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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.