#redirectTemplate:Dated maintenance category Democracy is a political form of government in which governing power is derived from the people, by consensus (consensus democracy), by direct referendum (direct democracy), or by means of elected representatives of the people (representative democracy). The term comes from the Greek: δημοκρατία – (dēmokratía) "rule of the people", which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (Kratos) "power", in the middle of the 5th-4th 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', equality and freedom have been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no restrictions can apply to anyone wanting to become a representative, and the freedom of its citizens 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 – through the use of balances – to avoid an uneven distribution of political power, such as the separation of powers, then a branch of the system of rule could accumulate power, thus become undemocratic.
The "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without governmental or constitutional protections of individual liberties, it is possible for a minority of 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 applicable to private organizations and other groups also.
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.
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 (ruling class of property owners). Although Athenian democracy is today considered by many to have been a form of direct democracy, originally it had two distinguishing features: first 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 (μέτοικοι / metoikoi) 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 possible example of primitive democracy may have been the early Sumerian city-states. 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.
A serious claim for early democratic institutions comes from the independent "republics" of India, sanghas and ganas, which existed as early as the 6th century BC and persisted in some areas until the 4th 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. However, modern scholars note that the word democracy at the 3rd century BC and later had been degraded and could mean any autonomous state no matter how oligarchic it was. The lack of the concept of citizen equality across caste system boundaries lead many scholars to believe that the true nature of ganas and sanghas would not be comparable to that of truly democratic institutions.
Even though the Roman Republic contributed significantly to 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.
During the Middle Ages, there were various systems involving elections or assemblies, although often only involving a small amount of the population, the election of Gopala in Bengal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Althing in Iceland, the Løgting in the Faroe Islands 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. The 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% as late as 1780), and the power to call parliament was at the pleasure of the monarch (usually when he or she needed funds). The power of Parliament increased in stages over the succeeding centuries. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the English Bill of Rights of 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 the monarch became largely a figurehead. As the franchise was increased, it also was made more uniform, as many so-called rotten boroughs, with a handful of voters electing a Member of Parliament, were eliminated in the Reform Act of 1832.
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.