||Democracy originally in ancient Athens meant rule by the demos, that is, the citizens. Today, in Abraham Lincoln\'s words we use democracy to mean rule â€˜of the people, by the people, for the peopleâ€™: the people being the sane and adult population of a state.
Theorists of democracy differ radically in their conception of popular rule and democratic practices. On the one hand there are advocates of direct or participatory democracy. In ancient Greece it was literally true that citizens (free-born males over the age of 30, which was about a quarter of the resident population in 5th-century Athens) ruled: they were appointed to public offices by lot, public policy was made in meetings of the assembly which all citizens were expected to attend, and elected officials were subject to vigorous popular scrutiny. There was no separation of powers and no constraints on popular sovereignty. This version of democracy was most famously propounded in the 18th century by the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, although he defended what he called republican rather than democratic government. The critics of direct democracy in the ancient world, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, had condemned pure democracy as dangerous and advocated a mixed constitution, combining elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In the long interlude between classical Greece and early modern Europe most political systems were imperial or feudal, and Ã©lites crudely caricatured democracy as â€˜mob ruleâ€™â€”which is why the revival of democratic thinking before and after Rousseau was initially defended in republican language. Today, however, advocates of direct and participatory democracy are found everywhere. They argue that the best decision-making occurs through organized debate, deliberation and voting by all those affected by a given organization. Radical or participatory democrats are by definition egalitarians, believing that people can only be independent citizens if legal, economic and political institutions are not hierarchical or unaccountable.
On the other hand there are advocates of indirect or representative democracy, who define democracy as a system in which there is genuine competition to win popular support for the right to form the government. Democracy, therefore, minimally requires universal suffrage and competitive political parties. Defenders of representative democracy, most famously John Stuart Mill, maintain that direct democracy becomes inefficient beyond a certain size of decision-making unit, and believe that there is a trade-off between the benefits of direct democracy and effective decision-making. They maintain that leaders should be elected by and accountable to the people, but that the people themselves should not rule directly except insofar as their votes determine the outcome of elections or constitutional referendums. Some conservative advocates of representative democracy maintain that it must expressly prevent the dangers of direct democracy: for them property rights and civil rights must be constitutionally protected from the rule of the majority.
There are of course many types of representative democracy. They can assume federal, confederal or unitary forms; they can be organized around majoritarian or consociational principles; and they are found with a wide variety of electoral systems.
The nature of representative or liberal democracy has led to a great deal of intellectual controversy. One key question has been â€˜who really governs in a democracy?â€™ European Ã©lite theorists like Michels, Mosca, and Pareto asserted that representative democratic institutions are merely a faÃ§ade: the real control over government is held by a ruling class or â€˜power Ã©liteâ€™. Marxists similarly contended that popular rule in capitalist democracies is an illusion: a capitalist class makes all the effective decisions which shape people\'s lives. In contrast, critics of Marxists and Ã©lite theorists maintain that representative democratic institutions, for all their faults, are never unilaterally controlled by one set of interests: a plurality of influences operate on representative government. For this reason the influential American political scientist Robert Dahl describes most modern representative democracies as â€˜polyarchiesâ€™ (systems in which many rule). Another key question about democracy is â€˜what explains the partial democratization of the world?â€™ or â€˜why have some countries democratized but not others?â€™ One answer, popular until recently, and most famously associated with the historical sociologist Barrington Moore, was that â€˜bourgeois democracyâ€™ was the outcome of unique historical configurations in western Europe and North America. Another answer, recently enforced by the collapse of authoritarian rule in eastern Europe, suggests that democratization is caused by modernization: processes which lead to a more equal dispersal of resources (education, skills and rights) among the people than in pre-modern societies. Modernization therefore makes aristocratic or oligarchic rule increasingly more difficult to sustain. A still more recent answer, associated with Francis Fukuyama, suggests that the gradual historic success of liberal democracy, against its rivals, is proof of the power of democratic ideas and the exhaustion of alternative ideologies. BO\'L
See also confederation; liberalism; pluralism; republicanism.Further reading R. Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory; , P. Dunleavy and , B. O\'Leary, Theories of the State: the Politics of Liberal Democracy; , F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man; , T. Vanhanen, The Process of Democratization: a Comparative Study of 147 States.