noun, plural de·moc·ra·cies.
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Origin of democracy
OTHER WORDS FROM democracyan·ti·de·moc·ra·cy, noun, plural an·ti·de·moc·ra·cies, adjectivenon·de·moc·ra·cy, noun, plural non·de·moc·ra·cies.pre·de·moc·ra·cy, noun, plural pre·de·moc·ra·cies.pro·de·moc·ra·cy, adjective
Words nearby democracy
What is democracy?
Democracy is a system of government where the citizens of a state exercise power to rule the state, either directly or through electing representatives.
What does democracy mean?
Democracy can refer to a system of government or to a particular state that employs this system. The word entered English around the 1570s, from the Middle French démocratie, but it originally comes, via Latin, from the ancient Greek demokratia, which literally means “rule” (kratos) by the “people” (demos). The Greek demokratia dates all the way back to the 5th century b.c., when it was used to describe the government in some city-states, notably Athens.
There are two kinds of democracy: direct and representative. Direct democracy is when the people are directly involved in governing the state. Representative democracy, which characterizes the U.S. system, occurs when people elect representatives to ensure their interests in government. When we think of democracy today, we usually think of a representative one in which all or most people are able to participate. This concept didn’t originate until a very long time after democracy’s ancient roots.
In 507 b.c., Cleisthenes, the leader of Athens, introduced a series of reforms designed to allow the people to have a voice in ruling the city. It included three different political bodies: the governors, the council of representatives, and the courts. Only male citizens over the age of eighteen could vote, excluding those from outside the city, slaves, and all women. This system of government lasted until around the 400 b.c., when it began to waver, with conquests by neighbors gradually weakening it further. Athenian democracy was probably not the first example of democracy in the ancient world, but it is the best-known early version, and it is from here that we draw the word and its governmental philosophy.
Another well-known example of early democracy was the Roman Republic. Like Athens, it wasn’t what we would think of today as a full democracy. Again, only adult male citizens were eligible to participate. Italy continued the tradition in a few of its medieval city-based republics. Venice, and Florence particularly, had governmental systems that included political participation by the people, if in a limited way.
Democracy also found its way into monarchical European states through the concept of the parliament, which was a council that advised the monarch. For the most part, only those who already had power could participate in parliaments, though Sweden allowed peasants to participate in its council (the Riksdag) starting in the 15th century.
The Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries brought a greater questioning of established authority to mainstream philosophy and discourse. This trend had a strong impact on the fledgling United States, which, when it won its independence from Great Britain in 1783, set up a system of representative democracy to represent its people. France was also impacted by this model. The French Revolution in 1789 was an attempt to achieve democracy, though the country didn’t achieve it until the mid-1800s.
It was not until the 20th century that universal or broader suffrage, or the right to vote, was extended in most countries, and it was in the 20th century that democracy spread. By the beginning of the 21st century, almost half of the countries of the world had some variety of democratic or near-democratic system.
Types of democracies are classified according to various distinguishing features, including constitutional democracy, democratic socialism, Jeffersonian democracy, liberal democracy, parliamentary democracy, or presidential democracy, to name a few.
Democracy is also used for non-governmental organizational systems, such as a workplace democracy, which applies democratic principles in professional contexts. An advocate of democracy or democratic values is called a democrat, not to be confused with a member of the U.S. Democratic party.
Examples of democracy
“When it comes to countering terrorism, refusing to allow our democracy and liberty to be undermined is just as important as discussing the immediate security situation.”
—Brendan O’Neill, “This Suspension of Democracy Is a Grave Error,” Spiked, May 24, 2017
“These experts see significant warning signs for American democracy, especially involving political rhetoric and the capacity of political institutions to check the executive. On average they estimate an 11 percent chance of democratic breakdown within four years.”
—Michael K. Miller, “A new expert survey finds warning signs for the state of American democracy,” Washington Post, May 23, 2017
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for democracy
The political winners ritually prosecuting the political losers is not the stuff of a mature democracy.
America’s founders did not believe in either concept of democracy, so the fact that the hardboiled compromise between large and small states is inegalitarian did not bother them very much.
What Strzok makes clear is that democracy depends on Washington getting with the program.Democracy depends on Washington improving its tech|Adam Lashinsky|September 17, 2020|Fortune
Head to your state’s elections website, spend some time learning how to vote early, and check “participate in democracy” off your to-do list.Why you should vote as early as possible (and how to do it)|John Kennedy|September 17, 2020|Popular Science
It will also be crucial to strengthen democracy and safeguard human rights in response to increasing levels of violence across the region.Bachelet highlights LGBTQ rights abuses in U.N. Human Rights Council speech|Michael K. Lavers|September 16, 2020|Washington Blade
A second document was titled: “Gambia Reborn: A Charter for Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy and Development.”
Faal told the FBI that his group was trying “restore democracy to The Gambia and improve the lives of its people.”
Actually, the guessing game is over; the weddings have begun, as have weird attempts to circumvent our constitutional democracy.The Back Alley, Low Blow-Ridden Fight to Stop Gay Marriage in Florida Is Finally Over|Jay Michaelson|January 5, 2015|DAILY BEAST
Thomas Piketty raised the Big Questions this year about democracy and inequality.
Piketty only waves his hands around the all-important question of whether economic inequality undermines democracy.
He was so zealous a partisan of democracy, and of Cromwell, that the authorities frequently placed him in a straight jacket.The Every Day Book of History and Chronology|Joel Munsell
I have a strong reverence for traditions, and no taste whatever for democracy—that would be too long a step.Ancestors|Gertrude Atherton
Democracy, let us grant it, is the best system of government as yet operative in this world of sin.The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice|Stephen Leacock
I had long ago adopted democracy as a good policy, so now I stopped to introduce myself.Nine Men in Time|Noel Miller Loomis
He based this plan upon the premise that democracy would be more successful if greater numbers of individuals were educated.Hallowed Heritage: The Life of Virginia|Dorothy M. Torpey
British Dictionary definitions for democracy
noun plural -cies
Word Origin for democracy
Cultural definitions for democracy
A system of government in which power is vested in the people, who rule either directly or through freely elected representatives.