1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Democracy

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DEMOCRACY (Gr. δημοκρατία, from δῆμος, the people, i.e. the commons, and κράτος, rule), in political science, that form of government in which the people rules itself, either directly, as in the small city-states of Greece, or through representatives. According to Aristotle, democracy is the perverted form of the third form of government, which he called πολιτεία, “polity” or “constitutional government,” the rule of the majority of the free and equal citizens, as opposed to monarchy and aristocracy, the rule respectively of an individual and of a minority consisting of the best citizens (see Government and Aristocracy). Aristotle’s restriction of “democracy” to bad popular government, i.e. mob-rule, or, as it has sometimes been called, “ochlocracy” (ὂχλος, mob), was due to the fact that the Athenian democracy had in his day degenerated far below the ideals of the 5th century, when it reached its zenith under Pericles. Since Aristotle’s day the word has resumed its natural meaning, but democracy in modern times is a very different thing from what it was in its best days in Greece and Rome. The Greek states were what are known as “city-states,” the characteristic of which was that all the citizens could assemble together in the city at regular intervals for legislative and other purposes. This sovereign assembly of the people was known at Athens as the Ecclesia (q.v.), at Sparta as the Apella (q.v.), at Rome variously as the Comitia Centuriata or the Concilium Plebis (see Comitia). Of representative government in the modern sense there is practically no trace in Athenian history, though certain of the magistrates (see Strategus) had a quasi-representative character. Direct democracy is impossible except in small states. In the second place the qualification for citizenship was rigorous; thus Pericles restricted citizenship to those who were the sons of an Athenian father, himself a citizen, and an Athenian mother (ἐξ ἀμφόῖν ἀστοῖν). This system excluded not only all the slaves, who were more numerous than the free population, but also resident aliens, subject allies, and those Athenians whose descent did not satisfy this criterion (τῷ γένει μὴ καθαροί). The Athenian democracy, which was typical in ancient Greece, was a highly exclusive form of government.

With the growth of empire and nation states this narrow parochial type of democracy became impossible. The population became too large and the distance too great for regular assemblies of qualified citizens. The rigid distinction of citizens and non-citizens was progressively more difficult to maintain, and new criteria of citizenship came into force. The first difficulty has been met by various forms of representative government. The second problem has been solved in various ways in different countries; moderate democracies have adopted a low property qualification, while extreme democracy is based on the extension of citizenship to all adult persons with or without distinction of sex. The essence of modern representative government is that the people does not govern itself, but periodically elects those who shall govern on its behalf (see Government; Representation).