American Politics

Democracy and Citizenship » Glossary

Membership in a political community (either by being native-born to the community or being "naturalized") giving one the rights, privileges, and immunities of affiliation with the community, along with duties of membership.
classical liberalism
A political philosophy that places high value on individual freedom based on a belief in natural rights that exist independent of government. In its pure form, for example in contemporary libertarian thought, it holds that the best government is minimal in scope, providing security, but promoting laissez-faire policies towards morality, religion, the economy, and the rest of social life.
Rule by the people: popular sovereignty, majority rule, and political equality.
direct democracy
A system in which people in a political community come together in a forum to make policy decisions themselves, with no intervening institution or officials.
liberal democracy
A democracy in which majoritarian decisions (from direct or representative processes) prevail in many policy areas, subject to the restriction that those decisions may not breach individuals' liberties and rights, as spelled out in a constitution. Liberal democracy is based on the philosophy of classical liberalism, melded with the idea of popular sovereignty.
Madisonian democracy
A composite democracy that blends a majoritarian democracy in some areas with protection of minorities and individual rights in other areas. Checks are placed on majoritarian power in order to minimize the possibility of abuses or tyrannical uses of power.
majoritarian democracy
A system of rule by the people in which policy decisions are made by a system requiring assent of a majority of the population. True majoritarian democracy requires political equality, so that one group cannot exclude other groups from the decision making process. In practice, achieving a majority is often so difficult that a counting rule of plurality is used instead. Other constraints on majoritarianism include super-majority requirements (such as in a Madisonian democracy) or other constitutional constraints that dilute majoritarian democracy by protecting minorities against the majority.
majority rule
A requirement that in order for a community organized politically as a direct or an indirect democracy to make a decision on a policy matter, more than half the voting members who vote must give their consent.
Pluralism describes an ideal-theoretical arrangement of society and representative government according to which many different groups with competing interests use their varying but not grossly unequal resources to shape election outcomes and public policy.
popular sovereignty
Ultimate authority of the people. No law is legitimate unless it rests, directly or indirectly, on the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty emerged from the seventeenth and eighteenth century idea of a social contract.
representative democracy
Voters choose representatives to form the government and make decisions for them. This form of democracy is sometimes referred to as indirect democracy. A republic is a polity based on representative democracy.