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History of democracy

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History of democracy

Democracy can be traced back from the present day to classical

  • The Official Website of Democracy Foundation , Mumbai - INDIA
  • Freedom House
  • History of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, 1216–2005
  • Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century
  • Waves of democracy often get reversed, Lipset reminds social scientists

External links

  • Charles, T. (2004). Contention and Democracy in Europe, 1650–2000. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Corrin, J. P. (2002). Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy. University of Notre Dame Press.  
  • Diamond, L.; Plattner, M. (1996). The Global Resurgence of Democracy. Johns Hopkins University Press.  
  • Kaplan, Temma. Democracy: A World History (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Markoff, J. (1996). Waves of Democracy. Pine Forge Press.  
  • Putnam, R.; Leonardi, R.; Nanetti, R. Y. (1994). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press.  
  • Vanhanen, T. (1984). The Emergence of Democracy: A comparative study of 119 states, 1850–1979. Societas Scientiarum Fennica.  
  • Wood, G. S. (1993). The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Vintage Books.  

Further reading

Primary Sources
  • Aristotle (1912).  
  • Diodorus Siculus (1814).  
  • Plato.  
  • Livy (1905).  
  • Balot, R. K. (2009). A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought. John Wiley and Sons.  
  • Bongard-Levin, G. M. (1986). A complex study of Ancient India. South Asia Books.  
  • Buckley, T. (1996). Aspects of Greek History 750–323 BC: A Source-based Approach. Routledge.  
  • Cartledge, P. (2003). Spartan reflections. University of California Press.  
  • Clarke, P.; Foweraker, J. (2001). Encyclopedia of Democratic Thought. Taylor & Francis.  
  • Dahl, R.; Shapiro, I.; Cheibub, C. A. (2003). The Democracy Sourcebook. MIT Press.  
  • Dunn, J. (1994). Democracy: the unfinished journey 508 BC – 1993 AD. Oxford University Press.  
  • Dunn, J. (2006). Democracy: a history. Atlantic Monthly Press.  
  • Durant, W. (1942). The Story of Civilization. Simon and Schuster. 
  • Heideking, J.; Henretta, J. A.; Becker, P. (2002). Republicanism and Liberalism in America and the German States, 1750–1850. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Keane, J. (2004). Violence and Democracy. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Keyssar, A. (2001). The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Basic Books.  
  • Lijphart, A. (1999). Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. Yale University Press.  
  • Livy; De Sélincourt, A.; Ogilvie, R. M.; Oakley, S. P. (2002). The early history of Rome: books I-V of The history of Rome from its foundations. Penguin Classics.  
  • Macpherson, C. B. (1977). The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy. Oxford University Press.  
  • Manglapus, R. S. (1987). Will of the People: Original Democracy in Non-Western Societies. Greenwood Press.  
  • Ober,, J.; Hedrick, C. W. (1996). Dēmokratia: a conversation on democracies, ancient and modern. Princeton University Press.  
  • Ober,, J. (2008). Democracy and knowledge: innovation and learning in classical Athens. Princeton University Press.  
  • Ostwald, M. (2000). Oligarchia: The Development of a Constitutional Form in Ancient Greece. Franz Steiner Verlag.  
  • Pomeroy, S. B.; Burstein, S. M.; Donlan, W.; Roberts, J. T. (1999). Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. Oxford University Press.  
  • Powell, A. (2001). Athens and Sparta: Constructing Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC. Routledge.  
  • Raaflaub, K. A.; Ober, J.; Wallace, R. W. (2007). Origin of Democracy in Ancient Greece. University of California Press.  
  • Robinson, E. W. (1997). The First Democracies: Early Popular Government Outside Athens. Franz Steiner Verlag.  
  • Robinson, E. W. (2003). Ancient Greek Democracy: Readings and Sources. Blackwell Publishing.  
  • de Sainte, C. G. E. M. (2006). The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. Cornell University Press.  
  • Sharma, J. P. (1968). Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Thorley, J. (1996). Athenian Democracy. Routledge.  
  • Bailkey, N. (July 1967). "Early Mesopotamian Constitutional Development". American History Review 72 (4): 1211–1236.  
  • Cartledge, P. (Apr 1994). "Ancient Greeks and Modern Britons". History Today 44 (4): 27. 
  • Hansen, M. H. (Apr 1992). "The Tradition of the Athenian Democracy A. D. 1750–1990". Greece & Rome 39 (1): 14–30.  
  • Jacobsen, T. (July 1943). "Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotamia". Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2 (3): 159–172.  
  • Larsen, J. A. O. (Jan 1973). "Demokratia". Classical Philology 68 (1): 45–46.  
  • Lipset,, S. M. (Mar 1959). "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy". The American Political Science Review 53 (1): 69–105.  
  • Muhlberger, S.; Paine, P. (Spring 1993). "Democracy's Place in World History". Journal of World History 4: 23–45.  
  • Strauss, B. (Apr 1994). "American Democracy Through Ancient Greek Eyes". History Today 44 (4): 32. 
  • Rhodes, P. J. (1981). "The Selection of Ephors at Sparta". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 30 (4): 498–502.  
  • Weingast, B. (Jun 1997). "The Political Foundations of the Rule of Law and Democracy". The American Political Science Review 91 (2): 245–263.  


  1. ^ "democracy, n.". OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Democracy Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  3. ^ Political System Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  4. ^ Robinson, 1997, pp. 16–17
  5. ^ Jacobsen, 1943, pp. 159–172
  6. ^ Isakhan, B. (2007). Engaging "Primitive Democracy," Mideast Roots of Collective Governance. Middle East Policy, 14(3), 97–117.
  7. ^ Bailkey, 1967, pp. 1211–1236
  8. ^ Robinson, 1997, p. 20
  9. ^ Diodorus 2.39
  10. ^ Larsen, 1973, pp. 45–46
  11. ^ de Sainte, 2006, pp. 321–3
  12. ^ Robinson, 1997, p. 22
  13. ^ Robinson, 1997, p. 23
  14. ^ a b Bongard-Levin, 1996, pp. 61–106
  15. ^ a b Sharma 1968, pp. 109–22
  16. ^ Trautmann T. R., Kautilya and the Arthra' shastra, Leiden 1971
  17. ^ Ostwald 2000, pp. 21–25
  18. ^ Cartledge 2001, p. xii, 276
  19. ^ a b Dunn, 1994, p. 2
  20. ^ Plato, Laws, 712e-d
  21. ^ a b Aristotle, Politics, 1294b
  22. ^ Pomeroy, 1999, pp. 149–153
  23. ^ Buckley, 1996, p. 76
  24. ^ Rhodes 1981, pp. 498–502
  25. ^ Lycurgus Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  26. ^ Raaflaub 2007, p. 37
  27. ^ Buckley, 1996, pp. 65–85
  28. ^ Pomeroy, 1999, p. 143
  29. ^ Pomeroy, 1999, p. 152
  30. ^ Raaflaub 2007, pp. 40–1
  31. ^ Pomeroy, 1999, pp. 159–164
  32. ^ Raaflaud, 2007, p. 50
  33. ^ Raaflaud, 2007, p. 51
  34. ^ Pomeroy, 1999, pp. 164–5
  35. ^ a b c Solon, Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  36. ^ Robinson, 2003, pp. 54–5, 76–98
  37. ^ Raaflaud, 2007, pp. 60–8
  38. ^ Robinson, 2003, p. 76
  39. ^ Raaflaud, 2007, pp. 67–72
  40. ^ Peisistratus Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  41. ^ a b Cleisthenes Of Athens Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  42. ^ Buckley, 1996, pp. 138–140
  43. ^ Raaflaud, 2007, p. 77
  44. ^ Raaflaud, 2007 pp. 144–9
  45. ^ a b c d Clarke, 2001, pp. 194–201
  46. ^ Ober, 2008, p. 63
  47. ^ Raaflaub, 2008, p. 140
  48. ^ Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, 2.37.2–3
  49. ^ M. H. Hansen, J. A. Crook, The Athenian democracy in the age of Demosthenes, University of Oklahoma Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8061-3143-8, Google Books link
  50. ^ L. Carson, B. Martin, Random Selection in Politics, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, ISBN 0-275-96702-6, Google Books link
  51. ^ Exception was Boule of 500, where the poor could refuse.
  52. ^ Boule (Ancient Greek Council) Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  53. ^ Powell, 2001, pp. 300–4
  54. ^ Raafaub, 2007, p. 5
  55. ^ Hall, Peter (1999). Cities in Civilisation. London: Orion. p. 24.  
  56. ^ Aristotle, Politics.1317b (Book 6, Part II)
  57. ^ Plato, Republic
  58. ^ Aristotle, Politics
  59. ^ a b Seminar Notes by Prof. Paul Cartledge at University of Cambridge, The Socratics' Sparta And Rousseau's Institute of Historical Research
  60. ^ Hansen, (1992), pp. 14–30
  61. ^ Ober, 1996, pp. 15–6
  62. ^ Watson, 2005, p. 285
  63. ^ Livy, 2002, p. 34
  64. ^ Watson, 2005, p. 271
  65. ^ a b Livy, 2002, p. 23
  66. ^ a b Durant, 1942, p. 23
  67. ^ This view was already ancient when Polybius brought it to bear on Rome (Walbank 2002: 281).
  68. ^ Balot, 2009, p. 194
  69. ^ a b c d Balot, 2009, p. 216
  70. ^ a b Liv 1.43.11
  71. ^ Dion. Ant. Rom. 4.20.5
  72. ^ Polyb. 6.51
  73. ^ Balot, 2009, pp. 164–5
  74. ^ Balot, 2009, p. 176
  75. ^ Gibbon The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapters XLIX, LII; pp. 1685,1857 Heritage Club edition (1946). For a recent view, see David Nicolle; Carolingian cavalryman, AD 768–987, p. 45 ff. Intermediate sources tend to be colored by the "Free institutions of our Germanic ancestors" meme.
  76. ^ Burnt Njal's Saga, tr. Magnus Magnusson, introduction.
  77. ^ JRC Carter, Tribes in Oman, pg. 103. London: Peninsular Publishers, 1982. ISBN 0907151027
  78. ^ a b A Country Study: Oman, chapter 6 Oman – Government and Politics, section: Historical Patterns of Governance. US Library of Congress, 1993. Retrieved 2006-10-28
  79. ^ Donald Hawley, Oman, pg. 201. Jubilee edition. Kensington: Stacey International, 1995. ISBN 0905743636
  80. ^ Kasper, M. Baskische Geschichte Primus: 1997
  81. ^ "Origins and growth of Parliament". The National Archives. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  82. ^ "Citizen or Subject?". The National Archives. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  83. ^ a b Weatherford, J. McIver (1988). Indian givers: how the Indians of the Americas transformed the world. New York: Fawcett Columbine. p. 133.  
  84. ^ a b Tooker E (1990). "The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League". In Clifton JA. The Invented Indian: cultural fictions and government policies. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers. pp. 107–128.  
  85. ^ "Native American Political Systems and the Evolution of Democracy"
  86. ^ "Forgotten Founders"
  87. ^ "Exemplar of Liberty"
  88. ^ "Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom"
  89. ^ "Reaching the Grassroots: The World-wide Diffusion of Iroquois Democratic Traditions"
  90. ^ Professor Norman Davies on the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth – the Noble Democracy, which deliberately wanted to avoid an Emperor
  91. ^ See for example Chapters 1–2 in Maciej Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought Before 1918: Before 1918, Central European University Press, 2004, ISBN 963-9241-18-0
  92. ^ "Charles I and the Petition of Right". UK Parliament. 
  93. ^ Thatcher, Oliver Joseph (ed.) (1907). The library of original sources. University Research Extension. p. 10. 
  94. ^ "Rise of Parliament". The National Archives. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  95. ^ "Citizenship 1625-1789". The National Archives. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  96. ^ Davies, Norman (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford University Press. p. 699.  
  97. ^ Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. "Decree of the National Convention of 4 February 1794, Abolishing Slavery in all the Colonies". Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  98. ^ French National Assembly. """1848 " Désormais le bulletin de vote doit remplacer le fusil (in Français). Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  99. ^
  100. ^ Rummel 1997, p. 257. "A current list of liberal democracies includes: Andorra, Argentina, ... , Cyprus, ... , Israel, ..."
  101. ^ "Global Survey 2006: Middle East Progress Amid Global Gains in Freedom". Freedom House (2005-12-19). Retrieved on 2007-07-01.
  102. ^ "How the Westminster Parliamentary System was exported around the World". University of Cambridge. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  103. ^ Freedom in The World 2015 (PDF)
  104. ^ Freedom House. 1999. "Democracy’s Century: A Survey of Global Political Change in the 20th Century."
  105. ^ Robinson, 1997, pp. 24–5
  106. ^ Thorley, 1996, p. 2
  107. ^ Dunn, 2006, p. 13
  108. ^ Strauss, 1994, p. 32
  109. ^ Cartledge, 1994, p. 27
  110. ^ Ober, 1996, p. 107
  111. ^ The Federalist No. 10
  112. ^ The Federalist No. 51


^ i:  Literature about the Athenian democracy spans over centuries with the earliest works being The Republic of Plato and Politics of Aristotle, continuing with Discourses of Niccolò Machiavelli. The latest, listed in the References section, include works from scholars such as J. Dunn, J. Ober, T. Buckley, J. Thorley and E. W. Robinson, who examine the origins and the reasons of Athens being the first[19][45][59][105][106][107] to developed a sophisticated system of rule that we today call democracy. Despite its flaws (slavery, no women's rights) it is often considered the closest to the ideal democracy and called as classical democracy. It is often compared with modern (representative) democracies.[108][109]
^ ii:  The ancient Greeks did not have a word to use for "rights".[110]
^ iii:  The United States of America was and is, a republic, not a direct democracy. A direct democracy can be defined as a form of government in which the people decide matters directly, with prime example the Athenian democracy. A democratic republic, is a form of government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law. The delegates who wrote the Constitution were fearful of direct democracy; in the words of James Madison: "[D]emocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."[111] Nevertheless, the framers recognized that the public is required to impose a check to the government, in Madison words: "dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government".[112]

By popular usage, however, the word "democracy" came to mean a form of government in which the government derives its power from the people and is accountable to them for the use of that power. In this sense the United States can be called a democratic republic. Many states allow for policy questions to be decided directly by the people by voting on ballot initiatives or referendums. (Initiatives originate with, or are initiated by, the people while referendums originate with, or are referred to the people by a state's legislative body.)




See also

Under the influence of the theory of deliberative democracy, there have been several experiments since the start of the new millennium with what are called deliberative fora, places (in real life or in cyber space) where citizens and their representatives assemble to exchange reasons. One type of deliberative forum is called a minpublic: a body of randomly chosen or actively selected citizens that represents the whole population. The use of random selection to form a representative deliberative body is known as sortition. Examples of this are citizens' assemblies and citizens' juries. Citizens' assemblies have been used in Canada (2004, 2006) and the Netherlands (2006) to debate electoral reform, and in Iceland (2009 and 2010) for broader constitutional change.

Contemporary trends

In Asia, the country of Burma (also known as Myanmar) had long been ruled by a military junta, however in 2011, the government changed to allow certain voting rights and released democracy-leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. However, Burma still will not allow Suu Kyi to run for election and still has major human rights problems and not full democratic rights. In Bhutan, in December 2005, the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced to that the first general elections would be held in 2008, and that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his eldest son. Bhutan is currently undergoing further changes to allow for a constitutional monarchy. In the Maldives protests and political pressure led to a government reform which allowed democratic rights and presidential elections in 2008.

In Iran, following a highly disputed presidential vote fraught with corruption, Iranian citizens held a major series of protests calling for change and democratic rights (see: the 2009–2010 Iranian election protests and the 2011 Iranian protests). The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq led to a toppling of Saddam Hussein and a new constitution with free and open elections.

In the 21st century, democracy movements have been seen across the world. In the Arab world, an unprecedented series of major protests occurred with citizens of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and other countries across the MENA region demanding democratic rights. This revolutionary wave was given the term Tunisia Effect, as well as the Arab Spring. The Palestinian Authority also took action to address democratic rights.

21st century waves of democracy

An analysis by Freedom House shows 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 13% 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.[104] 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.

Countries highlighted in blue are designated "electoral democracies" in Freedom House's 2015 survey "Freedom in the World", covering the year 2014.[103]

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.

New waves of democracy swept across Southern Europe in the 1970s, as a number of right-wing nationalist dictatorships fell from power. Later, in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, the communist states in the USSR sphere of influence were also replaced with liberal democracies.

Late Cold War and after

In the United States of America, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act enforced the 15th Amendment. The 24th Amendment ended poll taxing by removing all tax placed upon voting, which was a technique commonly used to restrict the African American vote. The Voting Rights Act also granted voting rights to all Native Americans, irrespective of their home state. The minimum voting age was reduced to 18 by the 26th Amendment in 1971.

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 and at least initially democratic; those that were formerly part of the British Empire often adopted the Westminster parliamentary system.[102] The process of decolonisation 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.

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 14 May 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.[100][101]

World War II also planted seeds of democracy 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.

Decolonisation and Civil Rights Movements

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.

  • MaxRange data has defined and categorised pthe level of democracy and political regime type to all states and months from 1789 to this day and updating. MaxRange shows a dramatic expansion of democracy, especially from 1989. The third wave of democracy has been successful and covered major parts of previous autocratic areas. MaxRange can show detailed correlations between success of democracy and many relevant variables, such as previous democratic history, the transitional phase and selection of institutional political system. Even though the number of democratic states has continued to grow since 2006, the share of weaker electoral democracies has grown significantly. This is the strongest causal factor behind fragile democracies.[99]

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.

Post World War II

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted full U.S. citizenship to America's indigenous peoples, called "Indians" in this Act. (The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees citizenship to persons born in the U.S., but only if "subject to the jurisdiction thereof"; this latter clause excludes certain indigenous peoples.) The act was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on June 2, 1924. The act further enfranchised the rights of peoples resident within the boundaries of the United States.

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 a 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 terrible economic impact of the Great Depression hurt democratic forces in many countries. The 1930s became a decade of dictators in Europe and Latin America.

The three 20th centurty waves of democracy, based on the number of nations 1800–2003 scoring 8 or higher on Polity IV scale, another widely used measure of democracy.

20th century waves of democracy

The stone inscriptions in a temple say that ballot elections were held in South India by a method called Kudavolai system. Kudavolai means the ballot sheet of leaf that was put secretly in a pot vessel called "kudam". The details are found inscribed on the walls of the village assembly hall. Actually, the once village-assembly hall is the present temple. The details show that the village had a secret ballot electoral system and a written Constitution, prescribing the mode of elections.

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.

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.

A British secret ballot paper, 1880

The secret ballot

  • 1791: The Haitian Revolution a successful slave revolution, established a free republic.
  • The United Kingdom
    • 1807: The Slave Trade Act banned the trade across the British Empire after which the U.K. established the West Africa Squadron and enacted international treaties to combat foreign slave traders.
    • 1832: The passing of the Reform Act, which gave representation to previously under represented urban areas in the U.K. and extended the voting franchise to a wider population.
    • 1833: The Slavery Abolition Act was passed, which took effect across the British Empire from 1 August 1834.
  • 1848: Universal male suffrage was definitely established in France in March of that year, in the wake of the French Revolution of 1848.[98]
  • 1848: Following the French, the Revolutions of 1848, although in many instances forcefully put down, did result in democratic constitutions in some other European countries among them Denmark and Netherlands.
  • 1850s: introduction of the secret ballot in Australia; 1872 in UK; 1892 in USA
  • 1853: Black Africans given the vote for the first time in Southern Africa, in the British-administered Cape Province.
  • 1870: USA – 15th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibits voting rights discrimination on the basis of race, colour, or previous condition of slavery.
  • 1879 and 1880: William Ewart Gladstone's UK Midlothian campaign ushered in the modern political campaign.
  • 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).
  • 1905: Persian Constitutional Revolution, first parliamentary system in middle east.
The establishment of universal male suffrage in France in 1848 was an important milestone in the history of democracy.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the National Assembly of France, 26 August 1789.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century milestones

  • [91]

Early Modern Era milestones

Rise of democracy in modern national governments

The Aztecs also practiced elections, but the elected officials elected a supreme speaker, not a ruler.[83]

Reaching the Grassroots:The World-wide Diffusion of Iroquois Democratic Traditions [89]

Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom [88]

Forgotten Founders [86] and Exemplar of Liberty .[87]

Bruce Johanssen artfully contests Tooker's allegedly eurocentric and ideosyncratic analysis in several works: "Native American Political Systems and the Evolution of Democracy" [85]

What little evidence there is regarding this system indicates chiefs of different tribes were permitted representation in the Iroquois League council, and this ability to represent the tribe was hereditary. The council itself did not practice representative government, and there were no elections; deceased chiefs' successors were selected by the most senior woman within the hereditary lineage in consultation with other women in the clan. Decision making occurred through lengthy discussion and decisions were unanimous, with topics discussed being introduced by a single tribe. Tooker concludes that "...there is virtually no evidence that the framers borrowed from the Iroquois" and that the myth that this was the case is the result of exaggerations and misunderstandings of a claim made by Iroquois linguist and ethnographer J.N.B. Hewitt after his death in 1937.[84]

Temple University professor of anthropology and an authority on the culture and history of the Northern Iroquois Elizabeth Tooker has reviewed these claims and concluded they are myth rather than fact. The idea that North American Indians had a democratic culture is several decades old, but not usually expressed within historical literature. The relationship between the Iroquois League and the Constitution is based on a portion of a letter written by Benjamin Franklin and a speech by the Iroquois chief Canasatego in 1744. Tooker concluded that the documents only indicate that some groups of Iroquois and white settlers realized the advantages of a confederation, and that ultimately there is little evidence to support the idea that eighteenth century colonists were knowledgeable regarding the Iroquois system of governance.[84]

Historian Jack Weatherford has argued that the ideas leading to the American Constitution and democracy derived from various indigenous peoples of the Americas including the Iroquois. Weatherford claimed this democracy was founded between the years 1000–1450, and lasted several hundred years, and that the American democratic system was continually changed and improved by the influence of Native Americans throughout North America.[83]

Indigenous peoples of the Americas

  • continuations of the early Germanic thing:
    • the Witenagemot (folkmoot) of Early Medieval England, councils of advisors to the kings of the petty kingdoms and then that of a unified England before the Norman Conquest.
    • The Frankish custom of the Märzfeld or Camp of Mars.[75]
    • Tynwald, on the Isle of Man, is the oldest continuous parliament in the world, which began in 979, although its roots go further back to the late 9th century. Tynwald was also the first place to offer universal suffrage in 1893.
    • The Althing, the parliament of the Icelandic Commonwealth, founded in 930. It consisted of the 39, later 55, goðar; each owner of a goðarð; and each hereditary goði kept a tight hold on his membership, which could in principle be lent or sold. 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 become 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.[76]
    • The 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 Swiss Landsgemeinde.
  • 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 Ibadites of Oman, a minority sect distinct from both Sunni and Shia Muslims, have traditionally chosen their leaders via community-wide elections of qualified candidates starting in the 8th century.[77][78] They were distinguished early on in the region by their belief that the ruler needed the consent of the ruled.[79] The leader exercised both religious and secular rule.[78]
  • the guilds, of economic, social and religious natures, in the later Middle Ages elected officers for yearly terms.
  • The city-states (republics) of medieval Italy, as Venice and Florence, and similar city-states in Switzerland, Flanders and the Hanseatic league had not a modern democratic system but a guild democratic system. The Italian cities in the middle medieval period had "lobbies war" democracies without institutional guarantee systems (a full developed balance of powers). During late medieval and renaissance periods, Venice became an oligarchy and others became "Signorie". They were, in any case in late medieval times, not nearly as democratic as the Athenian-influenced city-states of Ancient Greece (discussed above), 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 the Sejm – the 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.[80]
  • The rise of democratic parliaments in England and Scotland: Magna Carta (1215) limiting the authority of powerholders; first representative parliament (1265).[81][82] The Magna Carta implicitly supported what became the English writ of habeas corpus, safeguarding individual freedom against unlawful imprisonment with right to appeal. The emergence of petitioning in the 13th century is some of the earliest evidence of this parliament being used as a forum to address the general grievances of ordinary people.

Early institutions included:

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, in the Renaissance period; but during the medieval period guild democracies did evolve.

Most 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 times of the Iliad or of the Odyssey, and modern democracies are often derived from or inspired by them, or what remained of them.

Olof Skötkonung that the power resides with the people, 1018, Uppsala, by C. Krogh.

Medieval institutions

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.

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.

Roman Empire and Late Antiquity

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. One of those generals was Julius Caesar, where he marched on Rome and took supreme power over the republic. Caesar's career was cut short by his assassination at Rome in 44 BCE by a group of Senators including Marcus Junius Brutus. 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. Their combined strength gave the triumvirs absolute power. However, in 31 BC war between the two broke out. The final confrontation occurred on 2 September 31 BCE, at the naval Battle of Actium where the fleet of Octavian under the command of Agrippa routed Antony's fleet. Thereafter, there was no one left in the Roman Republic who wanted to, or could stand against Octavian, and the adopted son of Caesar moved to take absolute control. Octavian left the majority of Republican institutions intact, though he influenced everything using personal authority and ultimately controlled the final decisions. Having military might to back up his rule if necessary. By 27 BCE the transition, though subtle, disguised, and relying on personal power over the power of offices, was complete. In that year, Octavian offered back all his powers to the Senate, and in a carefully staged way, the Senate refused and 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.

A fragment of a bronze equestrian order statue of Augustus, Roman Emperor, 1st century AD.

Transition to Empire

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 BCE.

Roman stability, in Polybius’ assessment, was owing to the checks each element put on the superiority of any other: a consul at war, for example, required the cooperation of the Senate and the people if he hoped to secure victory and glory, and could not be indifferent to their wishes. This was not to say that the balance was in every way even: Polybius observes that the superiority of the Roman to the Carthaginian constitution (another mixed constitution) at the time of the Hannibalic War was an effect of the latter’s greater inclination toward democracy than to aristocracy.[72] Moreover, recent attempts to posit for Rome personal freedom in the Greek sense – eleutheria: living as you like – have fallen on stony ground, since eleutheria (which was an ideology and way of life in the democratic Athens[73]) was anathema in the Roman eyes.[74] Rome’s core values included order, hierarchy, discipline, and obedience. These values were enforced with laws regulating the private life of an individual. The laws were applied in particular to the upper classes, since the upper classes were the source of Roman moral examples.

The political structure as outlined in the Roman constitution resembled a mixed constitution[67] and its constituent parts were comparable to those of the Spartan constitution: two consuls, embodying the monarchic form; the Senate, embodying the aristocratic form; and the people through the assemblies.[68] The consul was the highest ranking ordinary magistrate.[69] Consuls had power in both civil and military matters. While in the city of Rome, the consuls were the head of the Roman government and they would preside over the Senate and the assemblies. While abroad, each consul would command an army. The Senate passed decrees, which were called senatus consultum and were official advices to a magistrate. However, in practice it was difficult for a magistrate to ignore the Senate's advice.[69] The focus of the Roman Senate was directed towards foreign policy. Though it technically had no official role in the management of military conflict, the Senate ultimately was the force that oversaw such affairs. Also it managed Rome's civil administration. The requirements for becoming a senator included having at least 100,000 denarii worth of land, being born of the patrician (noble aristocrats) class, and having held public office at least once before. New Senators had to be approved by the sitting members.[69] The people of Rome through the assemblies had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new laws, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the creation (or dissolution) of alliances. Despite the obvious power the assemblies had, in practice the assemblies were the least powerful of the other bodies of government. An assembly was legal only if summoned by a magistrate[69] and it was restricted from any legislative initiative or the ability to debate. And even the candidates for public office as Livy writes "levels were designed so that no one appeared to be excluded from an election and yet all of the clout resided with the leading men".[70] Moreover, the unequal weight of votes was making a rare practice for asking the lowest classes for their votes.[70][71]

Rome was a city-state in Italy next to powerful neighbors; Etruscans had built city-states throughout central Italy since the 13th century BCE and in the south were Greek colonies. Similar to other city-states, Rome was ruled by a king. However, social unrest and the pressure of external threats led in 510 BCE the last king to be deposed by a group of aristocrats led by Lucius Junius Brutus.[65][66] A new constitution was crafted, but the conflict between the ruling families (patricians) and the rest of the population, the plebeians continued. The plebs were demanding for definite, written, and secular laws. The patrician priests, who were the recorders and interpreters of the statutes, by keeping their records secret used their monopoly against social change. After a long resistance to the new demands, the Senate in 454 BCE sent a commission of three patricians to Greece to study and report on the legislation of Solon and other lawmakers.[65][66] When they returned, the Assembly in 451 BCE chose ten men – a decemviri – to formulate a new code, and gave them supreme governmental power in Rome for two years. This commission, under the supervision of a resolute reactionary, Appius Claudius, transformed the old customary law of Rome into Twelve Tables and submitted them to the Assembly (which passed them with some changes) and they were displayed in the Forum for all who would and could read. The Twelve Tables recognised certain rights and by the 4th century BCE, the plebs were given the right to stand for consulship and other major offices of the state.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catilina, from a 19th-century fresco.

The Republic

Even though Rome is classified as a Republic and not a democracy, its history has helped preserve the concept of democracy over the centuries. The Romans invented the concept of classics and many works from Ancient Greece were preserved.[62] Additionally, the Roman model of governance inspired many political thinkers over the centuries,[63] and today's modern (representative) democracies imitate more the Roman than the Greek models.[64]

Roman Republic

[61] However, the decline of democracy was not only due to external powers, but from its citizens, such as Plato and his student Aristotle. Through their influential works, after the rediscovery of

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 BCE) and second Sparta's puppet régime of the Thirty Tyrants (in 404 BCE). Both votes were under manipulation and pressure, but democracy was recovered in less than a year in both cases. Reforms following the restoration of democracy after the overthrow of the Thirty Tyrants removed most law-making authority from the Assembly and placed it in randomly selected law-making juries known as "nomothetai." 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.

The decline, its critics and revival

Within the Athenian democratic environment, many philosophers from all over the Greek world gathered to develop their theories. Socrates was the first to raise the question, further expanded by his pupil Plato, about the relation/position of an individual within a community. Aristotle continued the work of his teacher, Plato, and laid the foundations of political philosophy. The political philosophy created in Athens was, in the words of Peter Hall, "in a form so complete that hardly added anyone of moment to it for over a millennium".[55] Aristotle systematically analyzed the different systems of rule that the numerous Greek city-states had and categorized them into three categories based on how many ruled: the many (democracy/polity), the few (oligarchy/aristocracy), a single person (tyranny or today autocracy/monarchy). For Aristotle, the underlying principles of democracy are reflected in his work Politics:

Birth of political philosophy

Overall, the Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also directest in the sense that the people through the assembly, boule, and courts of law controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business.[54] And even though the rights of the individual (probably) were not secured by the Athenian constitution in the modern sense,ii[›] 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.[45]

Another important political institution in Athens was the courts; they were composed of a 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.[2] Participation by the citizens selected was mandatory,[51] 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[52] and no citizen could serve more than twice.[53]

The Athenian democracy of Cleisthenes and Pericles was based on freedom, through the reforms of Solon, and equality (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.[49] 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.[50]

A bust of Pericles bearing the inscription "Pericles, son of Xanthippus, Athenian". Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from ca. 430 BCE.

recorded Pericles, in the funeral oration, describing the Athenian system of rule: Thucydides. In the following passage, political machine Pericles was distinguished as its greatest democratic leader, even though he has been accused of running a [47] (Athenians without wealth) to occupy public office.thetes presided over a radicalization of power that shifted the balance decisively to the poorest sections of society, by passing laws which severely limited the powers of the Council of the Areopagus and allowed Pericles and Ephialtes encouraged the poorest Athenians (who participated in the military exhibitions) to demand a greater say in the running of their city. In the late 460s, Persian Wars The victories in [46].art and literature by becoming a great center of Golden Age In the next generation, Athens entered in its [45]: δημοκρατία – "rule by the people") was first used by the Athenians to define their new system of government.Greek During this period, the word "democracy" ([44] by expanding access to power to more citizens.[41],isonomia He also introduced the principle of equality of rights for all, [43] After the fall of tyranny and before the year 508–507 was over,

Even though the Solonian reorganization of the constitution improved the economic position of the Athenian lower classes, it did not eliminate the bitter aristocratic contentions for control of the archonship, the chief executive post. Peisistratus became tyrant of Athens three times and remained in power until his death in 527 BCE. His sons Hippias and Hipparchus succeeded him.[40]

The Pnyx with the speaker's platform, the meeting place of the people of Athens.

Democracy under Cleisthenes and Pericles

Overall, the reforms of the lawgiver Solon in 594 BC were 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.[38][39]

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.[35] Solon attempted to satisfy all sides by alleviating the suffering of the poor majority without removing all the privileges of the rich minority.[36] 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.[35] 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 became members of the Areopagus (Council of the Hill of Ares), and like the 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.[37]

Bust of Solon from the National Museum, Naples.

Solon and the foundations of democracy

Athens emerged in the 7th century BCE, like many other poleis, with a dominating powerful aristocracy.[31] However, this domination led to exploitation, causing significant economic, political, and social problems. These problems were exacerbated early in the sixth century and as "the many were enslaved to few, the people rose against the notables".[32] At the same period in the Greek world, many traditional aristocracies were disrupted by popular revolutions, like Sparta in the second half of the 7th century BCE. Sparta's constitutional reforms by Lycurgus introduced a hoplite state and showed how inherited governments can be changed and lead to military victory.[33] After a period of unrest between the rich and the poor, the Athenians of all classes turned to Solon to act as a mediator between rival factions, and reached a generally satisfactory solution to their problems.[34][35]

Athens is regarded as the birthplace of democracy and it is considered an important reference point of democracy.i[›]


The political stability of Sparta also meant that no significant changes in the constitution were made, but the oligarchic elements of Sparta became even stronger, especially after the influx of gold and silver from the victories in the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.

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.[29][30]

The reforms of Lycurgus were written as a list of rules/laws called Great Rhetra, making it the world's first written constitution.[26] In the following centuries, Sparta became a military power, and its system of rule was admired throughout the Greek world for its political stability.[27] In particular, the concept of equality played an important role in Spartan society. The Spartans referred to themselves as ὅμοιοι (Homoioi, "equals"). Equality was also reflected in the Spartan public educational system, agoge, where all citizens irrespective of wealth or status had the same education.[21] 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.[28]

The legendary creator of the Spartan system of rule was the lawgiver gerousia and the apella.[25]

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. The 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.[22] Finally, the five ephors were chosen in apella to oversee the actions of the kings and other public officials and, if necessary, depose them. They served for one year and could not be re-elected for a second term. The ephors held great influence on the formation of foreign policy and acted as the main executive body of state. Additionally, they had full responsibility for the Spartan educational system, which was essential for maintaining the high standards of the Spartan army. As Aristotle noted, ephors were the most important key institution of state, but because often they were appointed from the whole social body it resulted in very poor men holding office, with the ensuing possibility that they could easily be bribed.[23][24]

Ancient Greece, in its early period, was a loose collection of independent city states called poleis. Many of these poleis were oligarchies.[17] The most prominent Greek oligarchy, and the state with which democratic Athens is most often compared, was Sparta. Yet Sparta, in its rejection of private wealth as a primary social differentiator, was a peculiar kind of oligarchy[18] and some scholars note its resemblance to democracy.[19][20][21] In Spartan government, the political power was divided between four bodies: two Spartan Kings (diarchy), gerousia (Council of Gerontes (Elders), including the two kings), the ephors (representatives who oversaw the kings) and the apella (assembly of Spartans).

Bas-relief of Lycurgus, one of 23 great lawgivers depicted in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.


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.[14][15] Despite the obvious power of the assembly, it has not yet been established whether 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.[16] Another issue is the persistence of the four-tiered Varna class system.[14] 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 leads many scholars to believe that the true nature of ganas and sanghas would not be comparable to that of truly democratic institutions.[15]

The main characteristics of the gana seem to be a monarch, usually called raja, and a deliberative assembly. The assembly met regularly. It discussed all major state decisions and at least in some states attendance was open to all free men. 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.[12] The Licchavis had a primary governing body of 7,077 rajas, the heads of the most important families. On the other hand, the Shakyas , koliyas , mouryas , malla , and Licchavis, the Gautama Buddha's people, had the assembly open to all men, rich and poor.[13]

Another claim for early democratic institutions comes from the independent "republics" of India, sanghas and ganas, which existed as early as the sixth century BC and persisted in some areas until the fourth century BC. The evidence is scattered and no pure historical source exists for that period. In addition, Diodorus (a Greek historian writing two centuries after the time of Alexander the Great's invasion of India), without offering any detail, mentions that independent and democratic states existed in India.[9] However, modern scholars note that the word democracy at the third century BC and later had been degraded and could mean any autonomous state no matter how oligarchic it was.[10][11]


This pioneering work, while constantly cited, has invoked little serious discussion and gained little 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 as the sovereign authority.[7] Jacobsen concedes that the vagueness of the evidence prohibits the separation between the Mesopotamian democracy from a primitive oligarchy.[8]

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 specialised [and] the power structure is loose". In the early period of Sumer, kings such as Gilgamesh did not hold the autocratic power which later Mesopotamian rulers wielded. Rather, major city-states had a council of elders and a council of "young men" (likely to be composed of free men bearing arms) that possessed the final political authority, and had to be consulted on all major issues such as war.[5][6]

The tablet containing the epic of Gilgamesh.


In recent decades scholars have explored the possibility that advancements toward democratic government occurred somewhere else (i.e. other than Greece) first, as Greece developed its complex social and political institutions long after the appearance of the earliest civilizations in Egypt and the Near East.[4]

Proto-democratic societies

Although it is generally believed that the concepts of democracy and constitution were created in one particular place and time – identified as Ancient Athens circa 508 BCi[›] — 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.[2] Within that broad sense it is plausible to assume that democracy in one form or another arises naturally in any well-bonded group, such as a tribe. This is tribalism or primitive democracy. A primitive democracy is identified in small communities or villages when the following take place: face-to-face discussion in the village council or there is a leader whose decisions are supported by village elders or other cooperative modes of government.[3] Nevertheless, on a larger scale sharper contrasts arise when the village and the city are examined as political communities. In urban governments, all other forms of rule – monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, and oligarchy – have flourished.[2]

Historic origins



  • Antiquity 1
    • Historic origins 1.1
    • Proto-democratic societies 1.2
      • Mesopotamia 1.2.1
      • India 1.2.2
      • Sparta 1.2.3
    • Athens 1.3
      • Solon and the foundations of democracy 1.3.1
      • Democracy under Cleisthenes and Pericles 1.3.2
      • Birth of political philosophy 1.3.3
      • The decline, its critics and revival 1.3.4
    • Roman Republic 1.4
      • The Republic 1.4.1
      • Transition to Empire 1.4.2
    • Roman Empire and Late Antiquity 1.5
  • Medieval institutions 2
  • Indigenous peoples of the Americas 3
  • Rise of democracy in modern national governments 4
    • Early Modern Era milestones 4.1
    • Eighteenth and nineteenth century milestones 4.2
    • The secret ballot 4.3
    • 20th century waves of democracy 4.4
    • Post World War II 4.5
    • Decolonisation and Civil Rights Movements 4.6
    • Late Cold War and after 4.7
    • 21st century waves of democracy 4.8
  • Contemporary trends 5
  • See also 6
    • Documents 6.1
    • People 6.2
  • Notes 7
  • Footnotes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

. right to vote, this formal equality is embodied primarily in the representative democracy In modern [1]

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