Democracy, derived from the Greek term "demos" or "people," is a system of government that gives power to the people. Democracy can be exercised in several ways -- either directly by citizens or through elected agents. First established by the Greeks, democracy didn't reappear on a global scale until after the 17th century. According to the U.S. Department of State, the democratic style of government -- adopted by the United States in 1776 -- has six basic characteristics: established popular sovereignty, majority rule, individual rights, free and open elections, citizen involvement and open compromise.
A democratic government grants adult citizens the right to elect their representatives. It also establishes clear guidelines for election cycles and term limits so that key positions are contested at regular intervals. Through this process of voting, citizens are regularly given the ability to hire or fire their representatives.
Majority Rule and Minority Rights
The principle of majority rule is an important parts of the democratic system. The majority rules in the election process, but individual rights are protected by the maintenance of decentralized, local government bodies. In a democracy, it is understood that all levels of government should be accessible to, and representative of the people.
Democracies value the protection of individual rights. These rights, such as freedom of religion and equal protection under the law, are such important parts of a democracy that the term "freedom" is often associated with the term "democracy."
Free and Fair Elections
The key to the exercise of democracy is the election process. Free and fair elections are held at regular intervals for the election of representatives at all levels of government. In a free, democratic election, all adult citizens are given the right to cast votes -- ensuring that the will of the people will be expressed.
Citizens of a democracy not only have the right to vote, but also the responsibility to participate. Informed participation is key in a democracy. Having the right to vote and express themselves, those living in a democratic society are called upon to act as guardians of their own freedom.
Cooperation and Compromise
Democracies also value cooperation and compromise to protect individual rights. To adequately safeguard diversity, and accurately represent all communities, a democracy must protect the right to be different. For this, a climate of tolerance is critical.
- U.S. Department of State: Characteristics of Democracy
- U.S. Department of State: What is Democracy?
- Center for Civic Education: Constitutional Democracy
- Inter-Parliamentary Union: Democracy: Its Principles and Achievements
- International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: Democracy
- Scholastic Teachers: Democracy
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