Most people value living in a democratic state. As the model system for the people's participation, it makes sense. Moreover, Democracy allows you to decide on national affairs and voice your opinions on policies. After all, we always want to participate in matters concerning our well-being. 

Democracy Democracy

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    But how did it come to be? Why do some people criticise Democracy? After reading this explanation, you'll be able not only to recognise democracies as they are but will have the tools to evaluate how they should be.

    The meaning of democracy

    Generally, most people would say that a country where the people have a say in how they are governed is a democracy. But, the meaning of democracy can be a little tricky to explain because there is no set definition that everyone agrees on. However, there are some characteristics that most people agree are essential to be considered a democracy, like the principles of democracy we discuss in the next section.

    What is important to understand is that there is a spectrum between democracy and authoritarianism. For example, a country could have free and fair elections and a state-controlled media, so they have characteristics of both a democratic and authoritarian country and don't sit on either side of the spectrum.

    The term "democracy" generally refers to a method of collective decision-making characterised by equality among participants essential in the decision-making process.

    Democracy comes from two Greek words, "demos," which means the people, and "-kratia," which means power. In short, Democracy could etymologically be defined as the power of the people.

    The principles of democracy

    The implementation of democracy varies significantly in its values. For example, while equality, freedom, and liberty are essential values, they are interpreted differently in each democratic system. In addition, every nation limits its rights and freedoms in many ways.

    Democracy Ballot Drop-Off Box StudySmarterFig. 1 Ballot Drop-Off Box.

    In general, the principles of democracy help evaluate democracies in their implementation and differentiate one type from another. In addition, they help determine if a system of government is indeed a democracy.

    Some of the most important and more agreed-upon principles of democracy are:

    • Free and Fair Elections: It is the primary way for citizens to participate in the government; these elections must be peaceful and avoid corruption, coercion, and intimidation before, during, and after the electoral window.

    • Free Judiciary: The judicial system should not be under the control of other branches of government, as they must prosecute each one in case of abuse of the law.

    • Rule of Law: The law shall be protected and enforced by the government and the people, as no one is above it, in the understanding that the law maintains political, social, and economic order.

    • Participation of citizens: As democracies are supposed to serve the people, it is the citizen's right and responsibility to participate in political affairs, whether by vote or by the system established in a Constitution.

    • Equality: Every person is born equal; therefore, each shall be treated and attended to equally, as no citizen holds more rights than another, and the law equally judges all.

    • Human and civil rights: Democratic governments shall protect the rights of their citizens in the understanding that these are inalienable, such as life, liberty, justice, and dignity.

    • Accountability: Officials are responsible for explaining their decisions and policies by attending to their duties solely to benefit the people.

    • Transparency: To ensure accountability, the government shall explain its decisions and allow non-government agencies, such as the press or public meetings to pass information to the citizens.

    • Political Tolerance: While there are multiple opinions in a society, the state must view this as an advantage and tolerate differing views, protecting the views of the minority and the majority.

    These principles are not implemented equally in every state. For example, how citizens are able to participate in political life is different in every state.

    In general, the principles of democracy help evaluate democracies in their implementation and differentiate one type from another. In addition, they help determine if a system of government is indeed a democracy.

    Types of democracy

    While there are many types of democracies classified by many factors, the most common types of democracy are direct democracy, representative democracy, and liberal and social democracies.

    Direct Democracy

    It is derived directly from Athenian Democracy, and its defining marker is people's power over decisions, as they do not require intermediaries. Instead, they are constructed under frequent referendums, petitions, debates, and passing public interest laws.

    While historically significant, this system is rarely used in modern politics as it can slow down policy-making, making it ineffective at passing relevant laws. The most common example of its use today is referendums.

    Democracy in Athens is one of the most famous early democracies. This is an example of direct democracy as they often made decisions directly, and citizens also were required to serve in political institutions based on a 'lottery'. However, this was only possible because the population was very small, and only citizens were able to participate.

    According to Athens, citizens were only male natives above 20. This didn't include women or enslaved people.

    Representative Democracy

    Representative democracy, also called a republic or indirect democracy, is the most common type of democratic government. It involves frequent and free elections of government officials and parties that will represent the people. These officials shall have the power to govern and create laws on behalf of the people.

    Representative democracies include every type of democratic government requiring the ruling bodies' election. The most common ones are parliamentary democracies and presidential democracies, but many systems fall between them and are still considered representative democracies.

    Parliamentary democracies are a type of government whose highest power by law is the legislative branch. In contrast, in presidential democracies, the highest authority is the executive branch.

    Liberal democracy vs social democracy

    Among the vast array of representative democracies, you can find liberal democracies as a category. What sets liberal democracies apart from social democracies is that they tend to focus on equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.

    Another important point is that liberal democracies tend to support capitalism and implement policies favouring the free market. Whereas social democracies tend to prefer higher regulation of the market.

    Liberal democracies are most influenced by the political ideology of Liberalism and social democracies by Socialism.

    Countries practising Democracy

    There are many types of government in existence. Still, democracy continues to be well-regarded as it protects the people's interests and well-being because they participate in the decision-making process. Moreover, as people hold the right to vote, they become equally important in the face of government, which enhances the values of liberty and equality. As such, it is one of the most popular forms of governance. Here are some examples of such countries.

    Examples of Democracy

    While it is impossible to name every country with a democratic system, this table contains some examples of countries with systems previously mentioned.


    Democratic System


    Representative presidential democracy


    Representative parliamentary democracy

    Cabo Verde

    Representative semi-presidential democracy


    Representative presidential democracy


    Representative parliamentary democracy


    Semi-direct democracy

    United States of America

    Representative presidential democracy

    Table 1 – Examples of Democracy.

    History of Democracy

    Modern democratic systems are the result of a long history of representative governments. While democratic-like representation systems can be seen throughout history, the Greeks established the first governments ruled by the people. Romans continued this trend in the form of the Senate. However, this did not last as emperors quickly shunned the Senate to accumulate power.

    Where these precursors significantly differed, what was the same was in their representation. Greeks and Romans had particular requirements to have the right to vote. This meant that the government's representation mainly consisted of upper-class delegates.

    You could argue that the Senate did not look for the common good of the people. They only consisted of the upper class and therefore only protected their interests, as most people who lived in the Greek and Roman territories were not considered citizens.

    Democracy Timeline of Democracy StudySmarterFig. 3 History of Democracy timeline

    The Declaration of Independence in the American Revolution was the first document to establish that men are born with rights that the government cannot take away. It also establishes the role of the citizens as the deciding factor in choosing their government and holds them accountable for their actions, as rulers must direct them to the citizen's best interests. Many consider the United States of America to have the first 'modern' democracy.

    Democracy - Key takeaways

    • Democracy is a spectrum into which some systems of government fall. It involves sharing the power of decision-making with a collective that stands on equal ground.

    • The implementation of democracy is very diverse, but they generally follow a series of principles that could be used as indicators to determine where a government falls in the democratic spectrum.

    • There are many types of democracy; some of the most important are direct and representative democracies, parliamentary and presidential democracies, and liberal and social democracies.

    • Democracy is one of the most commonly practised forms of government by countries worldwide.

    • The history of formal democracy dates back to Ancient Greece, and the first modern democracy, according to many, was the USA.


    1. Table 1 - Examples of Democracy.
    2. Fig. 1 Ballot box in Denver, October 2020 (,_October_2020_2.jpg) by Jami430 ( licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 ( on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Democracy

    What is democracy?

    Democracy refers generally to a method of collective decision making characterised by equality among the participants being essential in the decision-making process.

    What is an example of democracy?

    The U.S. is an example of Democracy. They have a representative democracy where the people choose the Executive and Legislative officials for the debate over policies that interest the people.

    What are the three characteristics of a democracy?

    The free and equal participation of citizens, accountability and transparency from the government, and free and fair elections to vote on policies or choose representatives.

    What is the difference between a republic and a remocracy?

    Republics are usually representative democracies, so not all democracies are republics.

    What is the origin of democracy?

    Democracy has existed since prehistory, but it formal democracy originated in Ancient Greece.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Are mandatory referendums binding?

    What are the differences between an election and a referendum?

    What does FPTP mean?


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