Election Universe

Short History of Democracy

August 09 2013, 21:05
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Among the various forms of government, democracy is arguably the most desirable as it is the least repressive, least prone to abuse, and is ostensibly the freest.

Conventional thought places Greece as the birthplace of democracy.  It therefore comes as a surprise for many that the earliest manifestations of democratic principles have been observed in such an unlikely place as ancient Mesopotamia.

Although traditionally thought of as ruled by despots, there is evidence that Mesopotamia’s city-states had councils of elders and “young men” that wielded real political authority. These city-states were in the habit of consulting the councils before engaging in anything of import, like waging a war.

Although this is what might be termed as a “proto-democracy,” a yet inchoative, still developing version of the ideology,  this hitherto unknown character of Mesopotamian society forces us to rethink our assumptions about the origins of democracy.

Democracy in its modern, recognizable form began in 508-507 BC in Athens, where for the first time in history, citizens had a direct hand in the affairs of the state.  Although other Greek city-states followed suit, none approximated the power and stability of Athens.

Solon, Cleisthenes, Ephialtes and Pericles were some of the most important shapers of Athenian democracy.  It flourished for many years after Pericles death, but there were brief periods towards the end of the Peloponnesian War when Athenian democracy was interrupted by a resurgent oligarchy.

The Roman Republic represented the next milestone in the development of democracy. Unlike Athen’s direct democracy, the Roman version was more representative in nature.  Today’s democratic states adhere more closely to the Roman model than the Greek version.

The Republic is believed to have begun with the overthrow of the monarchy circa 509 BC.  It was replaced by a government headed by two consuls and advised by a senate. A constitution eventually developed which was centered on the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.

In the Middle Ages, around 500-1500, there arose in Western Europe national representative assemblies.  This was around this time when England’s Parliament started to develop, which eventually achieved major political power following the English Revolution in 1640.   This event catalyzed a strong clamor for strong representative government all over Western Europe.  The American Revolution (1775-83) marked another momentous period in the history of democracy (1775-83) when the United States finally and irrevocably threw off the yoke of monarchy and achieved a truly representative government.

In the early 19th century, the US became the world’s first representative democracy after white males were granted the right of suffrage.  From this point on, democracy began rapidly spreading throughout the world.


Source: Wikipedia