Assess the advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy.
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Assess the advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy? Direct democracy occurs "where the will of the people is translated into public policy directly by the people", and can be thought of as "the absence of an election." The most common form of direct democracy is a referendum, although there are others. Although Britain is primarily a representative democracy, it does have some degree of direct democracy. Perhaps the main disadvantage of direct democracy is that the demos (or people) may not fully understand complex political questions. The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato feared that the "mass were unwise", and could therefore make foolish decisions based upon short-term considerations.
Under the Athenian model persuasive orators can sway the crowd, appealing to emotion rather than intellect. This was Plato's argument against democracy, as he feared that the "people would be swayed emotionally, rather than thinking rationally." For example if a referendum were to be held on bringing back the death penalty after a particularly shocking murder, people might vote on emotional grounds rather than consider all the rational arguments. Too many referendums may lead to apathy and political instability, and lead to disillusionment with the political process. Even among advocates of greater democracy, there is an acceptance of the desirability of order within society.
However under a direct system, this problem is avoided. Moreover decisions gain a greater degree of legitimacy and support amongst the public, because they are based solely upon the views of the people as opposed to an out-of-touch elite. Referendums can also help to promote political education and participation, thereby enhancing the concept of citizenship. Direct democracy also ensures greater freedom than would be the case under a representative system. Some of those who support direct democracy are anarchists who favour total freedom for the individual and the absence of political rule. Ultimately direct democracy is the purest form of democracy, and avoids most of the problems associated with indirect democracy. However its greatest drawback is that direct democracy is impractical - except for the occasional referendum.
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