History of democracy  

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Democracy is a political system in which all the members of the society have an equal share of formal political power. In modern representative democracy, this formal equality is embodied primarily in the right to vote. The history of democracy traces back from its origins in the ancient world to its re-emergence and rise from the 17th century to the present day.


Rise of democracy in modern national governments

Pre-Eighteenth century milestones

  • Renaissance humanism was a cultural movement in Europe beginning in central Italy (particularly Florence) in the last decades of the 14th century. It revived and refined the study of language (First Latin, and then the Greek language by mid-century), science, philosophy, art and poetry of classical antiquity. The "revival" was based on interpretations of Roman and Greek texts. Their emphasis on art and the senses marked a great change from the medieval values of humility, introspection, and passivity.
The humanist philosophers looked for secular principles on which society could be organized, as opposed to the concentration of political power in the hands of the Church. Prior to the Renaissance, religion had been the dominant force in politics for a thousand years.
Humanists looked at ancient Greece and found the concept of democracy. In some cases they began to implement it (to a limited extent) in practice.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century milestones

  • 1755: The Corsican Republic led by Pasquale Paoli with the Corsican Constitution
  • Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 (based on the English Bill of Rights)
  • United States Constitution ratified in 1788 and the new United States Bill of Rights ratified in 1791 (although only white, male, landowners were allowed to vote)
  • 1780s: development of social movements identifying themselves with the term 'democracy': Political clashes between 'aristocrats' and 'democrats' in Benelux countries changed the semi-negative meaning of the word 'democracy' in Europe, which was until then regarded as synonymous with anarchy, into a much more positive opposite of 'aristocracy'.
  • From late 1770s: new Constitutions and Bills explicitly describing and limiting the authority of powerholders, many based on the British Bill of Rights (1689). The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791 is widely recognized as the second oldest constitution in the world.
  • 1791: The Haitian Revolution, the first, and only, successful slave revolution, established a free republic.
  • 1789-1799: the French Revolution
  • 1790s First Party System in U.S. involves invention of locally-rooted political parties in the United States; networks of party newspapers; new canvassing techniques; use of caucus to select candidates; fixed party names; party loyalty; party platform (Jefferson 1799); peaceful transition between parties (1800)
  • Extension of political rights to various social classes: elimination of wealth, property, sex, race and similar requirements for voting (See also universal suffrage).
  • 1831: The passing of the Reform Act in the UK which gave representation to previously under represented urban areas and extended the franchise to a wider population.
  • 1848: Universal male suffrage was definitely established in France in March of that year, in the wake of the French Revolution of 1848.
  • 1848: Following the French, the Revolutions of 1848, although in many instances forcefully put down, did result in democratic constitutions in some European countries among them Denmark and Netherlands.
  • 1850s: introduction of the secret ballot in Australia; 1872 in UK; 1892 in USA
  • 1870: USA - 15th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibits voting rights discrimination on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of slavery.
  • 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).

The secret ballot

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.Template:Citation needed

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.

20th century waves of democracy

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

Post World War II

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.

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.

Decolonisation and Civil Rights Movements

World War II also planted seeds of freedom 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. The United States, itself a former colony and emerging colonial power in its own right, flexed its new influence in support of the decolonization process, for example supporting prominent Arab nationalist Nasser during the Suez Crisis in 1956, often cited as the last gasp of European colonialism.

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 May 14, 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.

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. The process of decolonization 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. Template:Disputed In the United States of America, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act enforced the 15th Amendment, and the 24th Amendment ended poll taxing, removing all restrictions to the African American vote. The minimum voting age was reduced to 18 by the 26th Amendment in 1971.

Post dissolution of the USSR

New waves of democracy swept across Southern Europe in the 1970s and Central Europe in the late 1980s following the collapse of the formerly communist regimes in the USSR sphere of influence.

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.

An analysis by Freedom House laptops 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 19% 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 cellphones 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. 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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "History of democracy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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