History of democracy
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History of democracy

September 25, 2019


Democracy can be traced back from the present
day to classical Athens in the 6th century B.C.E. According to one definition, democracy
is a political system in which all the members of the society have an equal share of formal
political power. In modern representative democracy, this formal equality is embodied
primarily in the right to vote. Antiquity
Historic origins Although it is generally believed that the
concepts of democracy and constitution were created in one particular place and time – identified
as Ancient Athens circa 508 BCE — there is evidence to suggest that democratic forms
of government, in a broad sense, may have existed in several areas of the world well
before the turn of the 5th century. Within that broad sense it is plausible to assume
that democracy in one form or another arises naturally in any well-bonded group, such as
a tribe. This is tribalism or primitive democracy. A primitive democracy is identified in small
communities or villages when the following take place: face-to-face discussion in the
village council or a headman whose decisions are supported by village elders or other cooperative
modes of government. Nevertheless, on a larger scale sharper contrasts arise when the village
and the city are examined as political communities. In urban governments, all other forms of rule
monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, and oligarchy – have flourished.
Proto-democratic societies In recent decades scholars have explored the
possibility that advancements toward democratic government occurred somewhere else first,
as Greece developed its complex social and political institutions long after the appearance
of the earliest civilizations in Egypt and the Near East.
Mesopotamia Thorkild Jacobsen has studied the pre-Babylonian
Mesopotamia and uses Sumerian epic, myth, and historical records to identify what he
calls primitive democracy. By this he means a government in which ultimate power rests
with the mass of free male citizens, although “the various functions of government are as
yet little specialised [and] the power structure is loose”. In the early period of Sumer, kings
such as Gilgamesh did not hold the autocratic power which later Mesopotamian rulers wielded.
Rather, major city-states had a council of elders and a council of “young men” that possessed
the final political authority, and had to be consulted on all major issues such as war.
This pioneering work, while constantly cited, has invoked little serious discussion and
gained little outright acceptance. The criticism from other scholars focuses on the use of
the word “democracy”, since the same evidence also can be interpreted convincingly to demonstrate
a power struggle between primitive monarchs and the nobility, a struggle in which the
common people act more as pawns than as the sovereign authority. Jacobsen concedes that
the vagueness of the evidence prohibits the separation between the Mesopotamian democracy
from a primitive oligarchy. India
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 BCE and persisted
in some areas until the fourth century CE. The evidence is scattered and no pure historical
source exists for that period. In addition, Diodorus, without offering any detail, mentions
that independent and democratic states existed in India. However, modern scholars note that
the word democracy at the third century BCE and later had been degraded and could mean
any autonomous state no matter how oligarchic it was.
The main characteristics of the gana seem to be a monarch, usually called raja, and
a deliberative assembly. The assembly met regularly. It discussed all major state decisions
and at least in some states attendance was open to all free men. It had also full financial,
administrative, and judicial authority. Other officers, who are rarely mentioned, obeyed
the decisions of the assembly. The monarch was elected by the gana and apparently he
always belonged to a family of the noble K’satriya Varna. The monarch coordinated his activities
with the assembly and in some states along with a council of other nobles. The Licchavis
had a primary governing body of 7,077 rajas, the heads of the most important families.
On the other hand, the Shakyas, the Gautama Buddha’s people, had the assembly open to
all men, rich and poor. Scholars differ over how to describe these
governments, and the vague, sporadic quality of the evidence allows for wide disagreements.
Some emphasize the central role of the assemblies and thus tout them as democracies; other scholars
focus on the upper-class domination of the leadership and possible control of the assembly
and see an oligarchy or an aristocracy. Despite the obvious power of the assembly, it has
not yet been established whether the composition and participation was truly popular. The first
main obstacle is the lack of evidence describing the popular power of the assembly. This is
reflected in the Artha’ shastra, an ancient handbook for monarchs on how to rule efficiently.
It contains a chapter on dealing with the sangas, which includes injunctions on manipulating
the noble leaders, yet it does not mention how to influence the mass of the citizens—a
surprising omission if democratic bodies, not the aristocratic families, actively controlled
the republican governments. Another issue is the persistence of the four-tiered Varna
class system. The duties and privileges on the members of each particular caste—which
were rigid enough to prohibit someone sharing a meal with those of another order—might
have affected the role members were expected to play in the state, regardless of the formal
institutions. The lack of the concept of citizen equality across caste system boundaries leads
many scholars to believe that the true nature of ganas and sanghas would not be comparable
to that of truly democratic institutions. Sparta Ancient Greece, in its early period, was a
loose collection of independent city states called poleis. Many of these poleis were oligarchies.
The most prominent Greek oligarchy, and the state with which democratic Athens is most
often and most fruitfully compared, was Sparta. Yet Sparta, in its rejection of private wealth
as a primary social differentiator, was a peculiar kind of oligarchy and some scholars
note its resemblance to democracy. In Spartan government, the political power was divided
between four bodies: two Spartan Kings, gerousia, including the two kings), the ephors and the
apella. The two kings served as the head of the government.
They ruled simultaneously but came from two separate lines. The dual kingship diluted
the effective power of the executive office. The kings shared their judicial functions
with other members of the gerousia. The members of the gerousia had to be over the age of
60 and were elected for life. In theory, any Spartan over that age could stand for election.
However, in practice, they were selected from wealthy, aristocratic families. The gerousia
possessed the crucial power of legislative initiative. Apella, the most democratic element,
was the assembly where Spartans above the age of 30 elected the members of the gerousia
and the ephors, and accepted or rejected gerousia’s proposals. Finally, the five ephors were Spartans
chosen in apella to oversee the actions of the kings and other public officials and,
if necessary, depose them. They served for one year and could not be re-elected for a
second term. Over the years, the ephors held great influence on the formation of foreign
policy and acted as the main executive body of state. Additionally, they had full responsibility
for the Spartan educational system, which was essential for maintaining the high standards
of the Spartan army. As Aristotle noted, ephors were the most important key institution of
state, but because often they were appointed from the whole social body it resulted in
very poor men holding office, with the ensuing possibility that they could easily be bought.
The creator of the Spartan system of rule was the legendary lawgiver Lycurgus. He is
associated with the drastic reforms that were instituted in Sparta after the revolt of the
helots in the second half of the 7th century BCE. In order to prevent another helot revolt,
Lycurgus devised the highly militarized communal system that made Sparta unique among the city-states
of Greece. All his reforms were directed towards the three Spartan virtues: equality, military
fitness, and austerity. It is also probable that Lycurgus delineated the powers of the
two traditional organs of the Spartan government, the gerousia and the apella.
The reforms of Lycurgus were written as a list of rules/laws called Great Rhetra, making
it the world’s first written constitution. In the following centuries, Sparta became
a military superpower, and its system of rule was admired throughout the Greek world for
its political stability. In particular, the concept of equality played an important role
in Spartan society. The Spartans referred to themselves as όμοιοι. It was also
reflected in the Spartan public educational system, agoge, where all citizens irrespective
of wealth or status had the same education. This was admired almost universally by contemporaries,
from historians such as Herodotus and Xenophon to philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.
In addition, the Spartan women, unlike elsewhere, enjoyed “every kind of luxury and intemperance”
including elementary rights such as the right to inheritance, property ownership, and public
education. Overall, the Spartans were remarkably free
to criticize their kings and they were able to depose and exile them. However, despite
these democratic elements in the Spartan constitution, there are two cardinal criticisms, classifying
Sparta as an oligarchy. First, individual freedom was restricted, since as Plutarch
writes “no man was allowed to live as he wished”, but as in a “military camp” all were engaged
in the public service of their polis. And second, the gerousia effectively maintained
the biggest share of power of the various governmental bodies.
The political stability of Sparta also meant that no significant changes in the constitution
were made. The oligarchic elements of Sparta became even stronger, especially after the
influx of gold and silver from the victories in the Persian Wars. In addition, Athens,
after the Persian Wars, was becoming the hegemonic power in the Greek world and disagreements
between Sparta and Athens over supremacy emerged. These led to a series of armed conflicts known
as the Peloponnesian War, with Sparta prevailing in the end. However, the war exhausted both
poleis and Sparta was in turn humbled by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE. It was
all brought to an end a few years later, when Philip II of Macedon crushed what remained
of the power of the factional city states to his South.
Athens Athens is regarded as the birthplace of democracy
and it is considered an important reference point of democracy.
Athens emerged in the 7th century BCE, like many other poleis, with a dominating powerful
aristocracy. However, this domination led to exploitation, causing significant economic,
political, and social problems. These problems were exacerbated early in the sixth century
and as “the many were enslaved to few, the people rose against the notables”. At the
same period in the Greek world, many traditional aristocracies were disrupted by popular revolutions,
like Sparta in the second half of the 7th century BCE. Sparta’s constitutional reforms
by Lycurgus introduced a hoplite state and showed how inherited governments can be changed
and lead to military victory. After a period of unrest between the rich and the poor, the
Athenians of all classes turned to Solon to act as a mediator between rival factions,
and reached a generally satisfactory solution to their problems.
Solon and the foundations of democracy Solon, an Athenian of noble descent but moderate
means, was a Lyric poet and later a lawmaker; Plutarch placed him as one of the Seven Sages
of the ancient world. Solon attempted to satisfy all sides by alleviating the suffering of
the poor majority without removing all the privileges of the rich minority. Solon divided
the Athenians into four property classes, with different rights and duties for each.
As the Rhetra did in the Lycurgian Sparta, Solon formalized the composition and functions
of the governmental bodies. Now, all citizens were entitled to attend the Ecclesia and vote.
Ecclesia became, in principle, the sovereign body, entitled to pass laws and decrees, elect
officials, and hear appeals from the most important decisions of the courts. All but
those in the poorest group might serve, a year at a time, on a new Boule of 400, which
was to prepare business for Ecclesia. The higher governmental posts, archons, were reserved
for citizens of the top two income groups. The retired archons became members of the
Areopagus, and like the Gerousia in Sparta, it was able to check improper actions of the
newly powerful Ecclesia. Solon created a mixed timocratic and democratic system of institutions.
Overall, the reforms of the lawgiver Solon in 594 BC were devised to avert the political,
economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens and gave Athens its first comprehensive code
of law. The constitutional reforms eliminated enslavement of Athenians by Athenians, established
rules for legal redress against over-reaching aristocratic archons, and assigned political
privileges on the basis of productive wealth rather than noble birth. Some of his reforms
failed in the short term, yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations
for Athenian democracy. Democracy under Cleisthenes and Pericles Even though the Solonian reorganization of
the constitution improved the economic position of the Athenian lower classes, it did not
eliminate the bitter aristocratic contentions for control of the archonship, the chief executive
post. Peisistratus became tyrant of Athens three times and remained in power until his
death in 527 BCE. His sons Hippias and Hipparchus succeeded him.
After the fall of tyranny and before the year 508–507 was over, Cleisthenes proposed a
complete reform of the system of government, which later was approved by the popular Ecclesia.
Cleisthenes reorganized the population into ten tribes, with the aim to change the basis
of political organization from the family loyalties to political ones, and improve the
army’s organization. He also introduced the principle of equality of rights for all, isonomia,
by expanding access to power to more citizens. During this period, the word “democracy” was
first used by the Athenians to define their new system of government. In the next generation,
Athens entered in its Golden Age by becoming a great center of literature and art. The
victories in Persian Wars encouraged the poorest Athenians to demand a greater say in the running
of their city. In the late 460s, Ephialtes and Pericles presided over a radicalization
of power that shifted the balance decisively to the poorest sections of society, by passing
laws which severely limited the powers of the Council of the Areopagus and allowed thetes
to occupy public office. Pericles was distinguished as its greatest democratic leader, even though
he has been accused of running a political machine. In the following passage, Thucydides
recorded Pericles, in the funeral oration, describing the Athenian system of rule: The Athenian democracy of Cleisthenes and
Pericles was based on freedom, through the reforms of Solon, and equality, introduced
by Cleisthenes and later expanded by Ephialtes and Pericles. To preserve these principles,
the Athenians used lot for selecting officials. Lot’s rationale was to ensure all citizens
were “equally” qualified for office, and to avoid any corruption allotment machines were
used. Moreover, in most positions chosen by lot, Athenian citizens could not be selected
more than once; this rotation in office meant that no-one could build up a power base through
staying in a particular position. Another important political institution in
Athens was the courts; they were composed of a large number of juries with no judges,
and they were selected by lot on a daily basis from an annual pool, also chosen by lot. The
courts had unlimited power to control the other bodies of the government and its political
leaders. Participation by the citizens selected was mandatory, and a modest financial compensation
was given to citizens whose livelihood was affected by being “drafted” to office. The
only officials chosen by elections, one from each tribe, were the strategoi, where military
knowledge was required, and the treasurers, who had to be wealthy, since any funds revealed
to have been embezzled were recovered from a treasurer’s private fortune. Debate was
open to all present and decisions in all matters of policy were taken by majority vote in Ecclesia,
in which all male citizens could participate. The decisions taken in Ecclesia were executed
by Boule of 500, which had already approved the agenda for Ecclesia. The Athenian Boule
was elected by lot every year and no citizen could serve more than twice.
Overall, the Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made
by the assembled people, but also directest in the sense that the people through the assembly,
boule, and courts of law controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of
citizens were involved constantly in the public business. And even though the rights of the
individual were not secured by the Athenian constitution in the modern sense, the Athenians
enjoyed their liberties not in opposition to the government, but by living in a city
that was not subject to another power and by not being subjects themselves to the rule
of another person. Birth of political philosophy Within the Athenian democratic environment,
many philosophers from all over the Greek world gathered to develop their theories.
Socrates was the first to raise the question, further expanded by his pupil Plato, about
the relation/position of an individual within a community. Aristotle continued the work
of his teacher, Plato, and laid the foundations of political philosophy. The political philosophy
created in Athens was, in the words of Peter Hall, “in a form so complete that hardly added
anyone of moment to it for over a millennium”. Aristotle systematically analyzed the different
systems of rule that the numerous Greek city-states had and categorized them into three categories
based on how many ruled: the many, the few, a single person. For Aristotle, the underlying
principles of democracy are reflected in his work Politics:
The decline, its critics and revival The Athenian democracy, in its two centuries
of life-time, twice voted against its democratic constitution, both during the crisis at the
end of the Pelopponesian War, creating first the Four Hundred and second Sparta’s puppet
régime of the Thirty Tyrants. Both votes were under manipulation and pressure, but
democracy was recovered in less than a year in both cases. Athens restored again its democratic
constitution, after the unification by force of Greece from Phillip II of Macedon and later
Alexander the Great, but it was politically shadowed by the Hellenistic empires. Finally
after the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC, Athens was restricted to matters of local
administration. However, the decline of democracy was not
only due to external powers, but from its citizens, such as Plato and his student Aristotle.
Through their influential works, after the rediscovery of classics during renaissance,
Sparta’s political stability was praised, while the Periclean democracy was described
as a system of rule, where either the less well-born, the mob, or the poorer classes
were holding power. It was only centuries afterwards, with the publication of “A history
of Greece” by George Grote in 1846, that the Athenian democracy of Pericles started to
be viewed positively by political thinkers. Over the last two decades, scholars have re-examined
the Athenian system of rule as a model of empowering citizens and a “post-modern” example
for communities and organizations alike. Roman Republic Even though Rome is classified as a Republic
and not a democracy, its history has helped preserve the concept of democracy over the
centuries. The Romans invented the concept of classics and many works from Ancient Greece
were preserved. Additionally, the Roman model of governance inspired many political thinkers
over the centuries, and today’s modern democracies imitate more the Roman than the Greek models.
The Republic Rome was a city-state in Italy next to powerful
neighbors; Etruscans had built city-states throughout central Italy since 13th century
BCE and in the south were Greek colonies. Similar to other city-states, Rome was ruled
by a king. However, social unrest and the pressure of external threats led in 510 BCE
the last king to be deposed by a group of aristocrats led by Lucius Junius Brutus. A
new constitution was crafted, but the conflict between the ruling families and the rest of
the population, the plebeians continued. The plebs were demanding for definite, written,
and secular laws. The patrician priests, who were the recorders and interpreters of the
statutes, by keeping their records secret used their monopoly against social change.
After a long resistance to the new demands, the Senate in 454 BCE sent a commission of
three patricians to Greece to study and report on the legislation of Solon and other lawmakers.
When they returned, the Assembly in 451 BCE chose ten men – a decemviri – to formulate
a new code, and gave them supreme governmental power in Rome for two years. This commission,
under the supervision of a resolute reactionary, Appius Claudius, transformed the old customary
law of Rome into Twelve Tables and submitted them to the Assembly and they were displayed
in the Forum for all who would and could read. The Twelve Tables recognised certain rights
and by the 4th century BCE, the plebs were given the right to stand for consulship and
other major offices of the state. The political structure as outlined in the
Roman constitution resembled a mixed constitution and its constituent parts were comparable
to those of the Spartan constitution: two consuls, embodying the monarchic form; the
Senate, embodying the aristocratic form; and the people through the assemblies. The consul
was the highest ranking ordinary magistrate. Consuls had power in both civil and military
matters. While in the city of Rome, the consuls were the head of the Roman government and
they would preside over the Senate and the assemblies. While abroad, each consul would
command an army. The Senate passed decrees, which were called senatus consultum and were
official advices to a magistrate. However, in practice it was difficult for a magistrate
to ignore the Senate’s advice. The focus of the Roman Senate was directed towards foreign
policy. Though it technically had no official role in the management of military conflict,
the Senate ultimately was the force that oversaw such affairs. Also it managed Rome’s civil
administration. The requirements for becoming a senator included having at least 100,000
denarii worth of land, being born of the patrician class, and having held public office at least
once before. New Senators had to be approved by the sitting members. The people of Rome
through the assemblies had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment
of new laws, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the
creation of alliances. Despite the obvious power the assemblies had, in practice the
assemblies were the least powerful of the other bodies of government. An assembly was
legal only if summoned by a magistrate and it was restricted from any legislative initiative
or the ability to debate. And even the candidates for public office as Livy writes “levels were
designed so that no one appeared to be excluded from an election and yet all of the clout
resided with the leading men”. Moreover the unequal weight of votes was making a rare
practice for asking the lowest classes for their votes.
Roman stability, in Polybius’ assessment, was owing to the checks each element put on
the superiority of any other: a consul at war, for example, required the cooperation
of the Senate and the people if he hoped to secure victory and glory, and could not be
indifferent to their wishes. This was not to say that the balance was in every way even:
Polybius observes that the superiority of the Roman to the Carthaginian constitution
at the time of the Hannibalic War was an effect of the latter’s greater inclination toward
democracy than to aristocracy. Moreover, recent attempts to posit for Rome personal freedom
in the Greek sense – eleutheria: living as you like – have fallen on stony ground,
since eleutheria was anathema in the Roman eyes. Rome’s core values included order,
hierarchy, discipline, and obedience. These values were enforced with laws regulating
the private life of an individual. The laws were applied in particular to the upper classes,
since the upper classes were the source of Roman moral examples.
Rome became the ruler of a great Mediterranean empire. The new provinces brought wealth to
Italy, and fortunes were made through mineral concessions and enormous slave run estates.
Slaves were imported to Italy and wealthy landowners soon began to buy up and displace
the original peasant farmers. By the late 2nd century this led to renewed conflict between
the rich and poor and demands from the latter for reform of constitution. The background
of social unease and the inability of the traditional republican constitutions to adapt
to the needs of the growing empire led to the rise of a series of over-mighty generals,
championing the cause of either the rich or the poor, in the last century BCE.
Transition to Empire Over the next few hundred years, various generals
would bypass or overthrow the Senate for various reasons, mostly to address perceived injustices,
either against themselves or against poorer citizens or soldiers. One of those generals
was Julius Caesar, where he marched on Rome and took supreme power over the republic.
Caesar’s career was cut short by his assassination at Rome in 44 BCE by a group of Senators including
Marcus Junius Brutus. In the power vacuum that followed Caesar’s assassination, his
friend and chief lieutenant, Marcus Antonius, and Caesar’s grandnephew Octavian who also
was the adopted son of Caesar, rose to prominence. Their combined strength gave the triumvirs
absolute power. However, in 31 BC war between the two broke out. The final confrontation
occurred on 2 September 31 BCE, at the naval Battle of Actium where the fleet of Octavian
under the command of Agrippa routed Antony’s fleet. Thereafter, there was no one left in
the Roman Republic who wanted to, or could stand against Octavian, and the adopted son
of Caesar moved to take absolute control. Octavian left the majority of Republican institutions
intact, though he influenced everything using personal authority and ultimately controlled
the final decisions. Having military might to back up his rule if necessary. By 27 BCE
the transition, though subtle, disguised, and relying on personal power over the power
of offices, was complete. In that year, Octavian offered back all his powers to the Senate,
and in a carefully staged way, the Senate refused and titled Octavian Augustus — “the
revered one”. He was always careful to avoid the title of rex — “king”, and instead took
on the titles of princeps — “first citizen” and imperator, a title given by Roman troops
to their victorious commanders. Roman Empire and Late Antiquity
The Roman Empire had been born. Once Octavian named Tiberius as his heir, it was clear to
everyone that even the hope of a restored Republic was dead. Most likely, by the time
Augustus died, no one was old enough to know a time before an Emperor ruled Rome. The Roman
Republic had been changed into a despotic régime, which, underneath a competent and
strong Emperor, could achieve military supremacy, economic prosperity, and a genuine peace,
but under a weak or incompetent one saw its glory tarnished by cruelty, military defeats,
revolts, and civil war. The Roman Empire was eventually divided between
the Western Roman Empire which fell in 476 AD and the Eastern Roman Empire which lasted
until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. The Germanic tribal thing assemblies described
by Tacitus in his Germania. The Christian Church well into the 6th century
AD had its bishops elected by popular acclaim. The collegia of the Roman period: associations
of various social, economic, religious, funerary and even sportive natures elected officers
yearly, often directly modeled on the Senate of Rome.
Medieval institutions Most of the procedures used by modern democracies
are very old. Almost all cultures have at some time had their new leaders approved,
or at least accepted, by the people; and have changed the laws only after consultation with
the assembly of the people or their leaders. Such institutions existed since before the
Iliad or the Odyssey, and modern democracies are often derived or inspired by them, or
what remained of them. Nevertheless, the direct result of these institutions
was not always a democracy. It was often a narrow oligarchy, as in Venice, or even an
absolute monarchy, as in Florence, in renaissance period but during medieval period they were
guild democracies. These early institutions include:
continuations of the early Germanic thing: The Witenagemot of Early Medieval England,
councils of advisors to the kings of the petty kingdoms and then that of a unified England
before the Norman Conquest. The Frankish custom of the Märzfeld or Camp
of Mars. Tynwald, on the Isle of Man, is the oldest
continuous parliament in the world, which began in 979, although its roots go further
back to the late 9th century. Tynwald was also the first place to offer universal suffrage
in 1893. The Althing, the parliament of the Icelandic
Commonwealth, founded in 930. It consisted of the 39, later 55, goðar; each owner of
a goðarð; and membership, which could in principle be lent or sold, was kept tight
hold of by each hereditary goði. Thus, for example, when Burnt Njal’s stepson wanted
to enter it, Njal had to persuade the Althing to enlarge itself so a seat would be available.
But as each independent farmer in the country could choose what goði represented him the
system could be claimed as an early form of democracy. The Alþing has run nearly continuously
to the present day. The Althing was preceded by less elaborate “things” all over Northern
Europe. The Thing of all Swedes, which was held annually
at Uppsala in the end of February or early March. Like in Iceland, the assemblies were
presided by the lawspeaker, but the Swedish king functioned as a judge. A famous incident
took place circa 1018, when King Olof Skötkonung wanted to pursue the war against Norway against
the will of the people. Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker reminded the king in a long speech that the
power resided with the Swedish people and not with the king. When the king heard the
din of swords beating the shields in support of Þorgnýr’s speech, he gave in. Adam of
Bremen wrote that the people used to obey the king only when they thought his suggestions
seemed better, although in war his power was absolute.
the Swiss Landsgemeinde The túatha system in early medieval Ireland.
Landowners and the masters of a profession or craft were members of a local assembly,
known as a túath. Each túath met in annual assembly which approved all common policies,
declared war or peace on other tuatha, and accepted the election of a new “king”; normally
during the old king’s lifetime, as a tanist. The new king had to be descended within four
generations from a previous king, so this usually became, in practice, a hereditary
kingship; although some kingships alternated between lines of cousins. About 80 to 100
túatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland. Each túath controlled a more or less compact
area of land which it could pretty much defend from cattle-raids, and this was divided among
its members. the guilds, of economic, social and religious
natures, in the later Middle Ages elected officers for yearly terms.
The city-states of medieval Italy, as Venice and Florence, and similar city-states in Switzerland,
Flanders and the Hanseatic league had not a modern democratic system but a guild democratic
system. The Italian cities in middle medieval period had “lobbies war” democracies without
institutional guarantee systems. During late medieval and renaissance periods, Venice became
an oligarchy and others became “Signorie”. They were, in any case in late medieval not
nearly as democratic as the Athenian-influenced city-states of Ancient Greece, but they served
as focal points for early modern democracy. Veche, Wiec – popular assemblies in Slavic
countries. In Poland wiece have developed in 1182 into Sejm – Polish parliament. The
veche was the highest legislature and judicial authority in the republics of Novgorod until
1478 and Pskov until 1510. The elizate system of the Basque Country in
which farmholders of a rural area connected to a particular church would meet to reach
decisions on issues affecting the community and to elect representatives to the provincial
Batzar Nagusiak/Juntos Generales. Rise of democratic parliaments in England
and Scotland: Magna Carta limiting the authority of powerholders, first elected parliament.
The Magna Carta implicitly supported what became the English writ of habeas corpus,
safeguarding individual freedom against unlawful imprisonment with right to appeal. The emergence
of petitioning in the 13th Century is some of the earliest evidence of this parliament
being used as a forum to address the general grievances of ordinary people.
The Ibadites of Oman, a minority sect distinct from both Sunni and Shia Muslims, have traditionally
chosen their leaders via community-wide elections of qualified candidates starting in the 8th
century. They were distinguished early on in the region by their belief that the ruler
needed the consent of the ruled. The leader exercised both religious and secular rule.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas Historian Jack Weatherford has argued that
the ideas leading to the American Constitution and democracy derived from various indigenous
peoples of the Americas including the Iroquois. Weatherford claimed this democracy was founded
between the years 1000–1450, and lasted several hundred years, and that the American
democratic system was continually changed and improved by the influence of Native Americans
throughout North America. Temple University professor of anthropology
and an authority on the culture and history of the Northern Iroquois Elizabeth Tooker
has reviewed these claims and concluded they are myth rather than fact. The idea that North
American Indians had a democratic culture is several decades old, but not usually expressed
within historical literature. The relationship between the Iroquois League and the Constitution
is based on a portion of a letter written by Benjamin Franklin and a speech by the Iroquois
chief Canasatego in 1744. Tooker concluded that the documents only indicate that some
groups of Iroquois and white settlers realized the advantages of a confederation, and that
ultimately there is little evidence to support the idea that eighteenth century colonists
were knowledgeable regarding the Iroquois system of governance.
What little evidence there is regarding this system indicates chiefs of different tribes
were permitted representation in the Iroquois League council, and this ability to represent
the tribe was hereditary. The council itself did not practice representative government,
and there were no elections; deceased chiefs’ successors were selected by the most senior
woman within the hereditary lineage in consultation with other women in the clan. Decision making
occurred through lengthy discussion and decisions were unanimous, with topics discussed being
introduced by a single tribe. Tooker concludes that “…there is virtually no evidence that
the framers borrowed from the Iroquois” and that the myth that this was the case is the
result of exaggerations and misunderstandings of a claim made by Iroquois linguist and ethnographer
J.N.B. Hewitt after his death in 1937. The Aztecs also practiced elections, but the
elected officials elected a supreme speaker, not a ruler.
Rise of democracy in modern national governments Early Modern Era milestones Norman Davies notes that Golden Liberty, the
Nobles’ Democracy arose in the Kingdom of Poland and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
This foreshadowed a democracy of about ten percent of the population of the Commonwealth,
consisting of the nobility, who were an electorate for the office of the King. They observed
Nihil novi of 1505, Pacta conventa and King Henry’s Articles. See also: Szlachta history
and political privileges, Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth,
Organisation and politics of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Virginia House of Burgesses, established in 1619, is the first representative legislative
body in the New World. The Mayflower Compact, signed in 1620, an
agreement between the Pilgrims, on forming a government between themselves, based on
majority rule. Petition of Right passed by the Parliament
of England. It established, among other things, the illegality of taxation without parliamentary
consent and of arbitrary imprisonment. The idea of the political party with factions
took form in Britain around the time of the English Civil War. Soldiers from the Parliamentarian
New Model Army and a faction of Levellers freely debated rights to political representation
during the Putney Debates of 1647. The Levellers published a newspaper and pioneered political
petitions, pamphleteering and party colours. Later, the pre-war Royalist and opposing Parliamentarian
groupings became the Tory party and the Whigs in the Parliament.
English Act of Habeas Corpus, safeguarding individual freedom against unlawful imprisonment
with right to appeal; one of the documents integral to the Constitution of the United
Kingdom and the History of the parliament of the United Kingdom.
William Penn wrote his Frame of Government of Pennsylvania in 1682. The document gave
the colony a representative legislature and granted liberal freedoms to the colony’s citizens.
The first bill of rights to protect the rights of the citizens of a country is enacted by
the Parliament of England in 1689. The Bill of Rights set out the rights of Parliament,
rules for freedom of speech in Parliament and limited the power of the monarch. It ensured
that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail.
Eighteenth and nineteenth century milestones 1707: The first Parliament of Great Britain
is established after the merger of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland under
the Acts of Union 1707. 1755: The Corsican Republic led by Pasquale
Paoli with the Corsican Constitution From late 1770s: new Constitutions and Bills
explicitly describing and limiting the authority of powerholders, many based on the English
Bill of Rights. Historian Norman Davies calls the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Constitution
of May 3, 1791 “the first constitution of its kind in Europe”.
The United States 1776: Virginia Declaration of Rights
United States Constitution ratified in 1788, created bicameral legislature with members
of the House of Representatives elected “by the People of the several states,” and members
of the Senate elected by the state legislatures. 1791: the United States Bill of Rights ratified.
1790s: First Party System in U.S. involves invention of locally-rooted political parties
in the United States; networks of party newspapers; new canvassing techniques; use of caucus to
select candidates; fixed party names; party loyalty; party platform;
1800: peaceful transition between parties 1780s: development of social movements identifying
themselves with the term ‘democracy’: Political clashes between ‘aristocrats’ and ‘democrats’
in Benelux countries changed the semi-negative meaning of the word ‘democracy’ in Europe,
which was until then regarded as synonymous with anarchy, into a much more positive opposite
of ‘aristocracy’. 1789–1799: the French Revolution
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted on 26 August 1789 which declared
that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights” and proclaimed the universal character
of human rights. Universal male suffrage established for the
election of the National Convention in September 1792, but revoked by the Directory in 1795.
Slavery abolished in the French colonies by the National Convention on 4 February 1794,
with Black people made equal to White people. Slavery was re-established by Napoleon in
1802. 1791: The Haitian Revolution a successful
slave revolution, established a free republic. The United Kingdom
1807: The Slave Trade Act banned the trade across the British Empire after which the
U.K. established the West Africa Squadron and enacted international treaties to combat
foreign slave traders. 1832: The passing of the Reform Act, which
gave representation to previously under represented urban areas in the U.K. and extended the voting
franchise to a wider population. 1833: The Slavery Abolition Act was passed,
which took effect across the British Empire from 1 August 1834. 1848: Universal male suffrage was definitely
established in France in March of that year, in the wake of the French Revolution of 1848.
1848: Following the French, the Revolutions of 1848, although in many instances forcefully
put down, did result in democratic constitutions in some other European countries among them
Denmark and Netherlands. 1850s: introduction of the secret ballot in
Australia; 1872 in UK; 1892 in USA 1853: Black Africans given the vote for the
first time in Southern Africa, in the British-administered Cape Province.
1870: USA – 15th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibits voting rights discrimination on
the basis of race, colour, or previous condition of slavery.
1879 and 1880: William Ewart Gladstone’s UK Midlothian campaign ushered in the modern
political campaign. 1893: New Zealand is the first nation to introduce
universal suffrage by awarding the vote to women.
The secret ballot The notion of a secret ballot, where one is
entitled to the privacy of their votes, is taken for granted by most today by virtue
of the fact that it is simply considered the norm. However, this practice was highly controversial
in the 19th century; it was widely argued that no man would want to keep his vote secret
unless he was ashamed of it. The two earliest systems used were the Victorian
method and the South Australian method. Both were introduced in 1856 to voters in Victoria
and South Australia. The Victorian method involved voters crossing out all the candidates
whom he did not approve of. The South Australian method, which is more similar to what most
democracies use today, had voters put a mark in the preferred candidate’s corresponding
box. The Victorian voting system also was not completely secret, as it was traceable
by a special number. The stone inscriptions in a temple say that
ballot elections were held in South India by a method called Kudavolai system. Kudavolai
means the ballot sheet of leaf that was put secretly in a pot vessel called “kudam”.The
details are found inscribed on the walls of the village assembly hall. Actually, the once-
village-assembly hall is the present temple. The details show that the village had a secret
ballot electoral system and a written Constitution, prescribing the mode of elections.
20th century waves of democracy The end of the First World War was a temporary
victory for democracy in Europe, as it was preserved in France and temporarily extended
to Germany. Already in 1906 full modern democratic rights, universal suffrage for all citizens
was implemented constitutionally in Finland as well as a proportional representation,
open list system. Likewise, the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 inaugurated a few months
of liberal democracy under Alexander Kerensky until Lenin took over in October. The terrible
economic impact of the Great Depression hurt democratic forces in many countries. The 1930s
became a decade of dictators in Europe and Latin America.
The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted full U.S. citizenship to America’s indigenous
peoples, called “Indians” in this Act. The act was signed into law by President Calvin
Coolidge on June 2, 1924. The act further enfranchised the rights of peoples resident
within the boundaries of the USA. Post World War II
World War II was ultimately a victory for democracy in Western Europe, where representative
governments were established that reflected the general will of their citizens. However,
many countries of Central and Eastern Europe became undemocratic Soviet satellite states.
In Southern Europe, a number of right-wing authoritarian dictatorships continued to exist.
Japan had moved towards democracy during the Taishō period during the 1920s, but it was
under effective military rule in the years before and during World War II. The country
adopted a new constitution during the postwar Allied occupation, with initial elections
in 1946. Decolonisation and Civil Rights Movements
World War II also planted seeds of democracy outside Europe and Japan, as it weakened,
with the exception of the USSR and the United States, all the old colonial powers while
strengthening anticolonial sentiment worldwide. Many restive colonies/possessions were promised
subsequent independence in exchange for their support for embattled colonial powers during
the war. The aftermath of World War II also resulted
in the United Nations’ decision to partition the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish
and one Arab. On 14 May 1948 the state of Israel declared independence and thus was
born the first full democracy in the Middle East. Israel is a representative democracy
with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage.
India became a Democratic Republic in 1950 after achieving independence from Great Britain
in 1947. After holding its first national elections in 1952, India achieved the status
of the world’s largest liberal democracy with universal suffrage which it continues to hold
today. Most of the former British and French colonies were independent by 1965 and at least
initially democratic. The process of decolonisation created much political upheaval in Africa
and parts of Asia, with some countries experiencing often rapid changes to and from democratic
and other forms of government. In the United States of America, the Voting
Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act enforced the 15th Amendment. The 24th Amendment
ended poll taxing by removing all tax placed upon voting, which was a technique commonly
used to restrict the African American vote. The Voting Rights Act also granted voting
rights to all Native Americans, irrespective of their home state. The minimum voting age
was reduced to 18 by the 26th Amendment in 1971.
Late Cold War and after New waves of democracy swept across Southern
Europe in the 1970s, as a number of right-wing nationalist dictatorships fell from power.
Later, in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, the communist states in the USSR
sphere of influence were also replaced with liberal democracies.
Much of Eastern Europe, Latin America, East and Southeast Asia, and several Arab, central
Asian and African states, and the not-yet-state that is the Palestinian Authority moved towards
greater liberal democracy in the 1990s and 2000s. An analysis by Freedom House shows that there
was not a single liberal democracy with universal suffrage in the world in 1900, but that in
2000, 120 of the world’s 192 nations, or 62% were such democracies. They count 25 nations,
or 13% of the world’s nations with “restricted democratic practices” in 1900 and 16, or 8%
of the world’s nations today. They counted 19 constitutional monarchies in 1900, forming
14% of the world’s nations, where a constitution limited the powers of the monarch, and with
some power devolved to elected legislatures, and none in the present. Other nations had,
and have, various forms of non-democratic rule. While the specifics may be open to debate,
the numbers are indicative of the expansion of democracy during the twentieth century.
21st century waves of democracy In the 21st century, democracy movements have
been seen across the world. In the Arab world, an unprecedented series of major protests
occurred with citizens of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and other countries
across the MENA region demanding democratic rights. This revolutionary wave was given
the term Tunisia Effect, as well as the Arab Spring. The Palestinian Authority also took
action to address democratic rights. In Iran, following a highly-disputed presidential
vote fraught with corruption, Iranian citizens held a major series of protests calling for
change and democratic rights. The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq led to a toppling of Saddam
Hussein and a new constitution with free and open elections and democratic rights.
In Asia, the country of Burma had long been ruled by a military junta, however in 2011,
the government changed to allow certain voting rights and released democracy-leader Aung
San Suu Kyi from house arrest. However, Burma still will not allow Suu Kyi to run for election
and still has major human rights problems and not full democratic rights. In Bhutan,
in December 2005, the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced to that the first general
elections would be held in 2008, and that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his
eldest son. Bhutan is currently undergoing further changes to allow for a constitutional
monarchy. In the Maldives protests and political pressure led to a government reform which
allowed democratic rights and presidential elections in 2008.
Contemporary trends E-democracy
Under the influence of the theory of deliberative democracy, there have been several experiments
since the start of the new millennium with what are called deliberative fora, places
where citizens and their representatives assemble to exchange reasons. One type of deliberative
forum is called a minpublic: a body of randomly chosen or actively selected citizens that
represents the whole population. Examples of this are citizens’ assemblies and peoples’
juries. Citizens’ assemblies have been used in Canada and the Netherlands to debate electoral
reform, and in Iceland for broader constitutional change.
See also Documents
Magna Carta of 1215 English Bill of Rights of 1689
Corsican Constitution of 1755 Swedish Constitution of 1772
United States Constitution of 1789 Polish Constitution of 3 May 1791
Indian Constitution of 1950 People
Edmund Burke Cornelius Castoriadis
Anders Chydenius Francis Fukuyama
Samuel P. Huntington Thomas Jefferson
Hugo Kołłątaj John Locke
Niccolò Machiavelli James Madison
John Stuart Mill John Stewart
Karl Marx Simon de Montfort
Thomas Paine Pasquale Paoli
Cola di Rienzi Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu Amartya Sen
Alexis de Tocqueville John Wilkes
Notes Footnotes References Further reading
Charles, T.. Contention and Democracy in Europe, 1650–2000. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53713-4. 
Corrin, J. P.. Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy. University of
Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-02271-2.  Diamond, L.; Plattner, M.. The Global Resurgence
of Democracy. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5305-2. 
Markoff, J.. Waves of Democracy. Pine Forge Press. ISBN 0803990197. 
Putnam, R.; Leonardi, R.; Nanetti, R. Y.. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in
Modern Italy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03738-8. 
Vanhanen, T.. The Emergence of Democracy: A comparative study of 119 states, 1850–1979.
Societas Scientiarum Fennica. ISBN 951-653-122-9.  Wood, G. S.. The Radicalism of the American
Revolution. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-73688-3.  External links
The Official Website of Democracy Foundation , Mumbai – INDIA
Freedom House History of the Parliament of the United Kingdom,
1216–2005 Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century
Waves of democracy often get reversed, Lipset reminds social scientists

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