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15.3D: Democracy

  • Page ID
    8437
  • Democracy is a form of government in which sovereignty is held by the majority of citizens within a country or a state.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Discuss the central features of democratic governments

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Democracies come in several forms, though all have competitive elections and freedoms of expression.
    • Democracies must balance conflicting obligations to try to maximize freedom and protect individual rights.
    • In most democracies, citizens are represented by elected lawmakers charged with drafting and voting on laws.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • representative democracy: A policy under the rule of people acting on the behalf of and, to a lesser extent, in the interests of the voting blocks by which they were elected.
    • separation of powers: A theoretical model for governance, common in democratic states, which features the division of sovereign power into at least three (but sometimes up to six) organs of state in order to forestall tyranny, by preventing the acquisition of a monopoly of power by a monarch or oligarchy; also, such an arrangement.
    • tyranny of the majority: A situation in which a government or other authority democratically supported by a majority of its subjects makes policies or takes actions benefiting that majority, without regard for the rights or welfare of the rest of its subjects.

    Democracy is a form of government in which the power of government comes from the people. More formally, we might say that in democracy, the right to govern, or sovereignty, is held by the majority of citizens within a country or state. Even though there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, all definitions include two fundamental principles: First, in a democracy, all citizens have equal access to power. Second, all citizens enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties.

    Democracies come in several forms, some of which provide better representation and more freedoms for their citizens than others. 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.

    Democracies must balance conflicting obligations to try to maximize freedom and protect individual rights. For example, many democracies limit representation. In a full, direct, democracy, every citizen would be able to vote on every law. But in reality, in most democracies, citizens are represented by elected lawmakers charged with drafting and voting on laws. Many also institute measures such as the separation of powers, which divides executive, judicial, and legislative authority among different branches of government to protect against the possibility that a single government or branch of government could accumulate too much power and become harmful to democracy itself. Although such measures may limit representation, they make lawmaking more efficient and help guard against dangers such as the tyranny of the majority. Although majority rule is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, without responsible government it is possible for the rights of a minority to be abused by the tyranny of the majority, in which a majority institutes policies abusive to a minority (for example, a racial majority may deny a racial minority access to education, housing, jobs, or other resources).

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    Electoral Democracies: This map depicts electoral democracies around the world, as judged by Freedom House in 2006. Different colors indicate different forms of democracy. Orange countries are parliamentary republics. Green, yellow, and blue are presidential republics with less (green) or more (blue) presidential power. Red are parliamentary constitutional monarchies in which the monarch does not personally exercise power.