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Glossary for Democracy

Glossary for Democracy

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Definitions of Democracy

Wikipedia definition.

Democracy (Greek: δημοκρατία, dēmokratiā, from dēmos ‘people’ and kratos ‘rule’[1]) is a form of government in which the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation (“direct democracy“), or to choose governing officials to do so (“representative democracy“).

Merriam-Webster definition

  • a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting.
  • a country ruled by democracy.
  • an organization or situation in which everyone is treated equally and has equal rights.

Dictionary.com definition

  • government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
  • a state having such a form of government.
  • a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
  • political or social equality; democratic spirit.
  • the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.

Models of democracy

There are five main models of democracy: 

  1. Direct – everyone votes / decides on everything.
  2. Liquid – like direct, but you can pass on your vote to someone else.
  3. Representative – people vote to elect officials who represent them and make decisions on their behalf.   
  4. Deliberative – a randomly selected demographically representative group of people make decisions on behalf of everyone.
  5. Participatory – people actively and openly discuss matters of state and decide together. Everyone has equal authority, and the majority rules.

See this post for more information about models of democracy.

Other terms used in democratic theory

The following terms are used in social, economic, and political theory. Most of them are used to interpret representative or liberal democracy, but some people also advocate for them as alternate models.

  • Classical democracy – Athenian democracy. A form of direct and participatory democracy. Officials were chosen by ballot / lottery with a one-year term, but major decisions were made by assemblies of people at mass meetings with a majority vote. Any man who was not a slave or immigrant over the age of 20 could participate and vote in the meetings, and it was seen as a civic duty to do so.
  • Corporatism democracy – Government conducted through organisations, with state officials dealing only with employer’s unions.
  • Cosmopolitan democracy – is global. 
  • Developmental democracy – People vote for representatives and participate. The legislature and bureaucracy act separately, and the State and Civil society are separate. Popular sovereignty is vesting in people, and the focus is on rights and liberty, system of checks and balances.
  • Elitist – ruled by the privileged minority who organise and make decisions. 
  • Economic democracy – democratising workplaces, and the market, or eliminating the market all together. Also proposed as an alternative democratic model, where corporates give decision making power to the public to secure political rights.
  • Liberal democracy – Indirect, representative democracy, based on electoral choice.  
  • Neo-liberalism – Using the market as an instrument of reform, for example privatisation, deregulation, austerity.  
  • People’s / social democracy – Removing the bourgeoise from power and democracy will make it more egalitarian. Also, the basis of socialism and communism or Marxist democracy.
  • Productive democracy – Seeking economic security and opportunity for all.
  • Protective democracy – Representative assemblies govern by consent in accord with a constitution which protects rights and liberties. Power is separated between the judiciary, legislature and executive and there is a clear distinction between state and civil society so that people and the market can act freely. Competition is key to protecting democracy and people should participate in democracy to protect themselves and human rights from government.
  • Pluralist democracy – Political power is distributed among competing groups, each influenced by organised groups with members.  

This is a major oversimplification, of these concepts. For more information see: 

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