Direct democracy, also called pure democracy, forms of direct participation of citizens in democratic decision making, in contrast to indirect or representative democracy. Direct democracies may operate through an assembly of citizens or by means of referenda and initiatives in which citizens vote on issues instead of for candidates or parties. The term is also sometimes used for the practice of electing representatives in a direct vote rather than indirectly through an electing body, such as the electoral college, and for the recall of elected officeholders. Direct democracy may be understood as a full-scale system of political institutions, but in modern times it most often consists of specific decision-making institutions within a broader system of representative democracy. reference of direct democracy is to assembly democracy in ancient Greek city-states, particularly Athens, where decisions were taken by an Assembly (Ecclesia) of some 1,000 male citizens. Later, people’s assemblies were used in many Swiss cantons and towns as well as in town meetings in some American colonies and states. Early U.S. states also started using procedures in which constitutions or constitutional amendments were ratified by referenda, which later became common in the country. Popular sovereignty, proclaimed in the French Revolution (1787–99), had rather been distorted, however, in Napoleon’s autocratic plebiscites. Switzerland and many U.S. states incorporated direct democracy in their constitutions during the 19th century, while Germany and few other countries adopted some elements after World War I. In a more general perspective, the ensuing introduction or practical use of direct-democratic institutions originated from three major types of developments:
Social class conflict to curb the political power of a dominating oligarchy (e.g., Switzerland, U.S. states). Processes toward political or territorial autonomy or independence for legitimizing and integrating the new state unit (beginning after World War I). Processes of democratic transformation from authoritarian rule (e.g., Germany’s regional states after 1945, some Latin American countries). Modern democracy most often developed not from the starting point of assembly democracy but, under absolutist or feudal conditions, from people gradually claiming a larger share of political representation and extension of representative voting rights. Constitutions, civil rights, and universal suffrage, which had been achieved in European and many other countries (generally by the end of World War I), were usually identified with “democracy” on the normative basis of the principles of popular sovereignty, freedom, and political equality. Thus, in many countries and theories, these principles have been tied to and absorbed by a narrow notion of representative democracy rather than being used to support a more comprehensive concept of democracy.