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|✗ Democracy ✗|
|History · Varieties|
List of types
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. The history of democracy - the history of empowering people by giving them a say in their political entities - traces back from its origins in the ancient world to its re-emergence and rise from the 17th century to the present day.
Although it is generally believed that democracy and constitution was created in one particular place and time —identified as Ancient Athens about the year 508 BC— 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 this broad sense it is plausible to assume that democracy in one form or another arises naturally in any well-bounded group, such as a tribe. The scholars name this as tribalism or primitive democracy. The 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 larger scale sharper contrasts arise when the village and the city are examined as political communities. In urban governments all other forms of rule namely monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, and oligarchy have flourished.
In recent decades scholars have explored the possibility that advancements toward democratic government occurred somewhere else first, since Greece developed its complex social and political institutions long after the appearance of the earliest civilizations in Egypt and Near East.
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 specialized, the power structure is loose". In the early period of Sumer, kings such as Gilgamesh did not hold the autocratic power which later Mesopotamia rulers wielded. Rather, major city-states had a council of elders and a council of "young men" (likely to be comprised by free men bearing arms) 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 less 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 the sovereign authority. Jacobsen concedes that the vagueness of the evidence prohibits the separation between the Mesopotamian democracy from a primitive oligarchy.
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 (a Greek historian at the time of Alexander the Great's invasion of India), 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 BC 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 in which at least in some states attendance was open to all free men, and discussed all major state decisions. 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.
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 if 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 lead many scholars to believe that the true nature of ganas and sanghas would not be comparable to that of truly democratic institutions.
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 (monarchy), gerousia (Counsil of Gerontes (Elders), including the two kings), the ephors (representatives who oversaw the Kings) and the apella (assembly of Spartans).
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 from the poorest social layers to oversee the actions of the kings and, if necessary, depose them.
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 BC. 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 (among citizens), 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 (Homoioi, men of equal status). 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 lead 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 BC. 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, is regarded as the birthplace of democracy and the most important democracy of antiquity. Athens emerged in the 7th century BC, 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 enhanced early in the sixth century, and as "the many were enslaved to few, the people rose against the notables". Many traditional aristocracies, at the same period in the Greek world, were disrupted by popular revolutions, like Sparta in the second half of the 5th century BC. 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 for acting as a mediator between rival factions, and reaching to a generally satisfactory solution of their problems.
Solon and the foundations of democracyEdit
Solon, an Athenian (Greek) 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 (Assembly) 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 (magistrates), were reserved for citizens of the top two income groups. The retired archons were becoming members of Areopagus (Council of the Hill of Ares), and like 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, 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 PericlesEdit
Even though the Solonian reorganization of the constitution improved the economic position of the Athenian lower classes, it did not eliminated the bitter aristocratic contentions for control of the archonship, the chief executive post. Peisistratus became tyrant of Athens for three times and remained in power until his death in 527 BC. 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 the access to power to more citizens. During this period where, the word "democracy" (Greek: δημοκρατία - "rule by the people") 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 limiting the powers of the Council of the Areopagus and allow thetes (Athenians without wealth) 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:
Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life.
The Athenian democracy of Cleisthenes and Pericles, was based on freedom, through the reforms of Solon, and isonomia, 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 with 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 (generals), 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 (compare direct democracy), in which all male citizens could participate (in some cases with a quorum of 6000). 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 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.
The decline and its criticsEdit
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 (in 411 BC) and second Sparta's puppet régime of the Thirty Tyrants (in 404 BC). 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 Aristotle. Through their influential works, 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 (as a collective tyrant) or the poorer classes, were holding power. It was only after the publication of "A history of Greece" by George Grote in 1846, when the Athenian democracy of Pericles started to be viewed positively by political thinkers.
Birth of the RepublicEdit
In 13th century BC, the Etruscans, early Italian settlers built city-states throughout central Italy and ruled Rome for over a century; and in 510 BC the last king was deposed. The king was expelled by a group of aristocrats led by Lucius Junius Brutus. The founding of the new Republic did not mark the end for Roman troubles, since the new constitution was not flawless and there remained powerful external enemies. Internally, one serious threat was the feuding of the leading families. Another was the struggle between the ruling families (patricians) as a whole and the rest of the population, especially the plebeians. After years of conflicts the plebs forced the senate to pass a written series of laws (the Twelve Tables) which recognized certain rights and gave the plebs their own representatives, the tribunes. By the 4th Century BC, the plebs were given the right to stand for consulship and other major offices of the state.
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 BC.
Fall of the RepublicEdit
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. After the dictatorship of Sulla, which was overthrown with the help of Pompey the Great and Marcus Licinius Crassus, the two men joined forces with Julius Caesar to form what is now known as the First Triumvirate, a then secret pact to rule Rome together. The pact did not last long as distrust between the three led to Caesar being charged with war crimes, and he in turn marched on Rome and took supreme power over the republic. Caesar's career was cut short by his assassination at Rome in 44 BC by a group of Senators including Marcus Junius Brutus, the descendant of the Brutus who expelled the Etruscan King four and half centuries before.
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. After some initial disagreements, Antony, Octavian, and Antony's ally Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, formed the Second Triumvirate. Their combined strength gave the triumvirs absolute power.
In 31 BC war between the two finally broke out. Approximately 200 senators, one-third of the Senate, abandoned Octavian to support Antony and Cleopatra. The final confrontation of the Roman Republic occurred on 2 September 31 BC, at the naval Battle of Actium where the fleet of Octavian under the command of Agrippa routed the combined fleet of Antony and Cleopatra; the two lovers fled to Egypt. After his victory, Octavian skillfully used propaganda, negotiation, and bribery to bring Antony's legions in Greece, Asia Minor, and Cyrenaica to his side. Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide to escape capture.
The period of civil wars were finally over. Thereafter, there was no one left in the Roman Republic who wanted, or could stand against Octavian, as the adopted son of Caesar moved to take absolute control. He designated governors loyal to him to the half dozen "frontier" provinces, where the majority of the legions were situated, thus, at a stroke, giving him command of enough legions to ensure that no single governor could try to overthrow him. He also reorganized the Senate, purging it of unreliable or dangerous members, and "refilled it" with his supporters from the provinces and outside the Roman aristocracy, men who could be counted on to follow his lead. However, he left the majority of Republican institutions apparently intact, albeit feeble. Consuls continued to be elected, tribunes of the plebeians continued to offer legislation, and debate still resounded through the Roman Curia. However it was Octavian who influenced everything and ultimately, controlled the final decisions, and had the legions to back it up, if necessary.
The Roman Senate and the Roman citizens, tired of the never-ending civil wars and unrest, were willing to toss aside the incompetent and unstable rule of the Senate and the popular assemblies in exchange for the iron will of one man who might set Rome back in order. By 27 BC the transition, though subtle and disguised, was made complete. In that year, Octavian offered back all his extraordinary powers to the Senate, and in a carefully staged way, the Senate refused and in fact 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. 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 (also called the Byzantine Empire) which lasted until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.
Local popular institutionsEditMost 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.
These early institutions include:
- There were debates regarding self-governance in the ancient Near East from around the 6th century BC, particularly among the Medes. After the death of Cambyses II in 522 BC, the Persians were also discussing whether to have a king at all. During the chaos that ensued at the time, a Median judge was elected as the new king by the Medes. This came to an end, however, after the new Persian Emperor Darius the Great declared that the best monarchy was better than the best oligarchy or best democracy.
- 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.
- The Christian Church well into the 6th century AD had its bishops elected by popular acclaim.
- The Rashidun caliphs were elected by a council (see Islamic democracy and The election of Uthman).
- The election of Gopala in the 8th century.
- Medieval guilds of economic, social and religious natures elected officers for yearly terms.
- The German tribal system described by Tacitus in his Germania.
- The Anglo-Saxon Witan councils of advisors to the Saxon kings.
- The Frankish custom of the Marzfeld or "March field".
- The Althing, the parliament of the Icelandic Commonwealth, was 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" (assemblies) 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 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 city-states of medieval Italy, of which Venice and Florence were the most successful, and similar city-states in Switzerland, Flanders and the Hanseatic league. These were often closer to an oligarchy than a democracy in practice, and were, in any case, not nearly as democratic as the Athenian-influenced city-states of Ancient Greece (discussed in the above section), 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 parliamentary bodies in other European countries.
Indigenous peoples of the AmericasEdit
Historian Jack Weatherford argues that Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others, got their ideas on democracy not from any Greek or Roman influence, but from the Iroquois and other indigenous peoples of the Americas, who practiced the type of democracy found in the United States Constitution, through self-governing territories that were part of a larger whole. This democracy was founded between the years 1000-1450, and lasted several hundred years. He also states that American democracy was continually changed and improved by the influence of Native Americans throughout North America. For example, the right of women to vote started on the American frontier, and moved eastward. In other words, Americans learned democracy from the indigenous peoples of the North America. The Native American peoples were not recognized as US citizens until 1924 and were thus ironically disenfranchised for much of the modern history of democracy in North America.
Rise of democracy in modern national governmentsEdit
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Pre-Eighteenth century milestonesEdit
- Rise of democratic parliaments in England and Scotland: Magna Carta (1215) limiting the authority of powerholders, First elected parliament (1265), The Levellers political movement, English Civil War (1642-1651), Habeas Corpus Act (1679), English Bill of Rights and Scottish Claim of Right (1689). See also: other documents listed at the Constitution of the United Kingdom, History of the parliament of the United Kingdom.
- Simon de Montfort in 1265 introduced the idea that powerholders are responsible to an electorate — (although only landowners were allowed to vote in the 1265 English election)
- Renaissance humanism was a cultural movement in Europe beginning in central Italy (particularly Florence) in the last decades of the 14th century. It revived and refined the study of language (First Latin, and then the Greek language by mid-century), science, philosophy, art and poetry of classical antiquity. The "revival" was based on interpretations of Roman and Greek texts. Their emphasis on art and the senses marked a great change from the medieval values of humility, introspection, and passivity.
- The humanist philosophers looked for secular principles on which society could be organized, as opposed to the concentration of political power in the hands of the Church. Prior to the Renaissance, religion had been the dominant force in politics for a thousand years.
- Humanists looked at ancient Greece and found the concept of democracy. In some cases they began to implement it (to a limited extent) in practice.
- Professor Norman Davies notes that Golden Liberty, the Nobles' Democracy (Rzeczpospolita Szlachecka) arose in the Kingdom of Poland and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This foreshadowed a democracy of perhaps two 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 (1573). 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 Mayflower Compact, signed in 1620, an agreement between the Pilgrims, on forming a government between themselves, based on majority rule.
- 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.
Eighteenth and nineteenth century milestonesEdit
- 1755: The Corsican Republic led by Pasquale Paoli with the Corsican Constitution
- Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 (based on the English Bill of Rights)
- United States Constitution ratified in 1789 and the new United States Bill of Rights (although only white, male, landowners were allowed to vote)
- 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'.
- From late 1770s: new Constitutions and Bills explicitly describing and limiting the authority of powerholders, many based on the British Bill of Rights (1689). The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791 is widely recognized as the second oldest constitution in the world.
- 1791: The Haitian Revolution, the first, and only, successful slave revolution, established a free republic.
- 1789-1799: the French Revolution
- 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 (Jefferson 1799); peaceful transition between parties (1800)
- Extension of political rights to various social classes: elimination of wealth, property, sex, race and similar requirements for voting (See also universal suffrage).
- 1850s: introduction of the secret ballot in Australia; 1872 in UK; 1892 in USA
- 1870: USA - 15th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibits voting rights discrimination on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of slavery.
- 1893: New Zealand is the first nation to introduce universal suffrage by awarding the vote to women (universal male suffrage had been in place since 1879).
The secret ballotEdit
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.
20th century waves of democracyEdit
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 an 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 terrific economic impact of the Great Depression hurt democratic forces in many countries. The 1930s became a decade of dictators in Europe and Latin America.
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 (most notably in Spain and Portugal) 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.
World War II also planted seeds of freedom 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 United States, itself a former colony amd emerging colonial power in its own right, flexed its new influence in support of the decolonization process, for example supporting prominent Arab nationalist Nasser during the Suez Crisis in 1956, often cited as the last gasp of European colonialism.
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 May 14, 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. The process of decolonization 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, and the 24th Amendment ended poll taxing, removing all restrictions to the African American vote and thus becoming the first nation to guarantee Universal suffrage for all citizens aged 21 or over. The minimum voting age was reduced to 18 by the 26th Amendment in 1971.
New waves of democracy swept across Southern Europe in the 1970s and Central Europe in the late 1980s following the collapse of the formerly communist regimes in the USSR sphere of influence.
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 argues 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 19% 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 (for example, New Zealand actually enacted universal suffrage in 1893, but is discounted due to a lack of complete sovereignty and certain restrictions on the Māori vote), the numbers are indicative of the expansion of democracy during the twentieth century.
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