Representative democracy (also indirect democracy, representative
republic or psephocracy) is a type of democracy founded on the
principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as
opposed to direct democracy. Nearly all modern Western-style
democracies are types of representative democracies; for example, the
United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, Ireland is a unitary
parliamentary republic, and the United States is a federal
It is an element of both the parliamentary and the presidential
systems of government and is typically used in a lower chamber such as
House of Commons
House of Commons (United Kingdom),
Lok Sabha (India) or Dáil
Éireann (Republic of Ireland), and may be curtailed by constitutional
constraints such as an upper chamber. It has been described by some
political theorists including Robert A. Dahl, Gregory Houston and Ian
Liebenberg as polyarchy. In it the power is in the hands of the
representatives who are elected by the people.
1 Powers of representatives
3 Research on representation per se
4.1 Proposed solutions
6 External links
Powers of representatives
Representatives are elected by the public, as in national elections
for the national legislature. Elected representatives may hold the
power to select other representatives, presidents, or other officers
of the government or of the legislature, as the Prime Minister in the
latter case. (indirect representation).
The power of representatives is usually curtailed by a constitution
(as in a constitutional democracy or a constitutional monarchy) or
other measures to balance representative power:
An independent judiciary, which may have the power to declare
legislative acts unconstitutional (e.g. constitutional court, supreme
The constitution may also provide for some deliberative democracy
(e.g., Royal Commissions) or direct popular measures (e.g.,
initiative, referendum, recall elections). However, these are not
always binding and usually require some legislative action—legal
power usually remains firmly with representatives.[where?]
In some cases, a bicameral legislature may have an "upper house" that
is not directly elected, such as the Canadian Senate, which was in
turn modeled on the British House of Lords.
Theorists such as
Edmund Burke believe that part of the duty of a
representative was not simply to communicate the wishes of the
electorate but also to use their own judgement in the exercise of
their powers, even if their views are not reflective of those of a
majority of voters:
...it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live
in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most
unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to
have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their
business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his
repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all,
ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his
unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he
ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men
living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the
law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the
abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you,
not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of
serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
See also: Democratization
Roman Republic was the first government in the western world to
have a representative government, despite taking the form of a direct
government in the Roman assemblies. The Roman model of governance
inspired many political thinkers over the centuries, and today's
modern representative democracies imitate more the Roman than the
Greek models because it was a state in which supreme power was held by
the people and their elected representatives, and which had an elected
or nominated leader.
Representative democracy is a form of
democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on
policy initiatives as opposed to a direct democracy, a form of
democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. A
European medieval tradition of selecting representatives from the
various estates (classes, but not as we know them today) to
advise/control monarchs led to relatively wide familiarity with
representative systems inspired by Roman systems.
In Britain, Simon de Montfort is remembered as one of the fathers of
representative government for holding two famous parliaments.
The first, in 1258, stripped the King of unlimited authority and the
second, in 1265, included ordinary citizens from the towns. Later,
in the 17th century, the
Parliament of England
Parliament of England pioneered some of the
ideas and systems of liberal democracy culminating in the Glorious
Revolution and passage of the Bill of Rights 1689.
American Revolution led to the creation of a new
the United States in 1787, with a national legislature based partly on
direct elections of representatives every two years, and thus
responsible to the electorate for continuance in office. Senators were
not directly elected by the people until the adoption of the
Seventeenth Amendment in 1913. Women, men who owned no property, and
blacks, and others not originally given voting rights in most states
eventually gained the vote through changes in state and federal law in
the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Until it was repealed by
the Fourteenth Amendment following the Civil War, the Three-Fifths
Compromise gave a disproportionate representation of slave states in
the House of Representatives relative to the voters in free
Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of
Man and of the Citizen and, although short-lived, the National
Convention was elected by all males in 1792. Universal male
suffrage was re-established in France in the wake of the French
Revolution of 1848.
Representative democracy came into particular general favour in
post-industrial revolution nation states where large numbers of
citizens evinced interest in politics, but where technology and
population figures remained unsuited to direct democracy. As noted
Edmund Burke in his speech to the electors of Bristol
classically analysed their operation in Britain and the rights and
duties of an elected representative.
The U.S. House of Representatives, one example of representative
Globally, a majority of the world's people live in representative
democracies including constitutional monarchies and republics with
strong representative branches.
Research on representation per se
Further information: Representation (politics)
Separate but related, and very large, bodies of research in political
philosophy and social science investigate how and how well elected
representatives, such as legislators, represent the interests or
preferences of one or another constituency.
In his book Political Parties, written in 1911,
Robert Michels argues
that most representative systems deteriorate towards an oligarchy or
particracy. This is known as the iron law of oligarchy.
Representative democracies which are stable have been analysed by
Adolf Gasser and compared to the unstable representative democracies
in his book "Gemeindefreiheit als Rettung Europas" which was published
in 1943 (first edition in German) and a second edition in 1947 (in
Adolf Gasser stated the following requirements for a
representative democracy in order to remain stable, unaffected by the
iron law of oligarchy:
Society has to be built up from bottom to top. As a consequence,
society is built up by people, who are free and have the power to
defend themselves with weapons.
These free people join or form local communities. These local
communities are independent, which includes financial independence,
and they are free to determine their own rules.
Local communities join together into a higher unit e.g. a canton.
There is no hierarchical bureaucracy.
There is competition between these local communities e.g. on services
delivered or on taxes.
A drawback to this type of government is that elected officials are
not required to fulfill promises made before their election and are
able to promote their own self-interests once elected, providing an
incohesive system of governance. Legislators are also under
scrutiny as the system of majority-won legislators voting for issues
for the large group of people fosters inequality among the
The system of stochocracy has been proposed as an improved system
compared to the system of representative democracy, where
representatives are elected.
Stochocracy aims to at least reduce this
degradation by having all representatives appointed by lottery instead
of by voting. Therefore, this system is also called lottocracy. The
system was proposed by the writer Roger de Sizif in 1998 in his book
La Stochocratie. Choosing officeholders by lot was also the standard
practice in ancient Athenian democracy. The rationale behind this
practice was to avoid lobbying and electioneering by economic
The system of deliberative democracy is a mix between a majority ruled
system and a consensus-based system. It allows for representative
democracies or direct democracies to coexist with its system of
governance, providing an initial advantage. It is a system which
allows for legislators to discuss the issues in a productive manner
trying to reach a consensus. If the group cannot reach a consensus
then a majority-wins vote must be taken.
The system of delegative democracy or Liquid
Democracy is a dynamic
mixture of representative democracy and direct democracy, meaning that
each participant can decide himself when he wants to participate in a
decision by direct voting, or whether he rather wants a delegate to
vote for him by using a software system. The voter can delegate his
vote to an organization, a political party or an individual. One can
have different delegates in different subject areas, and always change
the delegate. When the voter votes directly in an issue, the delegates
vote will be erased and the direct vote will be counted. This system
also contains room for popular initiatives and deliberation. The first
example of delegative or Liquid
Democracy using a software program in
a real political setting involved the local political party Demoex in
Vallentuna near Stockholm, Sweden. Pirate Parties in Germany,
Italy, Austria, Norway, France and the Netherlands use delegative
democracy with the open-source software LiquidFeedback,[citation
needed] while members of the Belgian
Pirate Party have developed their
own software called Get Opinionated.
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^ Livy, 2002, p. 34
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^ "Simon de Montfort: The turning point for democracy that gets
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^ Kopstein, Jeffrey; Lichbach, Mark; Hanson, Stephen E., eds. (2014).
Comparative Politics: Interests, Identities, and Institutions in a
Changing Global Order (4, revised ed.). Cambridge University Press.
pp. 37–9. ISBN 1139991388. Britain pioneered the system of
liberal democracy that has now spread in one form or another to most
of the world's countries
^ "Constitutionalism: America & Beyond". Bureau of International
Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State. Archived from
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earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in
England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor
monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th,
and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and,
eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive
feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea
that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential
attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well
established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the
establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule
of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the
political requirement that representative government depended upon the
consent of citizen subjects.... However, as can be seen through
provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was
fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow
sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed
essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man"
enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed
beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration
of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of
Man in 1789.
^ "We Hold These Truths to be Self-evident;" An Interdisciplinary
Analysis of the Roots of Racism & slavery in America Kenneth N.
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nella democrazia moderna : studi sulle tendenze oligarchiche
degli aggregati politici, from the German original by Dr. Alfredo
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Representative democracy at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
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