Direct Democracy vs Representative Democracy
The term Democracy is derived from two Greek words, demos, meaning
people, and kratos, meaning rule. These two words form the word democracy which
means rule by the people. Aristotle, and other ancient Greek political
philosophers, used the phrase, ‘the governors are to be the governed’, or as we
have come to know it, ‘rule and be ruled in turn’.
The two major types of democracy are Representative Democracy and Direct
Democracy. Clearly the arguments for and against each form of democracy are
plentiful. However, it is my belief that theoretically, Direct Democracy is the
superior form of political rule. Due to problems with in the direct democratic
system, its use as a practical form of government is not even thinkable.
Therefore, in order for any form of democracy to function, Representative
Democracy is the superior form of political rule.
Jean Jacques Rousseau is considered by many to be the ‘Grandfather’ of
direct the democracy theory.Rousseau’s ideal society would be where the
citizens were directly involved in the creation of the laws which are to govern
their lives. He maintained that, “all citizens should meet together and decide
what is best for the community and enact the appropriate laws. Any law which
was not directly created by the citizens is not valid, and if those laws are
imposed on people, that is equivalent to the people being enslaved.
The citizens of a society must both develop and obey ‘the supreme
decision of the general will’, which is the society’s determination of the
common good. It is not even thinkable that all citizens will agree on what good
is. Rousseau recognized this and accepted a term of majority rule. Those who
voted against a policy which is found to be the best for the general, must have
been thinking of personal gains, rather than the gains of the entire society.
The feature which distinguishes direct democracy from other forms of
government is the idea of agreement and the key to agreement is discussion. It
is impossible to reach an agreement without discussion, because it is not right
to think that everybody will have the same opinion on all matters. But, it is
very possible, that through discussion an agreement could be reached by all
members. Representation, on the other hand allows a select few to make
decisions in their own best interest, which is not necessarily the best interest
of the society.
However, direct democracy is not the perfect method to produce a union
of the community. For a direct democracy to work, face to face communication
between all members of the community is needed. The only way this is possible
is to meet in large groups. Due to the fear of high tension, many citizens
“will not participate in these large group meeting. So in order for these
fearful people to voice their opinions they must get together in smaller, less
tensions groups, where they are not as timid to say as they wish to see happen.
A direct democracy can only work in a small group, so as a form of government
for an entire community or country, direct democracy would definitely fail. As
the membership increases, people become less involved. Once the membership
reaches the size of a country, the participation still exists, but is limited to
as low as it can go. Thus in a country, any form of direct democracy is only
possible in individual communities.
In order for a committee small enough to operate on direct democracy
principles to have any authority at all, it must represent a much larger group.
Membership in this larger group is chosen by election, so the people still have
a say in the ruling process. Since the rulers are selected by the people, the
rulers should represent what the public wants. Thus, out of direct democracy, is
born a new form of government, the Representative Democracy.
Representative democracy is not democracy in its purest form. The main
argument against representative democracy is that “No one can represent me. I’m
the only one who knows what I’m thinking and no one else can represent my
views.” We have already learned it is also impossible to represent yourself.
Through representation, chosen by the people, the hope is that all people will
be adequately represented. While everyone may not get all of their views
represented all the time, representative democracy should create a situation
where most of the views are represented.
Direct democracy is not impossible in all situations, but in order for
in to exist the following two characteristics must exist- The organization must
be local, (limited in members) and the opinions of the members must be similar
to each other. While these conditions are often found in a small organization,
when looking at a country, these conditions are impossible to meet.
In a mixed society direct democracy would lead to ineffective management,
unwanted inefficiency, and political instability. While In a representative
democracy, the representatives rely on political compromise to resolve conflicts,
and develop policies that are flexible enough to meet shifting circumstances.
The once dominant Greek culture has become out-of-date and along with it
went the hope for a direct democracy system of government. The direct democracy
theory may have worked in the small Greek towns of 500BC, but in large modern
societies, it simply could not work. Which is why the representative democracy
was started, which, while providing the citizen with less opportunity for
participation, is ideally suited for rule in modern times Thus, clearly a
direct democracy is the only true form of democracy. However, if democracy is to
be is used in a modern society, it can not take its purist form.