An Important Distinction: Democracy versus Republic

Even the verdict of every court case was determined by a vote of all the people.In the most prominent example in modern society, Switzerland practices a modified form of direct democracy under which any law enacted by the nation’s elected legislative branch can be vetoed by a vote of the general public. In addition, citizens can vote to require the national legislature to consider amendments to the Swiss constitution.While the idea of having the ultimate say-so over the affairs of government might sound tempting, there are some good – and bad – aspects of direct democracy that need to be considered:

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But reformers need to be much more ambitious. The best way to constrain the power of special interests is to limit the number of goodies that the state can hand out. And the best way to address popular disillusion towards politicians is to reduce the number of promises they can make. The key to a healthier democracy, in short, is a narrower state—an idea that dates back to the American revolution. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men”, Madison argued, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The notion of limited government was also integral to the relaunch of democracy after the second world war. The United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) established rights and norms that countries could not breach, even if majorities wanted to do so.


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Democracy and Education, by John Dewey