it (for yourselves), and do they not make permissible for you what God has forbidden, and do you not then make it permissible (to yourselves)?" Adi Ibn Hatim replied: "Certainly!" Then Prophet Muhammad said: "That is worshipping them." (Tirmidhi).

Critics also argue that Islam and secularism are opposite forces, that theocracy is incompatible with democracy, and that Islamic culture lacks the liberal social attitudes of democratic societies. However, even if humans are not law-makers strictly speaking, they must still implement divine law by following a procedure of mutual consultation (shura). Therefore, there is some degree of common ground between Islam and democracy, at the level of the procedures of decision-making.

Thus, others argue that the concepts of liberalism and democratic participation were already present in the medieval Islamic world.Azizah Y. al-Hibri, for example, argues that Medina during the Prophet Muhammad's time was an early example of a democratic state but that the development of democracy in the Islamic world eventually came to a halt following to the Sunni–Shia split.

Sunni viewpoint

The democratic ideal of a "government by the people" is compatible with the nation of an Islamic democracy. Deliberations of the Caliphates were not democratic in the modern sense (rather, decision-making power lay with a council of notables or clan patriarchs), they show that some appeals to popular consent are permissible (though not necessarily required) within Islam.

In the early Islamic Caliphate, the head of state, the Caliph, had a position based on the notion of a successor to Muhammad's political authority, who, according to Sunnis, were ideally elected by the people or their representatives, as was the case for the election of Uthman. After the Rashidun Caliphs, later Caliphates during the Islamic Golden Age had a lesser degree of democratic participation, but since "no one was superior to anyone else except on the basis of piety and virtue" in Islam, and following the example of Muhammad, later Islamic rulers often held public consultations with the people in their affairs.

The power of the Caliph (or later, the Sultan) was restricted by the scholarly class, the Ulema, a group regarded as the guardians of the law. Since the law came from the legal scholars, this prevented the Caliph from dictating legal results. Laws were decided based on the Ijma (consensus) of the Ummah (community), which was most often represented by the legal scholars. In order to qualify as a legal scholar, it was required that they obtain a doctorate known as the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") from a Madrasah. In many ways, classical Islamic law functioned like a constitutional law.

Democratic religious pluralism also existed in classical Islamic law, as the religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as seen in the early Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Islamic India, and the Ottoman Millet system.

Much debate occurs on the subject of which Islamic traditions are fixed principles, and which are subject to democratic change, or other forms of modification in view of changing circumstances. Some Muslims allude to an "Islamic" style of democracy which would recognize such distinctions.. Another sensitive issue involves the status of monarchs and other leaders, the degree of loyalty which Muslims owe such people, and what to do in case of a conflicting loyalties (e.g., if a monarch disagrees with an imam).

Shi'a viewpoint

According to the Shi'a understanding, Muhammad named as his successor (as leader, with Muhammad being the final prophet), his son-in-law Ali. Therefore the first three of the four "Rightly Guided" Caliphs recognized by Sunnis ('Ali being the fourth), are considered usurpers, notwithstanding their having been "elected" through some sort of conciliar deliberation (which the Shia do not accept as a representative of the Muslim society of that time). The largest Shi'a grouping—the Twelvers branch which rules Iran--recognizes a series of Twelve Imams, the last of which (Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Hidden Imam) is still alive and the Shi'a are waiting for his reappearance. The second-largest Shi'i sect, the Ismaili, recognize a different lineage of Imams.

Since the revolution in Iran, Twelver Shi'a political thought has been dominated by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Imam Khomeini argued that in the absence of the Hidden Imam and other divinely-appointed figures (in whom ultimate political authority rests), Muslims have not only the right, but also the obligation, to establish an "Islamic state." To that end they must turn to scholars of Islamic law (fiqh) who are qualified to interpret the Qur'an and the writings of the imams. Khomeini distinguishes between Conventional Fiqh and Dynamic Fiqh, which he believes to also be necessary.

Khomeini divides the Islamic commandments or Ahkam into three branches:

  • the primary commandments (Persian: حكم اوليه)
  • the secondary commandments (Persian: حكم ثانويه) and
  • the state commandments (Persian: حكم حكومتي).

This last includes all commandments which relate to public affairs, such as constitutions, social security, insurance, bank, labour law, taxation, elections, congress etc. Some of these codes may not strictly or implicitly pointed out in the Qur'an and generally in the Sunnah, but should not violate any of the two, unless there's a collision of rules in which the more important one is given preference (an apparent, but not inherent, violation of a rule). Therefore, Khomeini emphasized that the (elected) Islamic state has absolute right (Persian: ولايت مطلقه) to enact state commandments, even if it (appears as if it) violates the primary or secondary commandments of Islam. This should happen when a more important primary or secondary commandment is in danger because of some limitations.

For example an (elected) Islamic state can ratify (according to some constitutions) mandatory insurance of employees to all employers being Muslim or not even if it violates mutual consent between them. This shows the compatibility of Islam with modern forms of social codes for present and future life, as various countries and nations may have different kinds of constitutions now and will may have new ones in future.

Philosophical viewpoint

The early Islamic philosopher, Al-Farabi (c. 872-950), in one of his most notable works Al-Madina al-Fadila, theorized an ideal Islamic state which he compared to Plato's The Republic. Al-Farabi departed from the Platonic view in that he regarded the ideal state to be ruled by the prophet-imam, instead of the philosopher king envisaged by Plato. Al-Farabi argued that the ideal state was the city-state of Medina when it was governed by Muhammad as its head of state, as he was in direct communion with God whose law was revealed to him. In the absence of the prophet-imam, Al-Farabi considered democracy as the closest to the ideal state, regarding the republican order of the Rashidun Caliphate as an example within early Muslim history. However, he also maintained that it was from democracy that imperfect states emerged, noting how the republican order of the early Islamic Caliphate of the Rashidun caliphs was later replaced by a form of government resembling a monarchy under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.

A thousand years later, the modern Islamic philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), also viewed the early Islamic Caliphate as being compatible with democracy. He "welcomed the formation of popularly elected legislative assemblies" in the Muslim world as a "return to the original purity of Islam." He argued that Islam had the "germs of an economic and democratic organization of society", but that this growth was stunted by the expansive Muslim conquests, which established the Caliphate as a great Islamic empire but led to political Islamic ideals being "repaganized" and the early Muslims losing sight of the "most important potentialities of their faith."


"Today, two groups prevent the genuine reform movement seeking religious democracy: One group consists of those who think the less freedom a society enjoys, the stronger religion will be. They oppose the democratic process. The second is the group including those who believe that religion should be put aside from the scene of life in order to establish democracy and freedom."

Two major arguments against the possibility of a democratic Islamic state are as follow:

  • The Secularist argument is that democracy requires that the people be sovereign and that religion and state be separated. Without this separation there can be no freedom from tyranny. This does not apply however when people themselves choose Islam as the 'religion of the state'. In democratic terms, this is not inherently different from ratifying non-Islamic rules.
  • The Legalist argument is that, democracy may be accepted in a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. society but it can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society, because non-Muslim societies do not have Sharia, the comprehensive system of life to which its adherents should be committed. In this view anything outside of the rigid, but pervasive, interpretation of the Sharia is rejected and the absolute sovereignty of God prevails such that there is no role, but interpretation, for the sovereignty of people in the ethics of the state. Mohammed Omar and his followers never made any claims that the Islamic State of Afghanistan was any sort of democracy, while the leaders of Iran do (they call it 'mardomsalarie dini', which means 'religious democracy').

Islamic democratic systems do not have the same human rights issues as other democracies. Some matters which may cause friction include appeasing anti-democratic Islamists, non-Muslim religious minorities, the role of Islam in state education (especially with regard to Sunni and Shia traditions), women's rights (see: Islamic feminist movement). This is further complicated by the deriving of punishments from Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, where, as in other legal systems, precedent assists the judiciary to come to a decision. Since the judiciary is not independent of a system of religious codes that are essentially the teachings of the Life of Mohammed and that all understanding of Allah and the world is fixed therein and is not subject to human understanding outside of the inspired wisdom of Mohammed, Islam itself has been hampered from developing new ideas.

In addition, while some Islamic democracies ban alcohol outright, as it is against the religion, other governments allow the individual to choose whether to transgress Islam themselves. In these instances, while the act will be considered wrong by Muslims, the penalty is seen to be a spiritual not a worldly one.

Islamic democracy in practice

Legal scholar L. Ali Khan argues that Islam is fully compatible with democracy. In his book, A Theory of Universal Democracy, Khan provides a critique of liberal democracy and secularism. He presents the concept of "fusion state" in which religion and state are fused. There are no contradictions in God's universe, says Khan. Contradictions represent the limited knowledge that human beings have. According to the Qur'an and the Sunnah, Muslims are fully capable of preserving spirituality and self-rule.

Furthermore, counter arguments to these points assert that this attitude presuppose democracy as a static system which only embraces a particular type of social and cultural system, namely that of the post-Christian West.

Muslim democrats, including Ahmad Moussalli (professor of political science at the American University of Beirut), argue that concepts in the Qur'an point towards some form of democracy, or at least away from despotism. These concepts include shura (consultation), ijma (consensus), al-hurriyya (freedom), al-huqquq al-shar'iyya (legitimate rights). For example shura (Aal `Imran 3:159, Ash-Shura 42:38) may include electing leaders to represent and govern on the community’s behalf. Government by the people is not therefore necessarily incompatible with the rule of Islam, whilst it has also been argued that rule by a religious authority is not the same as rule by a representative of Allah. This viewpoint, however, is disputed by more traditional Muslims. Moussalli argues that despotic Islamic governments have abused the Qur'anic concepts for their own ends: "For instance, shura, a doctrine that demands the participation of society in running the affairs of its government, became in reality a doctrine that was manipulated by political and religious elites to secure their economic, social and political interests at the expense of other segments of society," (In Progressive Muslims 2003).

A further argument against Islamic democracy in practice, is that some democratic governments in Islamic states are not homegrown, but imposed by the West, such as the one in Afghanistan and the nascent post-Baathist regime in Iraq.

As of 2009, U.S.-based organization Freedom House considers Indonesia and Mali as the only Muslim-majority countries that are fully-fledged free electoral democracies.


Pakistan started off as the first category but has moved increasingly with the 1973 constitution to the second category, though frequent military coups have halted its democratic evolution.

Middle East

Waltz writes that transformations to democracy seemed on the whole to pass the Islamic Middle East by at a time when such transformations were a central theme in other parts of the world, although she does note that, of late, the increasing number of elections being held in the region indicates some form of adoption of democratic traditions. There are several ideas on the relationship between Islam in the Middle East and democracy. Writing on The Guardian website, Brian Whitaker, the paper's Middle East editor, argued that there were four major obstacles to democracy in the region: the Imperial legacy, oil wealth, the Arab–Israeli conflict and militant or "backward-looking" Islam.

The imperial legacy includes the borders of the modern states themselves and the existence of significant minorities within the states. Acknowledgment of these differences is frequently suppressed usually in the cause of "national unity" and sometimes to obscure the fact that minority elite is controlling the country. Brian Whitaker argues that this leads to the formation of political parties on ethnic, religious or regional divisions, rather than over policy differences. Voting therefore becomes an assertion of one's identity rather than a real choice.

The problem with oil and the wealth it generates is that the states' rulers have the wealth to remain in power, as they can pay off or repress most potential opponents. Brian Whitaker argues that as there is no need for taxation there is less pressure for representation. Furthermore, Western governments require a stable source of oil and are therefore more prone to maintain the status quo, rather than push for reforms which may lead to periods of instability. This can be linked into political economy explanations for the occurrence of authoritarian regimes and lack of democracy in the Middle East, particularly the prevalence of rentier states in the Middle East. A consequence of the lack of taxation that Whitaker talks of in such rentier economies is an inactive civil society. As civil society is seen to be an integral part of democracy it raises doubts over the feasibility of democracy developing in the Middle East in such situations.

Whitaker's third point is that the Arab–Israeli conflict serves as a unifying factor for the countries of the Arab League, and also serves as an excuse for repression by Middle Eastern governments. For example, in March 2004 Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's leading Shia cleric, is reported as saying "We have emergency laws, we have control by the security agencies, we have stagnation of opposition parties, we have the appropriation of political rights - all this in the name of the Arab-Israeli conflict". The West, especially the USA, is also seen as a supporter of Israel, and so it and its institutions, including democracy, are seen by many Muslims as suspect. Khaled abu el-Fadl, a lecturer in Islamic law at the University of California comments "modernity, despite its much scientific advancement, reached Muslims packaged in the ugliness of disempowerment and alienation."

This repression by Arab rulers has led to the growth of radical Islamic movements, as they believe that the institution of an Islamic theocracy will lead to a more just society. However, these groups tend to be very intolerant of alternative views, including the ideas of democracy. Many Muslims who argue that Islam and democracy are compatible live in the West, and are therefore seen as "contaminated" by non-Islamic ideas.

Orientalist scholars offer another viewpoint on the relationship between Islam and democratisation in the Middle East. They argue that the compatibility is simply not there between secular democracy and Arab-Islamic culture in the Middle East which has a strong history of undemocratic beliefs and authoritarian power structures. Kedourie, a well known Orientalist scholar, said for example: "to hold simultaneously ideas which are not easily reconcilable argues, then, a deep confusion in the Arab public mind, at least about the meaning of democracy. The confusion is, however, understandable since the idea of democracy is quite alien to the mind-set of Islam." A view similar to this that understands Islam and democracy to be incompatible because of seemingly irreconcilable differences between Sharia and democratic ideals is also held by some Islamists. However, within Islam there are ideas held by some that believe Islam and democracy in some form are indeed compatible due to the existence of the concept of Shura (meaning consultation) in the Qur’an. Views such as this have been expressed by various thinkers and political activists in the Middle East.



The idea and concept of Islamic democracy has been accepted by many Iranian clerics, scholars and intellectuals.The most notable of those who have accepted the theory of Islamic Democracy is probably Iran's Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who mentions Islamic Democracy as "Mardomsalarie Dini" in his speeches.

There are also other Iranian scholars who oppose or at least criticise the concept of Islamic democracy. Among the most popular of them are Ayatollah Makarim al-Shirazi who have written: "If not referring to the people votes would result in accusations of tyranny then it is allowed to accept people vote as a secondary commandment." Also Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi has more or less the same viewpoint.

On the other hand, clergy like Yousefi Eshkevari believe that: The obligatory religious commandments in public domain not necessarily imply recognition of religious state. These obligations can be interpreted as the power of Muslims' religious conscience and applying that through civil society. These clergies strictly reject the concept of Islamic state regardless of being democratic or not. They also believe no relationship between Islam and democracy at all, opposing the interpretation of clergy like Ayatollah Makarim al-Shirazi from Islamic state. But they do not mention how legal laws as an example can not be implemented using civil societies and how to administer a country relying on conscience only.


Some Iranians, including Mohammad Khatami, categorize the Islamic republic of Iran as a kind of religious democracy. They maintain that Ayatollah Khomeini held the same view as well and that's why he strongly chose "Jomhoorie Eslami" (Islamic Republic) over "Hokoomate Eslami" (Islamic State).

Other maintain that not only is the Islamic Republic of Iran undemocratic (see Politics of Iran) but that Khomeini himself opposed the principle of democracy in his book Hokumat-e Islami: Wilayat al-Faqih, where he denied the need for any legislative body saying, "no one has the right to legislate ... except ... the Divine Legislator", and during the Islamic Revolution, when he told Iranians, "Do not use this term, 'democratic.' That is the Western style." (Although it is in contrast with his commandment to Bazargan (see Iranian Revolution). It is a subject of lively debate among pro-Islamic Iranian intelligentsia. Also they maintain that Iran's sharia courts, the Islamic Revolutionary Court, blasphemy laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Mutaween (religious police) violate the principles of democratic governance. However, it should be understood that when a democracy is accepted to be Islamic by people, the law of Islam becomes the democratically ratified law of that country. Iranians have ratified the constitution in which the principle rules are explicitly mentioned as the rules of Islam to which other rules should conform.


Islamic democracy entered into mainstream politics after the government and the Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace deal establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. A political party (Union of Muslim Democrats of the Philippines) was established in order to allow Muslims to participate further in the democratic system. This party became the ruling party of that region. Currently, the party has merged with the ruling party of the nation Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, a political party incorporating elements of both Christian and Islamic democracy.


posted 18 Jan 2010, 02:18 by Davit Chumburidze


Sultan (Arabic: سلطانSulṭān) is an Islamic title, with several historical meanings. Originally it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", or "rulership", derived from the masdar سلطة sulṭah, meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain Muslim rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), without claiming the overall Caliphate, or it was used to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate. It then developed some further meanings in certain contexts.

The dynasty and lands ruled by a sultan are referred to as a sultanate (Arabic: سلطنة‎).

Sultan Mehmed II: Ottoman Empire - Oil on Canvas by Gentile Bellini-1480

Muslim ruler under the terms of shariah (king/Prince)

The title carries moral weight and religious authority, as the ruler's role was defined in the Qur'an. The sultan however is not a religious teacher himself, and in constitutional monarchies, the sultanship can be reduced to a more limited role.

The first to carry the title of "sultan" was the Turkmen chief Mahmud of Ghazni (ruled 998 - 1030 CE). Later, "sultan" became the usual title of rulers of Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers in Egypt. The religious validation of the title was illustrated by the fact that the shadow Caliph in Cairo bestowed the title "Sultan" on Murad I, the third ruler of the emerging Ottoman Empire in 1383; its earlier sovereigns had been beys or emirs, a lower rank in the orders of protocol.

At later stages, lesser rulers assumed the title "sultan", as was the case for the earlier leaders of today's royal family of Morocco. Today, only the Sultan of Oman, the Sultan of Brunei (both sovereign nations), the Sultans of Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Selangor and Terengganu (within the constitutive states of the federation) in Malaysia, and the titular sultans of Sulu , Maguindanao , and Lanao Provinces in the southern Philippines and Java (Indonesia) regions still use the title. The sultan's domain is properly called a sultanate.

A feminine form, used by Westerners, is sultana or sultanah; the very styling misconstrues the roles of wives of sultans. In a similar usage, the wife of a German Field-Marshal might be styled Feldmarschallin (in French, similar constructions of the type madame la maréchalle are quite common). The rare female leaders in Muslim history are correctly known as "sultanas". In the Sultanate of Sulu, the wife of the Sultan is styled as the "Panguian", not "sultana".

Among those modern hereditary rulers who wish to emphasize their secular authority under the rule of law, the term is gradually being replaced by 'king' (i.e., malik in Arabic).

Compound ruler titles

These are generally secondary titles, either lofty 'poetry' or with a message; e.g.:

  • Mani Sultan = Manney Sultan, meaning 'the Pearl of Rulers', or less poetically Honoured Monarch, was a subsidiary title, part of the full style of the Maharaja of Travancore
  • Sultan of Sultans is the 'sultanic equivalent' of King of Kings
  • Certain secondary titles have a devout Islamic connotation, e.g., Sultan ul-Mujahidin as champion of jihad bis saif (holy war to establish Islamic rule)
  • Sultanic Highness was a rare, hybrid western-Islamic honorific style, exclusively used by the son, daughter-in-law and daughters of Sultan Husain Kamil of Egypt (a British protectorate since 1914), who bore it with their primary titles of Prince (Arabic Amir, Turkish Prens) or Princess, after 11 October 1917. They enjoyed these for life, even after the Royal Rescript regulating the styles and titles of the Royal House after the Egyptian Independence in 1922, when the sons and daughters of the newly styled King (Arabic Misr al-Malik, considered a promotion) were granted the title Sahib(at) us-Sumuw al-Malik, or Royal Highness).


posted 18 Jan 2010, 00:39 by Davit Chumburidze


A republic is a form of government in which the head of state is not a monarch and the people (or at least a part of its people) have an impact on its government. The word 'republic' is derived from the Latin phrase res publica, which can be translated as "a public affair".

Both modern and ancient republics vary widely in their ideology and composition. The most common definition of a republic is a state without a monarch. In republics such as the United States and France the executive is legitimated both by a constitution and by popular suffrage. In the United States, Founding Fathers like James Madison defined republic in terms of representative democracy as opposed to only having direct democracy, and this usage is still employed by many viewing themselves as "republicans". In modern political science, republicanism refers to a specific ideology that is based on civic virtue and is considered distinct from ideologies such as liberalism.

Most often a republic is a sovereign country, but there are also subnational entities that are referred to as republics. For instance, Article IV of the Constitution of the United States "guarantee[s] to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government." The Soviet Union was a single nation composed of distinct and legally sovereign Soviet Socialist Republics.

Niccolò Machiavelli described the governance and foundation of the ideal republic in his work Discourses on Livy. These writings, as well as those of his contemporaries such as Leonardo Bruni, are the foundation of the ideology political scientists call republicanism.

Origin of the term

The idea of a republic first appeared in the writings of Italian scholars of the Renaissance, most importantly Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli divided governments into two types, principalities ruled by a monarch and republics ruled by the people.

In medieval Northern Italy a number of city states had commune or signoria based governments. In the late Middle Ages writers, such as Giovanni Villani, began thinking about the nature of these states and the differences from the more common monarchies. These early writers used terms such as libertas populi to describe the states. The terminology changed in the 15th century as the renewed interest in the writings of Ancient Greece and Rome caused writers to prefer using classical terminology. To describe non-monarchial states writers, most importantly Leonardo Bruni, adopted the Latin word res publica.

While Bruni and Machiavelli used the term to describe the non-monarchial states of Northern Italy, res publica has a set of interrelated meanings in the original Latin. The term can quite literally be translated as 'public matter.' It was most often used by Roman writers to refer to the state and government,even during the period of the Roman Empire.The English word commonwealth derives from a direct translation of res publica, and its use in English is closer to how the Romans used the term res publica.

Niccolò Machiavelli defined republic in The Prince by stating that "all states, all the dominions that have had or now have authority over men have been and now are either republics or princedoms." Today the term republic still most commonly means a system of government which derives its power from the people rather than from another basis, such as heredity or divine right. This remains the primary definition of republic in most contexts.

This bipartite division of government types differs from the classical sources, and also the earlier of Machiavelli's own works, which divided governments into three types, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. As Machiavelli wrote, the distinction between an aristocracy ruled by a select elite and a democracy ruled by a council appointed by the people became cumbersome. By the time Machiavelli began work on The Prince he had decided to refer to both aristocracy and democracies as republics.

A further set of meanings for the term comes from the Greek word politeia. Cicero, among other Latin writers, translated politeia as res publica and it was in turn translated by Renaissance scholars as republic. This is not a very accurate translation and the term politeia is today usually translated as form of government or regime. One continued use of this archaic translation is the title of Plato's major work on political science. In Greek it was titled Politeia and in English is thus known as The Republic. This naming is preserved for historic reasons, but is not considered accurate. Within the text of modern translations of The Republic alternative translations of politeia are used.

In English the word first came to prominence during The Protectorate era of Oliver Cromwell. While commonwealth was the most common term to call the new monarchless state, republic was also in common use.


Until modern times, the form of government for almost all states was monarchy. During the classical period the Mediterranean region was home to several states that are now known as the classical republics.

Several republics also developed during the Middle Ages in the merchant dominated city states. Beginning in the 18th century larger states began becoming republics, and in the 21st century only a minority of countries are monarchies.

Classical republics

The concept of the "republic" itself was not a meaningful concept in the classical world. There are number of states of the classical era that are today by convention called republics. These include the city states of ancient Greece such as Athens and Sparta and the Roman Republic. The structure and governance of these states was very different from that of any modern republic. There is a debate about whether the classical, medieval, and modern republics form a historic continuum. JGA Pocock has played a central role, arguing that there is a distinct republican traditional that stretches from the classical world to the present. Other scholars disagree. Paul Rahe, for instance, argues that the classical republics had a form of government with few links to those in any modern country.

The political philosophy of the classical republics has had a central influence on republican thought throughout the subsequent centuries. A number of classical writers discussed forms of government alternative to monarchies and later writers have treated these as foundational works on the nature of republics. Philosophers and politicians advocating for republics, such as Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Adams, and Madison, relied heavily on these sources.

Aristotle's Politics discusses various forms of government. One form Aristotle named politeia consisted of a mixture of the other forms he argued this was one of the ideal forms of government. Polybius expanded on many of these ideas, again focusing on the idea of mixed government. The most important Roman work in this tradition is Cicero's De re publica.

Over time the classical republics were either conquered by empires or became one themselves. Most of the Greek republics were annexed to the Macedonian Empire of Alexander. The Roman Republic expanded dramatically conquering the other states of the Mediterranean that could be considered republics, such as Carthaginian Republic. The Roman Republic itself then became the Roman Empire.

                                                                                                                                                                    A map of the Roman Empire

Other ancient republics

In the pre-modern period republics are generally considered to have been a solely European phenomenon, and states in other parts of the world with similar governments are not generally referred to as republics. Some early states outside of Europe had governments that are sometimes today considered similar to republics. In the ancient Near East, a number of cities of the Eastern Mediterranean achieved collective rule. Arwad has been cited as one of the earliest known examples of a republic, in which the people, rather than a monarch, are described as sovereign. The Israelite confederation of the era before the United Monarchy has also been considered a type of republic.

One part of the world where much attention has been paid ancient republics is India. In the early 20th century a number of Indian scholars, most notably as KP Jayaswal, argued that a number of states of ancient India had republican forms of government. Unlike in Greece there are no surviving constitutions or works of political philosophy from this period in Indian history. The forms of government thus need to be deduced, mostly from the surviving religious texts. These texts do refer to a number of states having Gaṇa sangha, or council based, as opposed to monarchial governments.

A second form of evidence comes from Greeks writing about India during the period of contact following the conquests of Alexander. Greek writers about India such as Megasthenes and Arrian describe many of the states there to have republican governments akin to those of Greece. Beginning around 700 BCE republics developed in a band running along the Indus Valley in the northwest and along the Ganges Plain in the northeast. They were mainly small states, though some confederations of republics seem to have formed that covered large areas, such as Vajji, which had Vaishali as its capital around 600 BCE .

As in Greece, the republican era came to an end in the 4th century with the rise of a monarchial empire. The Maurya Empire conquered almost the entire subcontinent, ending the autonomy of the small republics. Some did remain republics under Mauryan suzerainty, or returned to being republics after the fall of the empire. Madra, for instance, survived as a republic until the 4th century CE. The final end of republics in India came with the rise of the Gupta Empire, and an associated philosophy of the divine nature of monarchy.

Mercantile republics

In Europe new republics appeared in the late Middle Ages when a number of small states embraced republican systems of government. These were generally small, but wealthy, trading states in which the merchant class had risen to prominence. Haakonssen notes that by the Renaissance Europe was divided with those states controlled by a landed elite being monarchies and those controlled by a commercial elite being republics.

Giovan Battista Tiepolo, Neptune offers

the wealth of the sea to Venice, 1748–50.

This painting is an allegory of the power

of the Republic of Venice.

Across Europe a wealthy merchant class developed in the important trading cities. Despite their wealth they had little power in the feudal system dominated by the rural land owners, and across Europe began to advocate for their own privileges and powers. The more centralized states, such as France and England, granted limited city charters.

In the more loosely governed Holy Roman Empire fifty-one of the largest towns became free imperial cities. While still under the dominion of the Holy Roman Emperor most power was held locally and many adopted republican forms of government. The same rights to imperial immediacy were secured by the major trading cities of Switzerland. The towns and villages of alpine Switzerland had, courtesy of geography, also been largely excluded from central control. Unlike Italy and Germany much of the rural area was thus not controlled by feudal barons, but instead by independent farmers who also used communal forms of government. When the Habsburgs tried to reassert control over the region both rural farmers and town merchants joined the rebellion. The Swiss were victorious, and the Swiss Confederacy was proclaimed, and Switzerland has retained a republican form of government to the present.

Italy was the most densely populated area of Europe, and also one with the weakest central government. Many of the towns thus gained considerable independence and adopted commune forms of government. Completely free of feudal control, the Italian city-states expanded, gaining control of the rural hinterland. The two most powerful were the Republic of Venice and its rival the Republic of Genoa. Each were large trading ports, and further expanded by using naval power to control large parts of the Mediterranean. It was in Italy that an ideology advocating for republics first developed. Writers such as Bartholomew of Lucca, Brunetto Latini, Marsilius of Padua, and Leonardo Bruni saw the medieval city-states as heirs to the legacy of Greece and Rome.

The dominant form of government for these early republics was control by a limited council of elite patricians. In those areas that held elections, property qualifications or guild membership limited both who could vote and who could run. In many states no direct elections were held and council members were hereditary or appointed by the existing council. This left the great majority of the population without political power, and riots and revolts by the lower classes were common. The late Middle Ages saw more than two hundred such risings in the towns of the Holy Roman Empire.Similar revolts occurred in Italy, notably the Ciompi Revolt in Florence.

Protestant republics

While the classical writers had been the primary ideological source for the republics of Italy, in Northern Europe the Protestant Reformation would be used as justification for a new set up republics. Most important was Calvinist theology, which developed in the Swiss Confederacy, one of the largest and most powerful of the medieval republics. John Calvin did not call for the abolition of monarchy, but he advanced the doctrine that the faithful had the right to overthrow irreligious monarchs. Calvinism also espoused a fierce egalitarianism and an opposition to hierarchy. Advocacy for republics appeared in the writings of the Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion

Calvinism played an important role in the republican revolts in Britain and the Netherlands. Like the city-states of Italy and the Hanseatic League both were important trading centres, with a large merchant class prospering from the trade with the New World. Large parts of the population of both areas also embraced Calvinism. The Dutch Revolt, beginning in 1568, saw the Dutch Republic reject the rule of Hapsburg Spain in a long conflict that would last until 1648.

In 1641 the English Civil War began. Spearheaded by the Puritans and funded by the merchants of London the revolt was a success, and King Charles I was executed. In England James Harrington, Algernon Sydney, and John Milton became some of the first writers to argue for rejecting monarchy and embracing a republican form of government. The English Commonwealth was short lived, and the monarchy soon restored. The Dutch Republic continued in name until 1795, but by the mid 18th century the stadholder had become a de facto monarch. Calvinists were also some of the earliest settlers of the British and Dutch colonies of North America.

Liberal republics

As well these initial republican revolts early modern Europe also saw a great increase in monarchial power. The era of absolute monarchy replaced the limited and decentralized monarchies that had existed in most of the Middle Ages. It also saw a reaction against the total control of the monarch as a series of writers created the ideology known as liberalism.

Most of these Enlightenment thinkers were far more interested in ideas of constitutional monarchy than in republics. The Cromwell regime had discredited republicanism, and most thinkers felt that republics ended in either anarchy or tyranny. Thus philosophers like Voltaire opposed absolutism while at the same time being strongly pro-monarchy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu did praise republics, and looked on the city-states of Greece as a model, but both also felt that a nation-state like France, with 20 million people, would be impossible to govern as a republic. Rousseau described his ideal political structure of small self governing communes. Montesquieu felt that a city-state should ideally be a republic, but maintained that a limited monarchy was better suited to a large nation.             

An allegory of the Republic in Paris

The American Revolution thus began as a rejection only of the authority of the British parliament over the colonies. With the Declaration of Independence the leaders of the revolt firmly embraced republicanism. The leaders of the revolution were well versed in the writings of the French liberal thinkers, and also in history of the classical republics. John Adams had notably written a book on republics throughout history.

The French Revolution was also not republican at its outset. Only after the Flight to Varennes removed most of the remaining sympathy for the king was a republic declared and Louis XVI sent to the guillotine. The stunning success of France in the French Revolutionary Wars saw republics spread by force of arms across much of Europe as a series of client republics were set up across the continent. The rise of Napoleon saw the end of the First French Republic, and his eventual defeat allowed the victorious monarchies to put an end to many of the oldest republics on the continent, including Venice, Genoa, and the Dutch.


Septinsular Republic flag from the early 1800s

Outside of Europe another group of republics was created as the Napoleonic Wars allowed the states of Latin America to gain their independence. Liberal ideology had only a limited impact on these new republics. The main impetus was the local European descended Creole population in conflict with the Peninsulares governors sent from overseas. The majority of the population in most of Latin America was of either African or Amerindian decent, and the Creole elite had little interest in giving these groups power and broad based popular sovereignty. Simón Bolívar was both the main instigator of the revolts and one of its most important theorists was sympathetic to liberal ideals, but felt that Latin America lacked the social cohesion for such a system to function and advocated autocracy as necessary.

In Mexico this autocracy briefly took the form of a monarchy in the First Mexican Empire. Due to the Peninsular War, Portuguese court was relocated to Brazil in 1808. Brazil gained independence as a monarchy in September 7, 1822, and the Empire of Brazil lasted until 1889. In the other states various forms of autocratic republic existed until most were liberalized at the end of the 20th century.

19th century France would see the creation of the briefly lived Second French Republic in 1848 and Third French Republic in 1871. Spain saw the briefly lived First Spanish Republic, but the monarchy was soon restored. By the start of the 20th century France and Switzerland remained the only republics in Europe. Before the First World War, Portuguese Republic, established by the revolution of October, 5, 1910, was the first of the 20th Century. This would encourage new republics in the aftermath of the First World War when several of the largest European empires collapsed. The German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russian Empire, and Ottoman Empire were then replaced by republics. New states gained independence during this turmoil, and many of these, such as Ireland, Poland, Finland and Czechoslovakia, chose republican forms of government. In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) turned into a civil war would be the prelude of the Second World War.

Republican ideas were spreading, importantly to Asia. The United States began to have considerable influence in East Asia in the later part of the 19th century, with Protestant missionaries playing a central role. The liberal and republican writers of the west also exerted influence. These combined with native Confucian inspired political philosophy that had long argued that the populace had the right to reject unjust government that had lost the Mandate of Heaven.

Two short lived republics were proclaimed in East Asia, the Republic of Formosa and the First Philippine Republic. China had seen considerable anti-Qing sentiment, and a number of protest movements developed calling for constitutional monarchy. The most important leader of these efforts was Sun Yat-sen whose Three Principles of the People combined American, European, and Chinese ideas. The Republic of China was proclaimed on January 1, 1912.

Socialist republics

Strictly speaking, any real or hypothetical state organized along the principles of socialism may be called a socialist state.The term socialist republic is used by those socialists who wish to emphasize that they favour a republican form of government. Furthermore, since socialism purports to represent the interests of the working class, many socialists refer to a state organized according to their principles as a workers' state.

Communist republics

People's Republic, also especially in other languages Popular Republic, is a title that has often been used by Marxist-Leninist governments to describe their state. The motivation for using this term lies in the claim that Marxist-Leninists govern in accordance with the interests of the vast majority of the people, and, as such, a Marxist-Leninist republic is a people's republic. Many of these countries also called themselves socialist states in their constitutions; Albania, for instance, used both terms, "socialist" and "people's," in its official name from 1976 to 1991. Opponents of Marxism-Leninism argue that the name "people's republic" is merely used for propaganda purposes.

In the West, countries governed by Marxist-Leninists are referred to as "Communist states," though they never actually used this name for themselves and used the term countries of people's democracy.

In the 1990s, many of the self-styled "People's Republics" of Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria) and Mongolia dropped the term and became known simply as "Republics" as they adopted democratic systems of government — the term "People's Republic" being associated with the former Communist regimes.

Western Media may sometimes use just The People's Republic to refer to the People's Republic of China. When western media cover news which is reporting about Cross-Strait relations, they may sometimes use just the People's Republic to differentiate between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (Mainland China), though more often they simply say "Taiwan" and "China". However in Chinese media and scholars on both sides, usually refer to the People's Republic of China as "Mainland" and Republic of China as "Taiwan" to avoid referring to them directly as countries and getting caught up in a debate on their political status.

Two other current Marxist-Leninist states include the words People's Republic in their full names:

  • North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)
  • Laos (Lao People's Democratic Republic)

Historical examples include:

  • People's Republic of Albania (1946–1976)
  • Socialist People's Republic of Albania (1976–1992)
  • People's Republic of Angola (1975–1992)
  • People's Republic of Benin (1975–1990)
  • People's Republic of Bukhara (1920–1924)
  • People's Republic of Bulgaria (1946–1990)
  • People's Republic of the Congo (1970–1992)
  • People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1987–1991)
  • Hungarian People's Republic (1949–1989)
  • People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1989)
  • Mongolian People's Republic (1924–1992)
  • People's Republic of Mozambique (1975–1990)
  • People's Republic of Poland (1952–1989)
  • Romanian People's Republic (1947–1965)
  • Tuvinian People's Republic (1921–1944)
  • Ukrainian People's Republic (1917–1919)
  • People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) (1967–1970)
  • Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (1946-1963)

Other titles commonly used by Marxist-Leninist states are Democratic Republic (e.g. the German Democratic Republic or the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia between 1943 and 1946), and "Socialist Republic" (e.g. the Socialist Republic of Vietnam).

However, neither of the two titles mentioned above, nor the term "People's Republic" itself, are unique to Marxist-Leninists. All three of them have also been used by a number of countries which are/were not Marxist-Leninist. The reason for this is the rather generic nature of the titles in question. Marxist-Leninists are by no means alone in claiming to be democratic, socialist or popular. Thus, at the present time, there are three People's Republics which do not subscribe to Marxism-Leninism:

  • Algeria (People's Democratic Republic of Algeria)
  • Bangladesh (People's Republic of Bangladesh)
  • Libya (Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya)


The years after the Second World War saw most of the remaining European colonies gain their independence, and most became republics. The two largest colonial powers were France and the United Kingdom. Republican France encouraged the establishment of republics in its former colonies. Great Britain attempted to follow the model it had for its earlier settler colonies of creating independent commonwealth realms still linked under the same monarchy. While most of the settler colonies and the smaller states of the Caribbean retained this system, it was rejected by the newly independent countries in Africa and Asia who revised their constitutions and became republics.

In the Middle East Britain followed a different model. It installed local monarchies in several colonies and mandates including Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, and Libya. In subsequent decades revolutions and coups overthrew a number of monarchs and installed republics. Several monarchies remain, and the Middle East is the only part of the world where several large states are ruled by monarchs with almost complete political control.

A poster that commemorates the permanent President of the Republic of

China Yuan Shikai and the provisional President of the Republic

Islamic republics

Islamic political philosophy has a long history of opposition to absolute monarchy, notably in the work of Al-Farabi. The law, sharia, took precedence over the will of the ruler, and electing rulers by means of the Shura was an important doctrine. While the early caliphate maintained the principles of an elected ruler, later states became hereditary or military dictatorships though many maintained some pretense of a consultative shura.

None of these states are typically referred to as republics. The current usage of republic in Muslim countries is borrowed from the western meaning, adopted into the language in the late 19th century. The 20th century saw republicanism become an important idea in much of the Middle East as monarchies were removed in many states of the region. Some such as Iraq and Turkey became secular republics. In Iran the Iranian Revolution overthrew the monarchy and created an Islamic Republic based the ideas of Islamic democracy.

A map of the Commonwealth republics

Head of state


With no monarch, most modern republics use the title president for the head of state. Originally used to refer to the presiding officer of a committee or governing body in Great Britain the usage was also applied to political leaders, including the leaders of some of the Thirteen Colonies (originally Virginia in 1608); in full, the "President of the Council." The first republic to adopt the title was the United States of America. Keeping its usage as the head of a committee the President of the Continental Congress was the leader of the original congress. When the new constitution was written the title of President of the United States was conferred on the head of the new executive branch. Today almost all republics use the title president for the head of state.

If the head of state of a republic is also the head of government, this is called a presidential system. There are a number of forms of presidential government. A full-presidential system has a president with substantial authority and a central political role. The United States was the first example of such a system, and the basis for the model adopted elsewhere. In other states the legislature is dominant and the president's role is almost purely ceremonial and apolitical, such as in Germany and India.

These states are parliamentary republics and operate similarly to constitutional monarchies with parliamentary systems where the power of the monarch is also greatly circumscribed. In parliamentary systems the head of government, most often titled prime minister, exercises the most real political power. Semi-presidential systems have a president as an active head of state, but also have a head of government with important powers.

The rules for appointing the president and the leader of the government, in some republics permit the appointment of a president and a prime minister who have opposing political convictions: in France, when the members of the ruling cabinet and the president come from opposing political factions, this situation is called cohabitation.

In some countries, like Switzerland and San Marino, the head of state is not a single person but a committee (council) of several persons holding that office. The Roman Republic had two consuls, appointed for a year.


In liberal democracies presidents are elected, either directly by the people or indirectly by a parliament or council. Typically in presidential and semi-presidential systems the president is directly elected by the people, or is indirectly elected as done in the United States. In that country the president is officially elected by an electoral college, chosen by the States, all of which do so by direct election of the electors. The indirect election of the president through the electoral college conforms to the concept of republic as one with a system of indirect election. In the opinion of some, direct election confers legitimacy upon the president and gives the office much of its political power. However, this concept of legitimacy differs from that expressed in the United States Constitution which established the legitimacy of the United States president as resulting from the signing of the Constitution by 9 states. The idea that direct election is required for legitimacy also contradicts the spirit of the Great Compromise, whose actual result was manifest in the clause that provides voters in smaller states with slightly more representation in presidential selection than those in large states.

In states with a parliamentary system the president is usually elected by the parliament. This indirect elections subordinates the president to the parliament, and also gives the president limited legitimacy and turns most presidential powers into reserve powers that can only be exercised under rare circumstance. There are exceptions where elected presidents have only ceremonial powers, such as in the Republic of Ireland.


The distinction between a republic and a monarchy are not always clear. The constitutional monarchies of the former British Empire and Western Europe today have almost all real political power vested in the elected representatives, with the monarchs only holding theoretical and rarely used reserve powers. Real legitimacy for political decisions comes from the elected representatives and is derived from the will of the people. While hereditary monarchies remain in place, political power is derived from the people as in a republic. These states are thus sometimes referred to as crowned republics.

Terms such as liberal republic are also used to describe all of the modern liberal democracies.

There are also self proclaimed republics that act similarly to monarchies with absolute power vested in the leader and passed down from father to son. North Korea and Syria are two notable examples where a son has inherited political control. Neither of these states are officially monarchies. There is no constitutional requirement that power be passed down within one family, but it has occurred in practice.

There are also elective monarchy where ultimate power is vested in a monarch, but the monarch is chosen by some manner of election. A current example of such a state is Malaysia where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected every five years by the Conference of Rulers composed of the nine hereditary rulers of the Malay states. While rare today, elective monarchs were common in the past. The Holy Roman Empire is an important example, where each new emperor was chosen by a group of electors. Islamic states also rarely employed primogeniture instead relying on various forms of election to chose a monarchs successor.

The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had an elective monarchy, with a wide suffrage of some 500,000 nobles. The system, known as the Golden Liberty, had developed as a method for powerful landowners to control the crown. The proponents of this system looked to classical examples, and the writings of the Italian Renaissance, and called their elective monarchy a rzeczpospolita, based on res publica.


In the early 21st century, most states that are not monarchies label themselves as republics either in their official names or their constitutions. There are a few exceptions: the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Israel and the Russian Federation. Israel, Russia, and Libya would meet many definitions of the term republic, however.

Since the term republic is so vague by itself, many states felt it necessary to add additional qualifiers in order to clarify what kind of republics they claim to be. Here is a list of such qualifiers and variations on the term "republic":

  • Without other qualifier than the term Republic — for example France and Turkey.
  • Parliamentary republic — a republic, like India, Bangladesh, with an elected Head of state, but where the Head of state and Head of government are kept separate with the Head of government retaining most executive powers, or a Head of state akin to a Head of government, elected by a Parliament.
  • Federal republic, confederation or federation — a federal union of states or provinces with a republican form of government. Examples include Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Germany, India, Russia and Switzerland.
  • Islamic Republic — Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran are republics governed in accordance with Islamic law. (Note: Turkey is a distinct exception and is not included in this list; while the population is predominantly Muslim, the state is a staunchly secular republic.)
  • Arab Republic — for example, Syria its name reflecting its theoretically pan-Arab Ba'athist government.
  • People's Republic — Countries like China, Vietnam are meant to be governed for and by the people, but with indirect elections. The term People's Republic is used to differential themselves from the earlier republic of their countries before the people's revolution, like Republic of China and Republic of Korea.
  • Democratic Republic — Tends to be used by countries who have a particular desire to emphasize their claim to be democratic; these are typically Communist states and/or ex-colonies. Examples include the German Democratic Republic (no longer in existence) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) — Both words (English and Polish) are derived from the Latin word res publica (literally "common affairs"). Used for both the current Republic of Poland, and the old Nobility Commonwealth. Apart from the Polish term, it should be noted that some subnational entities with republican governments (e.g. Virginia and Puerto Rico), as well as some sovereign monarchies (e.g. Australia and The Bahamas), also style themselves "commonwealths."
  • Free state — Sometimes used as a label to indicate implementation of, or transition from a monarchical to, a republican form of government. Used for the Irish Free State (1922–1937) under an Irish Republican government, while still remaining associated with the British Empire.
  • Venezuela has been using, since the adoption of the 1999 constitution, the title of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
  • Other modifiers are rooted in tradition and history and usually have no real political meaning. San Marino, for instance, is the "Most Serene Republic" while Uruguay is "República Oriental", which implies it lies on the eastern bank of the Uruguay River.
Republics of the world as of 2006. red - full presidential system - green - executive presidency linked to a parliament - olive - semi-presidential system - orange - parliamentary republics - brown - republics whose constitutions grant only a single party the right to govern

Sub-national republics

In general being a republic also implies sovereignty as for the state to be ruled by the people it cannot be controlled by a foreign power. There are important exceptions to this, for example, Republics in the Soviet Union were member states which had to meet three criteria to be named republics:

  1. be on the periphery of the Soviet Union so as to be able to take advantage of their theoretical right to secede;
  2. be economically strong enough to be self-sufficient upon secession; and
  3. be named after at least one million people of the ethnic group which should make up the majority population of said republic.

Republics were originally created by Stalin and continue to be created even today in Russia. Russia itself is not a republic but a federation. It is sometimes argued that the former Soviet Union was also a supra-national republic, based on the claim that the member states were different nations.

States of the United States are required, like the federal government, to be republican in form, with final authority resting with the people. This was required because the states were intended to create and enforce most domestic laws, with the exception of areas delegated to the federal government and prohibited to the states. The founding fathers of the country intended most domestic laws to be handled by the states, although, over time, the federal government has gained more and more influence over domestic law. Requiring the states to be a republic in form was seen as protecting the citizens' rights and preventing a state from becoming a dictatorship or monarchy, and reflected unwillingness on the part of the original 13 states (all independent republics) to unite with other states that were not republics. Additionally, this requirement ensured that only other republics could join the union.

In the example of the United States, the original 13 British colonies became independent states after the American Revolution, each having a republican form of government. These independent states initially formed a loose confederation called the United States and then later formed the current United States by ratifying the current U.S. Constitution, creating a union of sovereign states with the union or federal government also being a republic. Any state joining the union later was also required to be a republic.


posted 18 Jan 2010, 00:32 by Davit Chumburidze


Technocracy is a hypothetical form of government in which engineers, scientists, and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields. The term technocracy derives from the Greek words tekhne meaning skill and kratos meaning power, as in government, or rule. Thus the term technocracy denotes a system of government where those who have knowledge, expertise or skills compose the governing body. In a technocracy decision makers would be selected based upon how highly knowledgeable they are, rather than how much political capital they hold.

Technocrats are individuals with technical training and occupations who perceive many important societal problems as being solvable, often while proposing technology-focused solutions. The administrative scientist Gunnar K. A. Njalsson theorizes that technocrats are primarily driven by their cognitive "problem-solution mindsets" and only in part by particular occupational group interests. Their activities and the increasing success of their ideas are thought to be a crucial factor behind the modern spread of technology and the largely ideological concept of the "Information Society." Technocrats may be distinguished from "econocrats" and "bureaucrats" whose problem-solution mindsets differ from those of the technocrats.

In all cases technical and leadership skills are selected through bureaucratic processes on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than democratic elections. Some forms of technocracy are a form of meritocracy, a system where the "most qualified" and those who decide the validity of qualifications are the same people. Other forms have been described as not being an oligarchic human group of controllers, but rather an administration by science without the influence of special interest groups.

Development of the term

William Henry Smyth, a Californian engineer, invented the word "technocracy" in 1919 to describe "the rule of the people made effective through the agency of their servants, the scientists and engineers". Smyth used the term "Technocracy" in his 1919 article "'Technocracy'—Ways and Means to Gain Industrial Democracy," in the journal Industrial Management (57). However, Smyth's usage referred to Industrial democracy: a movement to integrate workers into decision making through existing firms or revolution. The term came to mean government by technical decision making in 1932.

Technocracy and engineering

Technocracy is one solution to a problem faced by engineers in the early twentieth century. Following Samuel Haber Donald Stabile argues that engineers were faced with a conflict between physical efficiency and cost efficiency in the new corporate capitalist enterprises of the late nineteenth century United States. Profit-conscious, non-technical managers of firms where the engineers work, because of their perceptions of market demand, often impose limits on the projects that engineers desire to undertake.

Workers do not perform according to the specifications of the engineer's plans, and the prices of all inputs vary with market forces thereby upsetting the engineer's careful calculations. As a result, the engineer loses control over projects and must continually revise plans. To keep control over projects the engineer must attempt to exert control over these outside variables and transform them into constant factors.


posted 17 Jan 2010, 17:10 by Davit Chumburidze


Meritocracy is a system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon demonstrated talent and ability (merit). In a meritocracy, society rewards (via wealth, position, and social status) those who show talent and competence as demonstrated by past actions or by competition. Evaluation systems, such as formal education, are closely linked to notions of meritocracy.

This is opposed to other value systems, where reward and legitimacy is based upon possession of wealth (plutocracy), origin (aristocracy), family connections (nepotism), property (oligarchy), friendship (cronyism), seniority (gerontocracy), popularity (democracy) or other historical determinants of social position and political power.

Technocracy is a form of meritocracy, whereby appointments for positions are made based on demonstrated technical expertise.

Origin of term

The term 'meritocracy' was first used in Michael Young's 1958 satirical book Rise of the Meritocracy. The term was intended to be pejorative, and his book was set in a dystopian future in which one's social place is determined by IQ plus effort. In the book, this social system ultimately leads to a social revolution in which the masses overthrow the elite, who have become arrogant and disconnected from public sentiment.

Despite the negative origin of the word, there are many who believe that a meritocratic system is a good thing. Proponents argue that a meritocratic system is more just and more productive than other systems, and that it allows for an end to distinctions based on arbitrary criteria such as sex, race, wealth and social connections. Conversely, detractors of meritocracy point to the central dystopian aspect of Young's conception: the existence of a meritocratic class that monopolizes access to merit and the symbols and markers of merit, thereby perpetuating its own power, social status, and privilege.

Meritocracy has been criticized as a myth which merely serves to justify the status quo; merit can always be defined as whatever results in success. Thus whoever is successful can be portrayed as meriting (deserving) success, rather than success being in fact predicated on rational, predetermined criteria of merit.

The Composition

The following governing principles comprise meritocracies: Job placement is not] awarded due to experience or expertise, but instead it is awarded 1) on the basis of merit (although experience, expertise and seniority tend to result in greater merit), 2) on the conditions of the opportunity under the application of the job principle and 3) to one that specifies the rewards for job attainment. These principles however, do not account for injustices but disregard them. Not all meritocrats operate in this manner. Most evaluate the structure of job equalities and inequalities through human abilities and personalities that allow them to perform job tasks to the best of their abilities.

Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism is a social theory which holds that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is a model, not only for the development of biological traits in a population, but also can be applied to human social institutions. Social Darwinism was at its most popular from the late 19th century to the end of World War II. Proponents of Social Darwinism argue that the theory perfectly justifies social inequality as being meritocratic. Darwin himself only propounded his theories in a biological sense, and it is other theorists and thinkers who have attempted to use Darwin to justify discompassionate ambition and exploitation.


In Merit and Justice, Amartya Sen complains about the lack of a precise definition of what merit is meant to be (and consequently meritocracy). One of his main criticisms of the common account of meritocracy can be clearly seen in such examples as Singapore and Open Source Projects: it is the "confounding merit of actions with that of persons (and possibly of groups of people)". Singapore and Open Source Projects choose their leaders through past performance in tests and code submitted respectively, so merit is given to people (based on past performance) instead of their actions (which would need continuous assessment).

The Peter principle, "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence" notes that meritocracy promotes individuals based on the ability to perform their prior assignment, not the new assignment.

Another issue facing proponents of meritocracy is the arbitrariness in the definition of merit, and what qualifies as such. Who decides or judges what is considered to be merit is another challenge for some forms of meritocracy, and can lead to the centralization of power into the hands of a few judges or officials who decide upon such. Other forms of meritocracy, such as technocracy, are more resilient to these issues as "demonstrated technical expertise" is easier to measure objectively than an abstract conception of "merit".

Notice that merits can be given among a group of individuals with the same background and flawed schooling. Imagine language professors with the same minority background miss-crediting students with a better feeling for the language as a whole. For another example imagine an astronomer who can calculate the positions of the planets and is merited for it. This highly merited astronomer can very well believe that the planets are dots or flat and miss-credit other astronomers who suspect that these planets are spherical. Many similar examples of highly merited individuals can be found (also in science-history) who have promoted only other individuals with whom they share the same view with and therefore "know" will in their turn merit them back.

Individual proponents


Main article: Confucianism#Meritocracy

"In teaching there should be no distinction of classes." - Analects XV. 39. tr. Legge Many western admirers of Confucius, such as Voltaire and H. G. Creel, have pointed out an innovative and revolutionary idea of Confucius': he replaced the nobility of blood with one of virtue. Jūnzǐ (君子), which had meant "superior person," coming from the contemporary meaning of the literal translation "son of the ruler," slowly took on a new meaning close to the English term "gentleman" (long before the emergence of English). In this way a virtuous plebeian who cultivated his virtuous qualities could be a "gentleman", whilst a shameless son of a King was only a "small man". That Confucius allowed any kind of student to be his disciple - his teachings were intended to train future rulers - is a clear indication that he didn't wholly support feudal structures in Chinese society.

Osei Kofi Tutu I

Osei Tutu selected government officials through merit rather than by birth.


Plato's concept of the ideal government presented in his Republic is innately meritocratic.

Han Feizi

In addition to Confucius, another ancient Chinese philosopher of the same period (that of the Warring States) advocated a meritocratic system of government and society. This was Han Feizi who was famous as the foremost proponent of the School of Law, otherwise known as the philosophy of Legalism. This had, as its central tenet, the absolute rule of law, but also contained numerous meritocratic elements. Another Legalist, Shang Yang implemented Legalist and meritocratic reforms in the state of Qin by abolishing the aristocracy and promoting individuals based on their skill, intelligence, and initiative. This led to the armies of the Qin gaining a critical edge over the other nations that adhered to old aristocratic systems of government. Legalism, along with its anti-aristocratic, pro-meritocratic ideals, remained a key part of Chinese philosophy and politics for another two millennia, although after the Qin Dynasty it was heavily diluted. But meritocratic governance within the bureaucracy remains a key stone of Chinese government all the way to the present. This can be most clearly seen in the use of standardized "imperial examinations" to determine entry into the official class, which began in the Sui Dynasty.

 Genghis Khan

Meritocracy was the primary basis for selection of chiefs and generals in the Mongol Empire. Genghis Khan chose whomever was talented and fit for his military chain of command. He even trusted generals and soldiers from opponents' armies if they showed loyalty to their leaders. For example, Genghis Khan's general Jebe had been an enemy soldier who had shot Genghis in battle before he became Great Khan.


Napoleonic (Revolutionary) France is considered to have been meritocratic. After the revolution of 1792 hardly a member of the former elite remained. When Napoleon rose to power, there was no ancient base from which to draw his staff, and he had to choose the people he thought best for the job, including officers from his army, revolutionaries who had been in the peoples' assembly, and even some former aristocrats such as prime minister Talleyrand. This policy was summed up in Bonaparte's often-quoted phrase "La carrière ouverte aux talents", careers open to the talented, or as more freely translated by Thomas Carlyle, "the tools to him that can handle them". A clear example is the order of the Légion d'honneur, the first order of merit, admitting men of any class. They were judged not by ancestry or wealth but by military, scientific or artistic prowess.

A later non-meritocratic practice, however, was Bonaparte's appointment of family members and Corsican friends to important positions (specifically regional leadership); loyalty may have been a more important factor than sheer merit in performance, a common case in political situations.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate of meritocratic types of government, believing them superior to all other known forms of government; in more general terms, he believed a noble "natural aristocracy" would arise to look after the common good.

Early Socialists

Early utopian socialist thinkers advocated meritocracies or technocracies based on equal opportunities for all individuals to realize their own potential for the benefit of society as a whole.[11] Administration based upon experts, or those who work hardest, was a strong rationale for ridding social inequality, which instead leads to judgments about a persons worth based on their race, gender or economic class rather than their intellectual capacity or talent.

Meritocratic states


Among modern nation-states, the Republic of Singapore claims to be meritocratic, placing a great emphasis on identifying and grooming bright young citizens for positions of leadership (e.g., Lee Kuan Yew).] The Singaporean interpretation places overwhelming emphasis on academic credentials as objective measures of merit.

Meritocracy is a central political concept in Singapore, due in part to the circumstances surrounding the city-state's rise to independence. Singapore was expelled from neighboring Malaysia in 1965 as a result of the unwillingness of the majority of its population, mostly ethnic Chinese, to accept a "special position" for the self-proclaimed Bumiputra (Malay for "inheritors of the earth"), the Malays. The federal Malaysian government had argued for a system which would give special privileges to the Malays as part of their "birthright" as an "indigenous" people. Political leaders in Singapore vehemently protested against this system, arguing instead for the equality of all citizens of Malaysia, with places in universities, government contracts, political appointments, etc., going to the most deserving candidates, rather than to those chosen on the basis of connections or ethnic background. The ensuing animosity between State and Federal governments eventually proved irreconcilable; Singapore was expelled and became an independent city-state. To this day, Singapore continues to hold up meritocracy as one of its official guiding principles for domestic public policy formulation.

There is criticism backed by evidence that this system has some serious disadvantages: for one, Singaporean society is being increasingly stratified; and, for another, an elite class is being created from just a narrow segment of the population.Commentators have also criticized the city-state for not applying the meritocracy principle uniformly; they cite, for example, the disproportionate influence and presence of the family of the founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in both political and business circles. Although most Singaporeans still agree that the city-state's tremendous economic success has been due in part to its strong emphasis on developing and promoting talented leaders,[15] there are more and more signs that an increasing number of Singaporeans believe Singapore is instead becoming an elitist society. Defendants claim the ancient Chinese proverb that 'Wealth does not pass three generations', suggesting that elitists will eventually be, and often are, replaced by those lower down the hierarchy. Indeed, many top political leaders in Singapore (and also China) come from peasant backgrounds, while modern peasants boast about their great ancestry, though the current Prime Minister is the son of a former Prime Minister.

A 2008 article in the International Political Science Review titled "Meritocracy and Elitism in a Global City: Ideological Shifts in Singapore" argues that:

The concept of meritocracy is unstable as its constituent ideas are potentially contradictory. The egalitarian aspect of meritocracy, for example, can come into conflict with its focus on talent allocation, competition, and reward. In practice, meritocracy is often transformed into an ideology of inequality and elitism. In Singapore, meritocracy has been the main ideological resource for justifying authoritarian government and its pro-capitalist orientation. Through competitive scholarships, stringent selection criteria for party candidacy, and high ministerial salaries, the ruling People’s Action Party has been able to co-opt talent to form a "technocratic" government for an "administrative state".

Grand Duchy of Finland

Another example is 19th-century Finland, which was formally ruled by an autocrat, though in practice governing was exercised by the educated class. Although ancestry and inherited wealth did influence one's educational opportunities, education and not ancestry was the principal requirement for admittance to, and promotion within, the civil service and government. Well into the mid-20th century, academic degrees remained important factors for politicians asking for the electorate's confidence.

Venetian Republic

Lasting 1,112 years, the Republic of Venice at times used a system based on meritocracy to decide the membership of its ruling council. Each year, citizens were assessed based on the number of merit points earned through their successes — in academia, with works or art, in business ventures, and so on — and the top names were appointed to the council. The council's role was legislative, judicial and executive, and it elected a Doge, on the understanding that any councillor who voted to appoint a Doge who later took Venice to war and lost would, along with that Doge, be put to death. In practice, however, a relatively small number of influential families usually provided the bulk of the council nominees year after year.

Meritocracy Online

Although formal meritocracies are uncommon online, informal ones are quite prevalent. They often occur in online games such as MMORPGs where the best players are more likely to become guild leaders or be otherwise influential, although the ability to invest large amounts of time and/or money is also important. This is also the case for many discussion forums, since the most knowledgeable users often have better chances of becoming moderators.

Further, due to the nature of online interaction, where identity and anonymity are more readily managed then in direct interaction, the effects of social inequity can often be discounted in online communities. Intelligence, effort, education, and personality may be readily conveyed in an online interaction but a person's gender, race, religion, and social standing can be easily obfuscated or left entirely unsaid.

Current Proponents

The United Kingdom Meritocracy Party  campaigns to promote the replacement of democracy by meritocracy as seen in its essay "The Deserved Death of Democracy" .

Open Source

There is a general tendency among open source projects toward meritocracy; the more able a programmer or developer seems, the higher their position (albeit informal) will be. The Apache Software Foundation is an example of an (open source) organization which officially claims to be a meritocracy.


posted 17 Jan 2010, 11:53 by Davit Chumburidze   [ updated 17 Jan 2010, 16:41 ]


Democracy is a political government either carried out directly by the people (direct democracy) or by means of elected representatives of the people (Representative democracy). The term is derived from the Greek: δημοκρατία - (dēmokratía) "the power to the people", which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (krátos) "power", in the middle of the fifth-fourth century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC. Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy',[3] there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes, equality and freedom. These principles are reflected by all citizens being equal before the law, and having equal access to power, and freedom is secured by legitimized rights and liberties, which are generally protected by a constitution.

There are several varieties of democracy, some of which provide better representation and more freedoms for their citizens than others. However, if any democracy is not carefully legislated to avoid an uneven distribution of political power with balances, such as the separation of powers, then a branch of the system of rule could accumulate power and become harmful to the democracy itself.

The "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without responsible government or constitutional protections of individual liberties from democratic power it is possible for dissenting individuals to be oppressed by the "tyranny of the majority". An essential process in representative democracies is competitive elections, that are fair both substantively and procedurally. Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential so that citizens are informed and able to vote in their personal interests.

Popular sovereignty is common but not a universal motivating subject for establishing a democracy. In some countries, democracy is based on the philosophical principle of equal rights. Many people use the term "democracy" as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include additional elements such as political pluralism, equality before the law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and elements of civil society outside the government.

In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a supporting attribute, but in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the dominant philosophy is parliamentary sovereignty (though in practice judicial independence is generally maintained). In other cases, "democracy" is used to mean direct democracy. Though the term "democracy" is typically used in the context of a political state, the principles are also applicable to private organizations and other groups.

Democracy has its origins in Ancient Greece. However other cultures have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy such as Ancient Rome, Europe, and North and South America. The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment and in the American and French Revolutions. Democracy has been called the "last form of government" and has spread considerably across the globe. The Right to vote has been expanded in many Jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups (such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group), with New Zealand the first nation to grant universal suffrage for all its citizens in 1893. Suffrage still remains a controversial issue with regard to disputed territories, areas with significant immigration, and countries that exclude certain demographic groups.

History of democracy

Ancient origins

The term democracy first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought. The philosopher Plato contrasted democracy, the system of "rule by the governed", with the alternative systems of monarchy (rule by one individual), oligarchy (rule by a small élite class) and timocracy. Although Athenian democracy is today considered by many to have been a form of direct democracy, originally it had two distinguishing features: firstly the allotment (selection by lot) of ordinary citizens to government offices and courts, and secondarily the assembly of all the citizens.

All citizens were eligible to speak and vote in the Assembly, which set the laws of the city-state. However, the Athenian citizenship was only for males born from a father who was citizen and who had been doing their "military service" between 18 and 20 years old; this excluded women, slaves, foreigners (μετοίκος / metoikos) and males under 20 years old. Of the 250,000 inhabitants only some 30,000 on average were citizens. Of those 30,000 perhaps 5,000 might regularly attend one or more meetings of the popular Assembly. Most of the officers and magistrates of Athenian government were allotted; only the generals (strategoi) and a few other officers were elected.

A serious claim for early democratic institutions comes from the independent "republics" of India, sanghas and ganas, which existed as early as the sixth century BC and persisted in some areas until the fourth century AD. The evidence is scattered and no pure historical source exists for that period. In addition, Diodorus (a Greek historian at the time of Alexander the Great's excursion of India), without offering any detail, mentions that independent and democratic states existed in India.

A possible example of primitive democracy may have been the early Sumerian city-states. Vaishali in what is now Bihar, India is also one of the first governments in the world to have elements of what we would today consider democracy, similar to those found in ancient Greece. A similar proto-democracy or oligarchy existed temporarily among the Medes (ancient Iranian people) in the 6th century BC, but which came to an end after the Achaemenid (Persian) Emperor Darius the Great declared that the best monarchy was better than the best oligarchy or best democracy.

Even though the Roman Republic contributed significantly into certain aspects of democracy, only a minority of Romans were citizens. As such, having votes in elections for choosing representatives and then the votes of the powerful were given more weight through a system of Gerrymandering. For that reason, almost all high officials, including members of the Senate, came from a few wealthy and noble families. However, many notable exceptions did occur.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, there were various systems involving elections or assemblies, although often only involving a small amount of the population, such as the election of Uthman in the Rashidun Caliphate, the election of Gopala in Bengal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Althing in Iceland, certain medieval Italian city-states such as Venice, the tuatha system in early medieval Ireland, the Veche in Novgorod and Pskov Republics of medieval Russia, Scandinavian Things, The States in Tirol and Switzerland and the autonomous merchant city of Sakai in the 16th century in Japan. However, participation was often restricted to a minority, and so may be better classified as oligarchy. Most regions in medieval Europe were ruled by clergy or feudal lords.

A little closer to modern democracy were the Cossack republics of Ukraine in the 16th-17th centuries: Cossack Hetmanate and Zaporizhian Sich. The highest post - the Hetman - was elected by the representatives from the country's districts. Because these states were very militarised, the right to participate in Hetman's elections was largely restricted to those who served in the Cossack Army and over time was curtailed effectively limiting these rights to higher army ranks.

The Parliament of England had its roots in the restrictions on the power of kings written into Magna Carta, explicitly protected certain rights of the King's subjects, whether free or fettered — and implicitly supported what became English writ of habeas corpus, safeguarding individual freedom against unlawful imprisonment with right to appeal. First elected parliament was De Montfort's Parliament in England in 1265.

However only a small minority actually had a voice; Parliament was elected by only a few percent of the population (less than 3% in 1780.), and power to call parliament was at the pleasure of the monarch (usually when he or she needed funds) and the system had problematic features such as rotten boroughs, of which measures were taken against notably Reform Act 1832 that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of the United Kingdom, increasing the size of electorate by 50–80%. After Glorious Revolution 1688, English Bill of Rights 1689 was enacted, which codified certain rights and increased the influence of Parliament. The franchise was slowly increased and Parliament gradually gained more power until monarch became largely a figurehead.

Democracy was also seen to a certain extent in bands and tribes such as the Iroquois Confederacy. However, in the Iroquois Confederacy only the males of certain clans could be leaders and some clans were excluded. Only the oldest females from the same clans could choose and remove the leaders. This excluded most of the population. An interesting detail is that there should be consensus among the leaders, not majority support decided by voting, when making decisions.

Band societies, such as the Bushmen, which usually number 20-50 people in the band often do not have leaders and make decisions based on consensus among the majority. In Melanesia, farming village communities have traditionally been egalitarian and lacking in a rigid, authoritarian hierarchy. Although a "Big man" or "Big woman" could gain influence, that influence was conditional on a continued demonstration of leadership skills, and on the willingness of the community. Every person was expected to share in communal duties, and entitled to participate in communal decisions. However, strong social pressure encouraged conformity and discouraged individualism.

Democracy Index as published in January, 2007. The palest blue countries get a score above 9.5 out of 10 (with Sweden being the most democratic country at 9.88), while the black countries score below 2 (with North Korea being the least democratic at 0.86).

18th and 19th centuries

Although not described as a democracy by the founding fathers, the United States founders shared a determination to root the American experiment in the principle of natural freedom and equality. The United States Constitution, adopted in 1788, provided for an elected government and protected civil rights and liberties for some.

In the colonial period before 1776, and for some time after, only adult white male property owners could vote; enslaved Africans, free black people and women were not extended the franchise. On the American frontier, democracy became a way of life, with widespread social, economic and political equality. However, slavery was a social and economic institution, particularly in eleven states in the American South, that a variety of organizations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom and equality.

During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to freedom in Africa. It had broad support nationwide among anti-slavery and abolitionist white people, including prominent leaders such as Henry Clay and James Monroe, who saw this as preferable to emancipation in America, and in 1821 the A.C.S. established colony of Liberia, assisting thousands of former African-American slaves and free black people to move there from the United States.

By the 1840s almost all property restrictions were ended and nearly all white adult male citizens could vote; and turnout averaged 60–80% in frequent elections for local, state and national officials. The system gradually evolved, from Jeffersonian Democracy to Jacksonian Democracy and beyond. In the 1860 Census the slave population in the United States had grown to four million., and in Reconstruction after the Civil War (late 1860s) the newly freed slaves became citizens with (in the case of men) a nominal right to vote, and full enfranchisement of citizens was not secured until after the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) which campaigned for freedom of oppression from white Americans, gained passage by the United States Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Number of nations 1800-2003 scoring 8 or higher on Polity IV scale, another widely used measure of democracy.

In 1789, Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and, although short-lived, the National Convention was elected by all males in 1792. Universal male suffrage was definitely established in France in March 1848 in the wake of the French Revolution of 1848. In 1848, several revolutions broke out in Europe as rulers were confronted with popular demands for liberal constitutions and more democratic government.

The Australian colonies became democratic during the mid 19th century, with South Australia being the first government in the world to introduce women's suffrage in 1861. (It was argued that as women would vote the same as their husbands, this essentially gave married men two votes, which was not unreasonable.)

New Zealand granted suffrage to (native) Māori men in 1867, white men in 1879, and women in 1893, thus becoming the first major nation to achieve universal suffrage. However, women were not eligible to stand for parliament until 1919.

Liberal democracies were few and often short-lived before the late nineteenth century, and various nations and territories have also claimed to be the first with universal suffrage.

The establishment of universal male suffrage in France in 1848 was an important milestone in the history of democracy.

20th century

20th century transitions to liberal democracy have come in successive "waves of democracy," variously resulting from wars, revolutions, decolonization, religious and economic circumstances. World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires resulted in the creation of new nation-states from Europe, most of them at least nominally democratic.

In the 1920s democracy flourished, but the Great Depression brought disenchantment, and most of the countries of Europe, Latin America, and Asia turned to strong-man rule or dictatorships. Fascism and dictatorships flourished in Nazi Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as nondemocratic regimes in the Baltics, the Balkans, Brazil, Cuba, China, and Japan, among others.

World War II brought a definitive reversal of this trend in western Europe. The successful democratization of the American, British, and French sectors of occupied Germany (disputed), Austria, Italy, and the occupied Japan served as a model for the later theory of regime change.

However, most of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet sector of Germany was forced into the non-democratic Soviet bloc. The war was followed by decolonization, and again most of the new independent states had nominally democratic constitutions. India emerged as the world's largest democracy and continues to be so.

In the decades following World War II, most western democratic nations had mixed economies and developed a welfare state, reflecting a general consensus among their electorates and political parties. In the 1950s and 1960s, economic growth was high in both the western and Communist countries; it later declined in the state-controlled economies. By 1960, the vast majority of country-states were nominally democracies, although the majority of the world's populations lived in nations that experienced sham elections, and other forms of subterfuge (particularly in Communist nations and the former colonies.)

Since World War II, democracy has gained widespread acceptance. This map displays the official self identification made by world governments with regard to democracy, as of March 2008. It shows the de jure status of democracy in the world.     Governments self identified as democratic      Governments not self identified as democratic: Vatican City, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Brunei.

 A subsequent wave of democratization brought substantial gains toward true liberal democracy for many nations. Spain, Portugal (1974), and several of the military dictatorships in South America returned to civilian rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Argentina in 1983, Bolivia, Uruguay in 1984, Brazil in 1985, and Chile in the early 1990s). This was followed by nations in East and South Asia by the mid- to late 1980s.

Economic malaise in the 1980s, along with resentment of communist oppression, contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the associated end of the Cold War, and the democratization and liberalization of the former Eastern bloc countries. The most successful of the new democracies were those geographically and culturally closest to western Europe, and they are now members or candidate members of the European Union.

The liberal trend spread to some nations in Africa in the 1990s, most prominently in South Africa. Some recent examples of attempts of liberalization include the Indonesian Revolution of 1998, the Bulldozer Revolution in Yugoslavia, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.

Currently, there are 123 countries that are democratic (up from 40 in 1972). As such, it has been speculated that this trend may continue in the future to the point where liberal democratic nation-states become the universal standard form of human society. This prediction forms the core of Francis Fukayama's "End of History" controversial theory. These theories are criticized by those who fear an evolution of liberal democracies to post-democracy, and other who points out the high number of illiberal democracies.

This graph shows Freedom House's evaluation of the number of nations in the different categories given above for the period for which there are surveys, 1972-2005


Democracy has taken a number of forms, both in theory and practice. The following kinds are not exclusive of one another: many specify details of aspects that are independent of one another and can co-exist in a single system.


Representative democracy involves the selection of government officials by the people being represented. If the head of state is also democratically elected is also called a democratic republic. The most common mechanisms involve election of the candidate with a majority or a plurality of the votes.

Representatives may be elected or become diplomatic representatives by a particular district (or constituency), or represent the entire electorate proportionally proportional systems, with some using a combination of the two. Some representative democracies also incorporate elements of direct democracy, such as referendums. A characteristic of representative democracy is that while the representatives are elected by the people to act in their interest, they retain the freedom to exercise their own judgment as how best to do so.

Political ratings of countries according to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World survey, 2009:     Free     Partly Free     Not Free The report states that economic freedom, not democracy, leads to political freedom.


Parliamentary democracy is where government is appointed by parliamentary representatives as opposed to a 'presidential rule' wherein the President is both head of state and the head of government and is elected by the voters. Under a parliamentary democracy, government is exercised by delegation to an executive ministry and subject to ongoing review, checks and balances by the legislative parliament elected by the people.


A Liberal democracy is a representative democracy in which the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law, and usually moderated by a constitution that emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised against the rights of minorities (see civil liberties).

Liberal democracy (or constitutional democracy) is the dominant form of democracy in the 21st century. During the Cold War, liberal democracies were contrasted with the Communist People's Republics or "Popular Democracies", which claimed an alternative conception of democracy. Today, constitutional democracies are mostly contrasted with direct democracy and/or participatory democracy. Liberal democracies may take various constitutional forms: they may be republics, as the United States, India or France, or constitutional monarchy, as the United Kingdom or Spain. It may have a presidential system (United States), a parliamentary system (Westminster system, UK and Commonwealth countries), or a hybrid, semi-presidential system (France).

The term "liberal" in "liberal democracy" refers to adherence to the ideology of political liberalism. Liberal democracies feature constitutional protections of individual rights from government power, which were first proposed during the Age of Enlightenment by social contract theorists such as Hobbes and Locke. At present, there are numerous countries ruled by non-liberal political parties - parties that uphold conservatism, Christian democracy, social democracy, or some forms of socialism - that are considered to have liberal democracy as their form of government.


The Liberal democracies today usually have universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote regardless of race, gender or property ownership. Historically, however, some countries regarded as liberal democracies have had a more limited franchise, and some do not have secret ballots. There may also be qualifications such as voters being required to register before being allowed to vote. The decisions made through elections are made not by all of the citizens, but rather by those who choose to participate by voting.

According to the principles of liberal democracy, the elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive. Political pluralism is usually defined as the presence of multiple and distinct political parties.

The liberal democratic constitution defines the democratic character of the state. The purpose of a constitution is often seen as a limit on the authority of the government. The Anglo-American political tradition emphasises the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a system of checks and balances between branches of government. Many European democracies are more likely to emphasise the importance of the state being a Rechtsstaat that follows the principle of rule of law. Governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure. Many democracies use federalism - (also known as vertical separation of powers) - in order to prevent abuse and increase public input by dividing governing powers between municipal, provincial and national governments.

Rights and freedoms

In practice, democracies do have specific limits on specific freedoms. There are various legal limitations such as copyright and laws against defamation. There may be limits on anti-democratic speech, on attempts to undermine human rights, and on the promotion or justification of terrorism. In the United States more than in Europe, during the Cold War, such restrictions applied to Communists. Now they are more commonly applied to organizations perceived as promoting terrorism or the incitement of group hatred. Examples include anti-terrorism legislation, the shutting down of Hezbollah satellite broadcasts, and some laws against hate speech. Critics claim that these limitations may go too far and that there may be no due and fair judicial process.

The common justification for these limits is that they are necessary to guarantee the existence of democracy, or the existence of the freedoms themselves. For example, allowing free speech for those advocating mass murder undermines the right to life and security. Opinion is divided on how far democracy can extend to include the enemies of democracy in the democratic process. If relatively small numbers of people are excluded from such freedoms for these reasons, a country may still be seen as a liberal democracy. Some argue that this is only quantitatively (not qualitatively) different from autocracies that persecute opponents, since only a small number of people are affected and the restrictions are less severe. Others emphasize that democracies are different. At least in theory, opponents of democracy are also allowed due process under the rule of law. In principle, democracies allow criticism and change of the leaders and the political and economic system itself; it is only attempts to do so violently and the promotion of such violence that is prohibited.

However, many governments considered to be democratic have restrictions upon expressions considered anti-democratic, such as Holocaust denial and hate speech. Members of political organizations with connections to prior totalitarianism (typically communist, fascist, and nazi) parties prohibited and current or former members of such organizations may be deprived of the vote and the privilege of holding certain jobs. Discriminatory behavior may be prohibited, such as refusal by owners of public accommodations to serve persons on grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. In Canada, a printer who refused to print pro-homosexual materials was fined $5,000, incurred $100,000 in legal fees, and was ordered to pay a further $40,000 of his opponents' legal fees. It should be noted that this prosecution was by a quasi-judicial Human Rights Tribunal, not a civil or criminal court. These tribunals are not bound by the same rules regarding evidence and procedure as the regular courts.

Other rights considered fundamental in one country may be foreign to other governments. For instance, many Americans consider gun rights and freedom from double jeopardy to be important rights, while other countries do not recognize them as fundamental rights.

The origins of liberal democracy

Liberal democracy traces its origins—and its name—to the European 18th century, also known as the Age of Enlightenment. At the time, the vast majority of European states were monarchies, with political power held either by the monarch or the aristocracy. The possibility of democracy had not been seriously considered by political theory since classical antiquity, and the widely held belief was that democracies would be inherently unstable and chaotic in their policies due to the changing whims of the people. It was further believed that democracy was contrary to human nature, as human beings were seen to be inherently evil, violent and in need of a strong leader to restrain their destructive impulses. Many European monarchs held that their power had been ordained by God, and that questioning their right to rule was tantamount to blasphemy.

These conventional views were challenged at first by a relatively small group of Enlightenment intellectuals, who believed that human affairs should be guided by reason and principles of liberty and equality. They argued that all people are created equal, and therefore political authority cannot be justified on the basis of "noble blood", a supposed privileged connection to God, or any other characteristic that is alleged to make one person superior to others. They further argued that governments exist to serve the people, not vice versa, and that laws should apply to those who govern as well as to the governed (a concept known as rule of law).

Near the end of the 18th century, these ideas inspired the American Revolution and the French Revolution, which gave birth to the ideology of liberalism and instituted forms of government that attempted to apply the principles of the Enlightenment philosophers into practice. Neither of these forms of government was precisely what we would call a liberal democracy we know today (the most significant difference being that voting rights were still restricted to a minority of the population), and the French attempt turned out to be short-lived, but they were the prototypes from which liberal democracy later grew. Since the supporters of these forms of government were known as liberals, the governments themselves came to be known as liberal democracies.

When the first prototypical liberal democracies were founded, the liberals themselves were viewed as an extreme and rather dangerous fringe group that threatened international peace and stability. The conservative monarchists who opposed liberalism and democracy saw themselves as defenders of traditional values and the natural order of things, and their criticism of democracy seemed vindicated when Napoleon Bonaparte took control of the young French Republic, reorganized it into the first French Empire and proceeded to conquer most of Europe. Napoleon was eventually defeated and the Holy Alliance was formed in Europe to prevent any further spread of liberalism or democracy. However, liberal democratic ideals soon became widespread among the general population, and, over the 19th century, traditional monarchy was forced on a continuous defensive and withdrawal. Reforms and revolutions helped move most European countries towards liberal democracy. Liberalism ceased being a fringe opinion and joined the political mainstream. At the same time, a number of non-liberal ideologies developed that took the concept of liberal democracy and made it their own. The political spectrum changed; traditional monarchy became more and more a fringe view and liberal democracy became more and more mainstream. By the end of the 19th century, liberal democracy was no longer only a "liberal" idea, but an idea supported by many different ideologies. After World War I and especially after World War II, liberal democracy achieved a dominant position among theories of government and is now endorsed by the vast majority of the political spectrum.

Although liberal democracy was originally put forward by Enlightenment liberals, the relationship between democracy and liberalism has been controversial since the beginning. The ideology of liberalism—particularly in its classical form—is highly individualistic and concerns itself with limiting the power of the state over the individual. In contrast, democracy is seen by some as a collectivist ideal, concerned with empowering the masses. Thus, liberal democracy may be seen as a compromise between liberal individualism and democratic collectivism. Those who hold this view sometimes point to the existence of illiberal democracy and liberal autocracy as evidence that constitutional liberalism and democratic government are not necessarily interconnected. On the other hand, there is the view that constitutional liberalism and democratic government are not only compatible but necessary for the true existence of each other, both arising from the underlying concept of political equality. The research institute Freedom House today simply defines liberal democracy as an electoral democracy also protecting civil liberties.

Liberal democracies around the world

Several organisations and political scientists maintain lists of free and unfree states, both in the present and going back a couple centuries. Of these, the best known may be the Polity Data Set and that produced by Freedom House.

There is general agreement that the states of the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Canada, India ,Israel, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are liberal democracies, with Canada having the largest land area and India currently having the largest population among the democracies in the world.

Freedom House considers many of the officially democratic governments in Africa and the former Soviet Union to be undemocratic in practice, usually because the sitting government has a strong influence over election outcomes. Many of these countries are in a state of considerable flux.

Officially non-democratic forms of government, such as single-party states and dictatorships are more common in East Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

This map reflects the findings of Freedom House's survey Freedom in the World 2008. Freedom House considers the green nations to be liberal democracies (some of these estimates are disputed).
     Free      Partly Free      Not Free

Types of liberal democracies

Proportional and plurality representation

Plurality voting system award seats according to regional majorities. The political party or individual candidate who receives the most votes, wins the seat which represents that locality. There are other democratic electoral systems, such as the various forms of proportional representation, which award seats according to the proportion of individual votes that a party receives nation-wide or in a particular region.

One of the main points of contention between these two systems, is whether to have representatives who are able to effectively represent specific regions in a country, or to have all citizens' vote count the same, regardless of where in the country they happen to live.

Some countries such as Germany and New Zealand, address the conflict between these two forms of representation, by having two categories of seats in the lower house of their federal legislative bodies. The first category of seats is appointed according to regional popularity, and the remainder are awarded to give the parties a proportion of seats that is equal - or as equal as practicable - to their proportion of nation-wide votes. This system is commonly called mixed member proportional representation.

Australia incorporates both systems in having the preferential voting system applicable to the lower house and proportional representation by state in the upper house. This system is argued to result in a more stable government, while having a better diversity of parties to review its actions.

This graph shows the number of nations in the different categories given above for the period for which there are surveys, 1972–2005

Presidential and parliamentary systems

A presidential system is a system of government of a republic where the executive branch is elected separately from the legislative. A parliamentary system is distinguished by the executive branch of government being dependent on the direct or indirect support of the parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence.

The presidential system of democratic government has become popular in Latin America, Africa, and parts of the former Soviet Union, largely by the example of the United States. Constitutional monarchies (dominated by elected parliaments) are popular in Northern Europe and some former colonies which peacefully separated, such as Australia and Canada. Others have also arisen in Spain, East Asia, and a variety of small nations around the world. Former British territories such as South Africa, India, Ireland, and the United States opted for different forms at the time of independence. The parliamentary system is popular in the European Union and neighboring countries.

States by their systems of government as of April 2006.

     presidential republics, full presidential system     presidential republics, parliament supervising an executive presidency     presidential republics, semi-presidential system     parliamentary republics     parliamentary constitutional monarchies in which the monarch does not personally exercise power     constitutional monarchies in which the monarch personally exercises power, often alongside a weak parliament     absolute monarchies     states whose constitutions grant only a single party the right to govern     states where constitutional provisions for government have been suspended


Lacking direct democracy

"Liberal democracy" does not respect absolute majority rule (except when electing representatives). The "liberty" of majority rule is restricted by the constitution or precedent decided by previous generations. Also, the real power is actually held by a relatively small representative body. Thus, the argument goes, "liberal democracy" is merely a decoration over an oligarchy.

Thus, proponents of other democratic systems see them as preferable. For example, direct democracy, or consensus. Others would say that only a liberal democracy can guarantee the individual liberties of its citizens and prevent the development of a dictatorship. Unmoderated majority rule could, in this view, lead to an oppression of minorities (see Majoritarianism below.) Another argument is that the elected leaders may be more interested and able than the average voter. A third that it takes much effort and time if everyone should gather information, discuss, and vote on most issues. Direct democracy proponents in turn have counter-arguments, see the Direct democracy article.

Some liberal democracies have elements of direct democracy such as referendums, plebiscite, and models of "Deliberative democracy". Switzerland and Uruguay are some examples; likewise several states of the United States. Many other countries have referendums to a lesser degree in their political system.

The above image include only those states designated "electoral democracies" in Freedom House's survey Freedom in the World 2006. Note that not all nations which are officially democracies (as indicated by the middle image) are considered to be democratic in practice (as indicated by the last image).

Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie

Some Marxists, socialists and left-wing anarchists, argue that liberal democracy is an integral part of the capitalist system and is class-based and not democratic or participatory. It is bourgeois democracy because ultimately politicians fight only for the rights of the bourgeoisie. Because of this it is seen as fundamentally undemocratic, existing or operating in a way that facilitates economic exploitation. According to Marx, parliamentary elections are an opportunity citizens of a country get every few years to decide who among the ruling classes will misrepresent them in parliament.

The cost of political campaigning in representative democracies favors the rich, a form of plutocracy who are a very small minority of the voters. In Athenian democracy, some public offices were randomly allocated to citizens, in order to inhibit the effects of plutocracy. Aristotle described the law courts in Athens which were selected by lot as democratic and described elections as oligarchic.

Modern democracy has also been attacked by socialists as a dishonest farce used to keep the masses from realizing that their will is irrelevant in the political process. While at the same time a conspiracy for making them restless for some political agenda. Some contend that it encourages candidates to make deals with wealthy supporters, offering favorable legislation if the candidate is elected - perpetuating conspiracies for monopolization of key areas. Campaign finance reform is an attempt to correct this perceived problem. In response to these claims, United States economist Steven Levitt argues in his book Freakonomics that campaign spending is no guarantee of electoral success. He compared electoral success of the same pair of candidates running against one another repeatedly for the same job, as often happens in United States Congressional elections, where spending levels varied. He concludes:

"A winning candidate can cut his spending in half and lose only 1 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, a losing candidate who doubles his spending can expect to shift the vote in his favor by only that same 1 percent."


Critics of the role of the media in liberal democracies allege that concentration of media ownership leads to major distortions of democratic processes. They argue that the corporate media limits the availability of contesting views and effectively propagandizes a narrow spectrum of elite opinion. This is a natural consequence, they say, of the close ties between powerful corporations and the media and not due to any conscious conspiracy. Systemic bias shapes the content of the media outlets to correspond with corporate interests. Although freedom of speech is secured and protected by the state, only those that adhere to that limited spectrum of opinion are granted significant and consistent access to the major media outlets.

Media commentators also point out that the influental early champions of the media industry held fundamentally anti-democratic views, opposing the general population's involvement in creating policy. Walter Lippmann, for example, sought to "put the public in its place" so that those in power would be "free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd," while Edward Bernays sought to "regiment the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments their bodies." They also say that even though law ensures the right to free speech, the ability to spread information to large numbers of people is limited to only those who can afford it.

Proponents claim that constitutionally protected freedom of speech makes it possible for both for-profit and non-profit organizations to debate the issues. They argue that media coverage in democracies simply reflects public preferences, and does not entail censorship. Especially with new forms of media such as the internet it is not expensive to reach a wide audience, if there is an interest for the ideas presented.

Limited voter turnout

Low voter turnout, whether the cause is disenchantment, indifference or contentment with the status quo, may be seen as a problem, especially if disproportionate in particular segments of the population. Although turnout levels vary greatly among modern democratic countries, and in various types and levels of elections within countries, at some point low turnout may prompt questions as to whether the results reflect the will of the people, whether the causes may be indicative of concerns to the society in question, or in extreme cases the legitimacy of the electoral system.

Get out the vote campaigns, either by governments or private groups, may increase voter turnout, but distinctions must be made between general campaigns to raise the turnout rate and partisan efforts to aid a particular candidate, party or cause.

Several nations have forms of compulsory voting, with various degrees of enforcement. Proponents argue that this increases the legitimacy, and thus also popular acceptance, of the elections and ensures political participation by all those affected by the political process, and reduces the costs associated with encouraging voting. Arguments against include restriction of freedom, economic costs of enforcement, increased number of invalid and blank votes, and random voting.

Other alternatives include increased use of absentee ballots, or other measures to ease or improve the ability to vote, including Electronic voting.

Ethnic and religious conflicts

For historical reasons, many states are not culturally and ethnically homogeneous. There may be sharp ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural divisions. In fact, some groups may be actively hostile to each other. A democracy, which by definition allows mass participation in decision-making theoretically also allows the use of the political process against 'enemy' groups.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the partial democratisation of Soviet bloc states was followed by wars and civil war in the former Yugoslavia, in the Caucasus, and in Moldova. Nevertheless, statistical research shows that the fall of Communism and the increase in the number of democratic states were accompanied by a sudden and dramatic decline in total warfare, interstate wars, ethnic wars, revolutionary wars, and the number of refugees and displaced people (worldwide, not in the countries of the former sovietic bloc). This trend, however, can be attributed to the end of cold war and the natural exhaustion of said conflicts, many of which were fueled by the USA and the USSR See also the section below on Majoritarianism and Democratic peace theory.

In her book World on Fire, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua posits that "when free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. This backlash typically takes one of three forms. The first is a backlash against markets, targeting the market-dominant minority's wealth. The second is a backlash against democracy by forces favorable to the market-dominant minority. The third is violence, sometimes genocidal, directed against the market-dominant minority itself."


A persistent libertarian and monarchist critique of democracy is the claim that it encourages the elected representatives to change the law without necessity, and in particular to pour forth a flood of new laws. This is seen as pernicious in several ways. New laws constrict the scope of what were previously private liberties. Rapidly changing laws make it difficult for a willing non-specialist to remain law-abiding. This may be an invitation for law-enforcement agencies to misuse power. The claimed continual complication of the law may be contrary to a claimed simple and eternal natural law - although there is no consensus on what this natural law is, even among advocates. Supporters of democracy point to the complex bureaucracy and regulations that has occurred in dictatorships, like many of the former Communist states.

The bureaucracy in Liberal democracies is often criticized for a claimed slowness and complexity of their decision-making. The term "Red Tape" is a synonym of slow bureaucratic functioning that hinders quick results in a liberal democracy.

Short-term focus

Modern liberal democracies, by definition, allow for regular changes of government. That has led to a common criticism of their short-term focus. In four or five years the government will face a new election, and it must think of how it will win that election. That would encourage a preference for policies that will bring short term benefits to the electorate (or to self-interested politicians) before the next election, rather than unpopular policy with longer term benefits. This criticism assumes that it is possible to make long term predictions for a society, something Karl Popper has criticized as historicism.

Besides the regular review of governing entities, short-term focus in a democracy could also be the result of collective short-term thinking. For example, consider a campaign for policies aimed at reducing environmental damage while causing temporary increase in unemployment. However, this risk applies also to other political systems.

Anarcho-capitalist Hans-Herman Hoppe explained short-termism of the democratic governments by the rational choice of currently ruling group to over exploit temporarily accessible resources, thus deriving maximal economic advantage to the members of this group. (He contrasted this with hereditary monarchy, in which a monarch has an interest in preserving the long-term capital value of his property (i.e. the country he owns) counter-balancing his desire to extract immediate revenue. He argues that the historical record of levels of taxation in certain monarchies (5–8%) and certain liberal democracies (40–60%) seems to confirm this contention.[ On the other hand, in modern hereditary autocracy of North Korea the state controls the whole economy while many liberal democratic states score very high on rankings of economic freedom.

Public choice theory

Public choice theory is a branch of economics that studies the decision-making behavior of voters, politicians and government officials from the perspective of economic theory. One studied problem is that each voter has little influence and may therefore have a rational ignorance regarding political issues. This may allow special interest groups to gain subsidies and regulations beneficial to them but harmful to society. However, special interest groups may be equally or more influential in nondemocracies.

The "tyranny of the majority" is the fear that a democratic government, reflecting the majority view, can take action that oppresses a particular minority. Theoretically, the majority could only be a majority of those who vote and not a majority of the citizens. In those cases, one minority tyrannizes another minority in the name of the majority. It can apply in both direct democracy or representative democracy. Several de facto dictatorships also have compulsory, but not free and fair, voting in order to try to increase the legitimacy of the regime.

Possible examples include:

  • those potentially subject to conscription are a minority.
  • several European countries have introduced bans on personal religious symbols in state schools. Opponents see this as a violation of rights to freedom of religion. Supporters see it as following from the separation of state and religious activities.
  • prohibition of pornography is typically determined by what the majority is prepared to accept.
  • recreational drug use is also typically legalized (or at least tolerated) to the degree that the majority finds acceptable. Users may see themselves as an oppressed minority, victims of unjustifiable criminalisation.
  • society's treatment of homosexuals is also cited in this context. Homosexual acts were widely criminalised in democracies until several decades ago; in some democracies they still are, reflecting the religious or sexual mores of the majority.
  • the Athenian democracy and the early United States had slavery.
  • the majority often taxes the minority who are wealthy at progressively higher rates, with the intention that the wealthy will incur a larger tax burden for social purposes.
  • in prosperous western democracies, the poor form a minority of the population, and may not have the power to use the state to initiate redistribution when a majority of the electorate opposes such designs. When the poor form a distinct underclass, the majority may use the democratic process to, in effect, withdraw the protection of the state.
  • An often quoted example of the 'tyranny of the majority' is that Adolf Hitler came to power by legitimate democratic procedures. The Nazi party gained the largest share of votes in the democratic Weimar republic in 1933. Some might consider this an example of "tyranny of a minority" since he never gained a majority vote, but it is common for a plurality to exercise power in democracies, so the rise of Hitler cannot be considered irrelevant. However, his regime's large-scale human rights violations took place after the democratic system had been abolished. Also, the social democratic Weimar constitution in an "emergency" allowed dictatorial powers and suspension of the essentials of the constitution itself without any vote or election, something not possible in most liberal democracies.

Proponents of democracy make a number of defenses concerning 'tyranny of the majority'. One is to argue that the presence of a constitution protecting the rights of all citizens in many democratic countries acts as a safeguard. Generally, changes in these constitutions require the agreement of a supermajority of the elected representatives, or require a judge and jury to agree that evidentiary and procedural standards have been fulfilled by the state, or two different votes by the representatives separated by an election, or, sometimes, a referendum. These requirements are often combined. The separation of powers into legislative branch, executive branch, judicial branch also makes it more difficult for a small majority to impose their will. This means a majority can still legitimately coerce a minority (which is still ethically questionable), but such a minority would be very small and, as a practical matter, it is harder to get a larger proportion of the people to agree to such actions.

Another argument is that majorities and minorities can take a markedly different shape on different issues. People often agree with the majority view on some issues and agree with a minority view on other issues. One's view may also change. Thus, the members of a majority may limit oppression of a minority since they may well in the future themselves be in a minority.

A third common argument is that, despite the risks, majority rule is preferable to other systems, and the tyranny of the majority is in any case an improvement on a tyranny of a minority. All the possible problems mentioned above can also occur in nondemocracies with the added problem that a minority can oppress the majority. Proponents of democracy argue that empirical statistical evidence strongly shows that more democracy leads to less internal violence and mass murder by the government.. This is sometimes formulated as Rummel's Law, which states that the less democratic freedom a people have, the more likely their rulers are to murder them.

Political stability

One argument for democracy is that by creating a system where the public can remove administrations, without changing the legal basis for government, democracy aims at reducing political uncertainty and instability, and assuring citizens that however much they may disagree with present policies, they will be given a regular chance to change those who are in power, or change policies with which they disagree. This is preferable to a system where political change takes place through violence.

Some[who?] think that political stability may be considered as excessive when the group in power remains the same for an extended period of time. On the other hand, this is more common in nondemocracies.

One notable feature of liberal democracies is that their opponents (those groups who wish to abolish liberal democracy) rarely win elections. Advocates use this as an argument to support their view that liberal democracy is inherently stable and can usually only be overthrown by external force, while opponents argue that the system is inherently stacked against them despite its claims to impartiality. In the past, it was feared that democracy could be easily exploited by leaders with dictatorial aspirations, who could get themselves elected into power. However, the actual number of liberal democracies that have elected dictators into power is low. When it has occurred, it is usually after a major crisis have caused many people to doubt the system or in young/poorly functioning democracies. Some possible examples include Adolf Hitler during the Great Depression and Napoleon III who become first President of the young Second French Republic and later Emperor.

Effective response in wartime

A liberal democracy, by definition, implies that power is not concentrated. One criticism is that this could be a disadvantage for a state in wartime, when a fast and unified response is necessary. The legislature usually must give consent before the start of an offensive military operation, although sometimes the executive can do this on its own while keeping the legislature informed. If the democracy is attacked, then no consent is usually required for defensive operations. The people may vote against a conscription army.

However, actual research shows that democracies are more likely to win wars than non-democracies. One explanation attributes this primarily to "the transparency of the polities, and the stability of their preferences, once determined, democracies are better able to cooperate with their partners in the conduct of wars". Other research attributes this to superior mobilization of resources or selection of wars that the democratic states have a high chance of winning.

Stam and Reiter also note that the emphasis on individuality within democratic societies means that their soldiers fight with greater initiative and superior leadership. Officers in dictatorships are often selected for political loyalty rather than military ability. They may be exclusively selected from a small class or religious/ethnic group that support the regime. The leaders in nondemocracies may respond violently to any perceived criticisms or disobedience. This may make the soldiers and officers afraid to raise any objections or do anything without explicit authorisation. The lack of initiative may be particularly detrimental in modern warfare. Enemy soldiers may more easily surrender to democracies since they can expect comparatively good treatment. Nazi Germany killed almost 2/3 of the captured Soviet soldiers. 38% of the American soldiers captured by North Korea in the Korean War were killed.

Better information on and corrections of problems

A democratic system may provide better information for policy decisions. Undesirable information may more easily be ignored in dictatorships, even if this undesirable or contrarian information provides early warning of problems. The democratic system also provides a way to replace inefficient leaders and policies. Thus, problems may continue longer and crises of all kinds may be more common in autocracies.

Economic growth and financial crises

Statistically, more democracy correlates with a higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.

However, there is disagreement regarding how much credit the democratic system can take for this. One observation is that democracy became widespread only after the industrial revolution and the introduction of capitalism. On the other hand, the industrial revolution started in England which was one of the most democratic nations for its time within its own borders. (But this democracy was very limited and did not apply to the colonies which contributed significantly to the wealth.)

Several statistical studies support the theory that more capitalism, measured for example with one the several Indices of Economic Freedom which has been used in hundreds of studies by independent researchers, increases economic growth and that this in turn increases general prosperity, reduces poverty, and causes democratization. This is a statistical tendency, and there are individual exceptions like India, which is democratic but arguably not prosperous, or Brunei, which has a high GDP but has never been democratic. There are also other studies suggesting that more democracy increases economic freedom although a few find no or even a small negative effect.One objection might be that nations like Sweden and Canada today score just below nations like Chile and Estonia on economic freedom but that Sweden and Canada today have a higher GDP per capita. However, this is a misunderstanding, the studies indicate effect on economic growth and thus that future GDP per capita will be higher with higher economic freedom. It should also be noted that according to the index Sweden and Canada are among the world's most capitalist nations, due to factors such as strong rule of law, strong property rights, and few restrictions against free trade. Critics might argue that the Index of Economic Freedom and other methods used does not measure the degree of capitalism, preferring some other definition.

Some argue that economic growth due to its empowerment of citizens, will ensure a transition to democracy in countries such as Cuba. However, other dispute this. Even if economic growth has caused democratization in the past, it may not do so in the future. Dictators may now have learned how to have economic growth without this causing more political freedom.

A high degree of oil or mineral exports is strongly associated with nondemocratic rule. This effect applies worldwide and not only to the Middle East. Dictators who have this form of wealth can spend more on their security apparatus and provide benefits which lessen public unrest. Also, such wealth is not followed by the social and cultural changes that may transform societies with ordinary economic growth.

A recent meta-analysis finds that democracy has no direct effect on economic growth. However, it has a strong and significant indirect effects which contribute to growth. Democracy is associated with higher human capital accumulation, lower inflation, lower political instability, and higher economic freedom. There is also some evidence that it is associated with larger governments and more restrictions on international trade.

If leaving out East Asia, then during the last forty-five years poor democracies have grown their economies 50% more rapidly than nondemocracies. Poor democracies such as the Baltic countries, Botswana, Costa Rica, Ghana, and Senegal have grown more rapidly than nondemocracies such as Angola, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe.

Of the eighty worst financial catastrophes during the last four decades, only five were in democracies. Similarly, poor democracies are half likely as nondemocracies to experience a 10 percent decline in GDP per capita over the course of a single year.

Famines and refugees

A prominent economist, Amartya Sen, has noted that no functioning democracy has ever suffered a large scale famine. Refugee crises almost always occur in nondemocracies. Looking at the volume of refugee flows for the last twenty years, the first eighty-seven cases occurred in autocracies.

Human development

Democracy correlates with a higher score on the human development index and a lower score on the human poverty index.

Democracies have the potential to put in place better education, longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, access to drinking water, and better health care than dictatorships. This is not due to higher levels of foreign assistance or spending a larger percentage of GDP on health and education. Instead, the available resources are managed better.

Several health indicators (life expectancy and infant and maternal mortality) have a stronger and more significant association with democracy than they have with GDP per capita, size of the public sector, or income inequality.

In the post-Communist nations, after an initial decline, those that are the most democratic have achieved the greatest gains in life expectancy.

Democratic peace theory

Numerous studies using many different kinds of data, definitions, and statistical analyzes have found support for the democratic peace theory. The original finding was that liberal democracies have never made war with one another. More recent research has extended the theory and finds that democracies have few Militarized Interstate Disputes causing less than 1000 battle deaths with one another, that those MIDs that have occurred between democracies have caused few deaths, and that democracies have few civil wars. There are various criticisms of the theory, including specific historic wars and that correlation is not causation.



Direct democracy is a political system where the citizens participate in the decision-making personally, contrary to relying on intermediaries or representatives.The supporters of direct democracy argue that democracy is more than merely a procedural issue. A direct democracy gives the voting population the power to:

  1. Change constitutional laws,
  2. Put forth initiatives, referenda and suggestions for laws,
  3. Give binding orders to elective officials, such as revoking them before the end of their elected term, or initiating a lawsuit for breaking a campaign promise.

Of the three measures mentioned, most operate in developed democracies today. This is part of a gradual shift towards direct democracies. Examples of this include the extensive use of referenda in California with more than 20 million voters, and (i.e., voting). in Switzerland, where five million voters decide on national referenda and initiatives two to four times a year; direct democratic instruments are also well established at the cantonal and communal level. Vermont towns have been known for their yearly town meetings, held every March to decide on local issues. No direct democracy is in existence outside the framework of a different overarching form of government. Most direct democracies to date have been weak forms, relatively small communities, usually city-states. The world is yet to see a large, fundamental, working example of direct democracy as of yet, with most examples being small and weak forms.


A Parpolity or Participatory Polity is a theoretical form of democracy that is ruled by a Nested Council structure. The guiding philosophy is that people should have decision making power in proportion to how much they are affected by the decision. Local councils of 25-50 people are completely autonomous on issues that affect only them, and these councils send delegates to higher level councils who are again autonomous regarding issues that affect only the population affected by that council.

A council court of randomly chosen citizens serves as a check on the tyranny of the majority, and rules on which body gets to vote on which issue. Delegates can vote differently than their sending council might wish, but are mandated to communicate the wishes of their sending council. Delegates are recallable at any time. Referenda are possible at any time via votes of the majority of lower level councils, however, not everything is a referendum as this is most likely a waste of time. A parpolity is meant to work in tandem with a participatory economy See: Parpolity.


"Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landowners and professional politicians."
Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary

Socialist thought has several different views on democracy. Social democracy, democratic socialism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat (usually exercised through Soviet democracy) are some examples. Many democratic socialists and social democrats believe in a form of participatory democracy and workplace democracy combined with a representative democracy.

Within Marxist orthodoxy there is a hostility to what is commonly called "liberal democracy", which they simply refer to as parliamentary democracy because of its often centralized nature. Because of their desire to eliminate the political elitism they see in capitalism, Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyists believe in direct democracy implemented though a system of communes (which are sometimes called soviets). This system ultimately manifests itself as council democracy and begins with workplace democracy. (See Democracy in Marxism)


Anarchists are split in this domain, depending on whether they believe that a majority-rule is tyrannic or not. The only form of democracy considered acceptable to many anarchists is direct democracy. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon argued that the only acceptable form of direct democracy is one in which it is recognized that majority decisions are not binding on the minority, even when unanimous. However, anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin criticized individualist anarchists for opposing democracy, and says "majority rule" is consistent with anarchism.

Some anarcho-communists oppose the majoritarian nature of direct democracy, feeling that it can impede individual liberty and opt in favour of a non-majoritarian form of consensus democracy, similar to Proudhon's position on direct democracy. Henry David Thoreau, who did not self-identify as an anarchist but argued for "a better government" and is cited as an inspiration by some anarchists, argued that people should not be in the position of ruling others or being ruled when there is no consent.


Iroquois society had a form of participatory democracy and representative democracy. Iroquois government and law was discussed by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Though some others disagree, some scholars regard it to have influenced the formation of American representative democracy.


Sometimes called "democracy without elections", sortition is the process of choosing decision makers via a random process. The intention is that those chosen will be representative of the opinions and interests of the people at large, and be more fair and impartial than an elected official. The technique was in widespread use in Athenian Democracy and is still used in modern jury selection.


Consensus democracy requires varying degrees of consensus rather than just a mere democratic majority. It typically attempts to protect minority rights from domination by majority rule.


Qualified majority voting (QMV) is designed by the Treaty of Rome to be the principal method of reaching decisions in the European Council of Ministers. This system allocates votes to member states in part according to their population, but heavily weighted in favour of the smaller states. This might be seen as a form of representative democracy, but representatives to the Council might be appointed rather than directly elected.

Some might consider the "individuals" being democratically represented to be states rather than people, as with many other international organizations. European Parliament members are democratically directly elected on the basis of universal suffrage, may be seen as an example of a supranational democratic institution.


Cosmopolitan democracy, also known as Global democracy or World Federalism is a political system in which democracy is implemented on a global scale, either directly or through representatives. The supporters of cosmopolitan democracy argue that it is fundamentally different than any form of national or regional democracy, because in a Cosmopolitan Democracy, decisions are made by people influenced by them, while in Regional and National Democracies, decisions often influence people outside the constituency, which by-definition can not vote.

In a globalised world, argue the supporters of Cosmopolitan Democracy, any attempt to solve global problems would either be undemocratic or have to implement cosmopolitan democracy. The challenge of cosmopolitan democracy is to apply some of the values and norms of democracy, including the rule of law, the non-violent resolutions of conflicts, and the equality among citizens, also beyond the state. This requires to reform international organizations, first of all the United Nations, and to create new institutions, such as a World Parliament, which could increase the degree of public control and accountability on international politics.

Cosmopolitan Democracy was promoted, among others, by physicist Albert Einstein , writer Kurt Vonnegut, columnist George Monbiot, and professors David Held and Daniele Archibugi.


Aside from the public sphere, similar democratic principles and mechanisms of voting and representation have been used to govern other kinds of communities and organizations.

  • Many non-governmental organizations decide policy and leadership by voting.
  • Most trade unions choose their leadership through democratic elections.
  • Cooperatives are enterprises owned and democratically controlled by their customers or workers.

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