Direct democracy is a pipe-dream. It sounds good, but it will never work Essay Example

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Direct democracy is a pipe-dream. It sounds good, but it will never work


Direct democracy refers to the form of democracy where the people decide on policies directly by way of voting or forming a consensus (Atman, 2011, p.10). This is opposed to representative type of democracy where the people elect representatives to decide policies on their behalf. Depending on a number of factors, the system of direct democracy might entail use of sortition, passage of executive decisions, making of laws, direct election of officials and the conduction of trials. Sortition, also referred to as allotment, is the usage of lottery to select decision makers. This is done randomly from a huge pool of candidates (Atman, 2011, p.13).

The earliest form of direct democracy is thought to have been the Athenian democracy, circa 5th century BC. It was not an inclusive democracy since slaves; women and foreigners were excluded (Cronin, 1989, p.45). The democracy was composed of three main bodies. The Assembly comprised of a number of male citizens; the council of citizens or the boule was composed of about five hundred citizens while the law courts comprised of a large number of jurors who were chosen by sortition. This democracy was direct since all decisions were made by the assembled people. As such, the people through the three organs had control of the entire political machinery and a relatively large number of the citizens were involved in the running of public business (Atman, 2011, p.20). Modern democracies are a far cry from what was Athenian democracy.

The two leading types of direct democracy are deliberative and participatory democracy. Participatory democracy places emphasis on broader participation of citizens in the running of political machinery and systems. However, such democracy also advocates for more political representation compared to representative democracy. The democracy can be seen to strive to create more opportunities for the members in a jurisdiction to participate more in decision making and also broadens the range of citizens having access to the opportunities (Cronin, 1989, p.60).

On the other hand, Deliberative democracy, also known as discursive democracy is a type of democracy where deliberation is fundamental to the process of decision making. Deliberation involves the thoughtful weighing of options prior making a decision. The elements of consensus and majority rule are adopted (Cronin, 1989, p.60). As such, the deliberative form of democracy differs from the participatory type in the simple fact that apart from voting, authentic deliberation is a primary source of legitimate law.

Direct democracy – a pipe dream

It is true that democracy empowers. It enables the people to have more control over their lives. In the case of direct democracy, it allows more of the citizens to vote and to participate in creation of legislation, hence directly impacting their lives for the better. When voters feel important and see the impact of their participation, they become more hopeful and hence become more enthusiastic in the efforts of bettering their lives (Miller, 2009, p.51). A direct democracy, in essence would take the power away from various lobbying interests that currently have a lot of control over legislations and policies in many countries. Basically, a direct democracy calls for accountability, equality, individual liberties and anything progressive (Gilroy, 2014).

Switzerland exemplifies the use of direct democracy in the modern world. The system is fully controlled by the people. Several regions of primordial Switzerland had for a long time practiced collective decision making by use of open air assemblies as far back as the Middle Ages (Atman, 2011, p.88). This system of direct democracy has expanded over time and new instruments have been added. Today, there exist three crucial instruments. Firstly, a mandatory referendum is employed if a constitutional change is required and also for ratification of international treaties. Secondly, there is the optional prerogative of legislative referendum, where 50,000 people can challenge a piece of legislation in 100 days. Thirdly, there is the constitutional initiative where, within a period of 18 months, 100,000 people can collect their signatures to propose a total or partial revision of existing constitution (Miller, 2009, p.102). Sweden is another example of a republic exercising semi-direct democracy.

Government by mass assembly or the application of direct democracy is only realistic for small populations, especially in small dwellings or compact territories. In such places, the people have common ideals, goals, beliefs and interests and hence are agreeable (Russell, 2001, p.143). Additionally, a direct democracy is only workable in places where the people do not have to deal with complex problems and issues. The founding fathers of the United States did not envision the possibility of using direct democracy for they foresaw the likehood that the majorities would force their will on the minorities. A direct democracy cannot protect the individual from the majority (Russell, 2001, p.144). As such, pure democracy is prone to the madness of populist rage, and emotion as well as the discriminatory tendencies of the majority in the population.

However, some people differ on this. Adams (2009) points out that the lack of direct democracy presents a unique situation where the few elected representatives are easily manipulated by various interests, such as corporations and the rich. He equates the United States governance model to dictatorship by a small group of the political elite. He emphasizes the need to disband Congress and the Senate as they have outlived their purpose of “representation” in world country interconnected by technology (Adams, 2009, p.6). He thus advocates for Electronic Direct Democracy, where the people across America can read on legislation and vote from wherever they are. But then again, there are complex challenges that would not wait for everyone to vote before action can be taken (Miller, 2009, p.67). Therefore, Adams argument has some sense; a complete system of direct democracy is untenable.

One of the tenets of democracy is inclusion and universal suffrage. In representative democracy, the voting is done to elect the officials who then carry on the task of creating legislation on behalf of their people, with the help of experts in various fields (Merxer, 2012). In the case of direct democracy, almost every Tom, Harry and Jane can and will participate in making legislation, despite individual incompetence, lack of knowledge on the subject matter and personal prejudices. One wonders what would have been the fate of black slaves in a direct democracy America (Merxer, 2012, p.116). The majority, whites, would have carried the day. However, because of the few visionary representatives who saw the need for actual interpretation of the constitutional tenet of equality, together with a strong Lincoln administration, the scourge of slavery was abolished and things changed for the better (Merxer, 2012, p.120). This means that it would be useless to give people power to vote on things they don’t understand or prejudiced on. For instance, of what use is asking a group of old women in rural Alaska their stand on how best to fight terrorists in Asia? Again, of what use is asking a slave owner to vote on abolishing slavery when he believes in slavery? As such, direct democracy can act as a blockade to progress and enshrine discrimination of minorities. It also fails to offer solutions to pertinent and complex issues that otherwise require quick decisions and expert input. In these aspects, direct democracy easily fails to protect the tenets of individual liberty, freedom and determination. The state can also fall into confusion, chaos and sluggish response to issues since the majority cannot account to themselves.

There are a number of negative implications to consider in a direct democracy. One is the aspect of cost. Frequent elections, referendums and assemblies involving many people are untenable in terms of financing (Atman, 2011, p.94). The cost is too high. Imagine a country like India or China, both with populations of more than a billion people. How what would an assembly of 400 million people look like? Consider also that that would not be a pure direct democracy since a billion people would still be left out in the legislation process, in the case of China. With India’s relative poverty despite the large population, can they finance four referendums involving over a billion people in the span of one year? The answer is no. Direct democracy is too expensive in practice.

Another implication is the oppression of minorities in a direct democracy. This automatically results in resentment and the building of political divides between majorities and minorities (Merxer, 2012, p.125). Additionally, in any society, there are groups that appear more politically active than others. The less active ill likely bear the brunt of prejudice from the more active groups since their interests are not adequately represented.

Finally, there is the implication of influence by government, media, influential people and other lobbyists, especially the big corporations. It is a common fact that the majority of citizens in any country do not have a grasp of important issues, even those affecting them. Thus, these people rely on the media, their representatives and the opinions of influential people in making their decisions (Cronin, 1989). Additionally, lobbyists from many spheres of interest have profound influence on legislation. They mainly target opinion leaders and high level legislators in a bid to skew their thinking in favor of the parent organization. The media, on the other hand, is very influential in shaping public opinion. All these factors undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of direct democracy (Russell, 2001, p.55).

Annotated Bibliography

Altman, D. 2011. Direct democracy worldwide. New York, Cambridge University Press.

This source will highlight more on the application of direct democracy on the entire world.

This is because the source brings out the idea of direct democracy more clearly.

Cronin, T. E. 1989. Direct democracy: the politics of initiative, referendum, and recall.

Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press.

This source will emphasizes more on the effects that direct democracy is likely to cause

once it is adapted in any country. The source highlights are on how direct democracy is a

source of increased cost of running a government.

Gilroy, B. (2014, February). Leader of Direct Democracy steps down, breaking news. Retrieved

from [6th may 2014].

This source will provide clear evidence on some few examples of direct democracy and

leaders who have not succeeded in this form of democracy.

Marxer, W. 2012. Direct democracy and minorities. Wiesbaden, Springer VS.

Direct democracy has been linked with poor treatment to the minority .Therefore, this

source will highlight issues and decisions of direct democracy on the minority affairs

Miller, K. P. 2009. Direct democracy and the courts. Cambridge [U.K.],Cambridge University

This source will analyze more on the two contenders who have managed to rise through

direct democracy; these are the courts and the people.

Russell J. Dalton, Wilhelm P. Burklin, Andrew Drummond (October 2001), Public Opinion and

Direct Democracy. Journal of Democracy Volume 12, Number 4, pp. 141 — 153

This source will help to get more information on the treatment of the minority, as a result.

of, direct democracy by getting the public opinion on this issue.

Adams, M. 2009. DirectDemocracy — Why the American People must disband

Congress: A journal for scientific discoveries Vol 1, No2, ppF-3

This source will give more evidence on the effects of direct democracy on the minority

groups in the society.