Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.
The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) "rule of the people", which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (kratos) "power" in the 5th century BCE to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens; the term is an antonym to ἀριστοκρατία "rule of an elite." The English word dates to the 16th century, from the older Middle French and Middle Latin equivalents.
A democratic government contrasts to forms of government where power is either held by one, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution.
Several variants of democracy exist, but there are two basic forms, both of which concern how the whole body of eligible citizens executes its will. One form of democracy is direct democracy, in which eligible citizens have direct and active participation in the decision making of the government. In most modern democracies, the whole body of eligible citizens remain the sovereign power but political power is exercised indirectly through elected representatives; this is called representative democracy. The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, and the American and French Revolutions.
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Famous quotes containing the word democracy:
“No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945)
“In a democracy everybody has a right to be represented, including the jerks.”
—Chris Patten (b. 1944)
“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshedthey produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!”
—Orson Welles (191584)