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Form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic free elections. In a direct democracy, the public participates in government directly (as in some ancient Greek city-states, some New England town meetings, and some cantons in modern Switzerland). Most democracies today are representative. The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages and the Enlightenment and in the American and French Revolutions. Democracy has come to imply universal suffrage, competition for office, freedom of speech and the press, and the rule of law. See alsorepublic.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on democracy, visit Britannica.com.