… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Merriam-Webster defines democracy as “a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting.”

The Parliament of Canada website defines democracy as follows:

“The word democracy describes a political system. In a democratic country, all eligible citizens have the right to participate, either directly or indirectly, in making the decisions that affect them. Canadian citizens normally elect someone to represent them in making decisions at the different levels of government. This is called a representative democracy. Countries like Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom all have representative democracies.”

Writing in the Globe and Mail (reference below), Mel Cappe and Janice Stein declare:

“There is a popular view that the highest form of democracy is a referendum. We want to debunk that myth. Democracy is much more than consulting the people in “yes” or “no” decisions. … Democracy has evolved over the centuries from the original Greek conception of the people (demos) exercising power (kratos) directly. Democracy requires respect for a few fundamental principles: open and free expression of speech; fair elections in which all citizens can exercise their right to vote; respect for and protection of basic rights and freedoms; and the fundamental rule of law that trumps the rule of any individual, no matter how high her or his office.

“What else does a well-functioning democracy need? A free and independent media, independent courts, limits to officials’ discretion and regular electoral processes are all essential to a robust democracy.”

Writing in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Thomas Christiano (reference below) provides a more general definition:

“To fix ideas, the term “democracy,” as I will use it in this article, refers very generally to a method of group decision making characterized by a kind of equality among the participants at an essential stage of the collective decision making. Four aspects of this definition should be noted. First, democracy concerns collective decision making, by which I mean decisions that are made for groups and that are binding on all the members of the group. Second, this definition means to cover a lot of different kinds of groups that may be called democratic. So there can be democracy in families, voluntary organizations, economic firms, as well as states and transnational and global organizations. Third, the definition is not intended to carry any normative weight to it. It is quite compatible with this definition of democracy that it is not desirable to have democracy in some particular context. So the definition of democracy does not settle any normative questions. Fourth, the equality required by the definition of democracy may be more or less deep. It may be the mere formal equality of one-person one-vote in an election for representatives to an assembly where there is competition among candidates for the position. Or it may be more robust, including equality in the processes of deliberation and coalition building. “Democracy” may refer to any of these political arrangements. It may involve direct participation of the members of a society in deciding on the laws and policies of the society or it may involve the participation of those members in selecting representatives to make the decisions.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Governance and Institutions (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Source at, accessed 5 August 2016.

Parliament of Canada, Democracy Defined, at, accessed 5 August 2016.

Mel Cappe and Janice Gross Stein (2016), Government by referendums is not democracy, The Globe and Mail, 8 July 2016, at, accessed 6 September 2016.

Thomas Christiano (2015), “Democracy” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), at, accessed 5 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 6 September 2016.