How does direct democracy compare to representative democracy?

  • Back in the olden days of Greece, direct democracy was practiced. All citizens could vote directly on every issue decided by the state. This is significantly different to the representative democracy practiced in almost all democratic countries today, whereby the people elect a much smaller group of representatives to vote on issues that the state will decide. How does direct democracy compare to representative democracy?

    Hello! I think this question is asking an important one, but it's currently phrased in a way that solicits opinions rather than concrete answers. I strongly suggest you edit your question into something stronger!

    Perhaps have a look at the politics of Switzerland as an example of modern direct democracy? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_in_Switzerland

    Since the whole question, title should be rephrased, and the chosen answer doesn't focus on "where to draw the line" I have asked another question here: https://politics.stackexchange.com/questions/27887/where-to-draw-a-line-between-representative-democracy-and-a-direct-democracy-f

    Just so it's said... Athenian 'Democracy' was only democratic within a small group of male property owners. The vast majority of the population — women, immigrants, farm laborers, etc — were not considered citizens and had no say at all. The New England Town Hall model is a better example of DD on the merits, though the Greeks obviously did it first (if worse).

  • Casebash

    Casebash Correct answer

    9 years ago

    With direct democracy, decisions are made by the people. Now, legislation passed by parliament is typically extremely complex. Most people don't have the time nor the inclination to read a 50 page bill, so they'll just go off what other people tell them. Even if the issue is stated in only a sentence or two, most people aren't going to bother to read up about the issue. Politicians have more time, more education and more experience than the population on average, so they should be able to make better decisions.

    Unfortunately, the political process can become affected by money, where someone's sponsors or the power brokers within the party, insist on policies that benefit them or don't represent the will of the people. Politicians can be overly affected by vocal minorities - sometimes the decision that causes 5% of people not to vote for you would be the best decision for the country (think for example people in an industry who want to maximise their conditions).

    I can't +1 one this, because Politicians don't read the bills either and the legislation is often overly complex (how many hundred pages was Obamacare again?). I seriously doubt most people in the Congress or the Senate has read that bill and knows what it says. They vote for/against it because they are told to by the party or payed to by lobbyists.

    @LennartRegebro: They probably haven't read the whole bill themselves, but I expect they have staff whose job it is to read the bill for them and give them the Cliff notes version

    Right. But the public get "cliff notes" as well. Hence this isn't a difference. I agree that Politicians *should* be more well informed, but they aren't. This is especially blatant when it comes to things like internet and intellectual property.

    John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said "Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage." Alexander Hamilton said, "That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity."

    @LindsayMorsillo The fact that famous historical figures said X or Y doesn't mean they are correct. There is an inherent problem with representative democracy. It is, in practice an **oligarchy**.

    @LennartRegebro Even if you give the public the "cliff notes" version its going to be difficult to get most of them to read it and think it through. Also the "cliff notes" can be biased one way or another by the writer choosing what is described vs what is considered trivial, or adding a gloss on what impact is expected from a clause. A politician hires the assistants and tells them the issues they are concerned about, so the accountability is more direct.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM