“Direct democracy” and mass politics – part 1

The reformist idea of “direct democracy” is a recurring theme among critics of the dominant modern elections-based system of government. However, “direct democratic” systems, when considered as systems for representing popular interests, suffer from much the same problems that afflict elections-based systems.

The promise of “direct democracy”

The standard description of the Athenian democracy emphasizes the role of the Assembly. According to this description having thousands of Athenians assemble 40 times a year to discuss and vote on policy decisions was the main democratic mechanism in Athens. This institute, supposedly, distributed political power widely within the group of Athenian citizens. Wikipedia puts it this way:

It [Athens] remains a unique and intriguing experiment in direct democracy, a political system in which the people do not elect representatives to vote on their behalf but vote on legislation and executive bills in their own right.

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