So why do we have representative democracies instead of direct or semi-direct democracies?
Well, the history of U.S. democracy provides a very good example of how this came about. Most of the Founding Fathers were, frankly, terrified of direct democracy, and echoes of those fears remain today when folks use terms like “mob rule” to characterize such a system. Instead, the Founders decided that the best way to moderate the “mob” of the electorate was to ensure only educated, wealthy, ostensibly white, landed gentry (men of course) could be appointed by states to the Senate, to act as a firewall against any overreach of the will of the people. Kinda funny, isn’t it? Not really democracy at all…but that non-democratic system remained in place in the U.S. until the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913. So for nearly the first century-and-a-half of U.S. “representative democracy” the voters couldn’t even elect their own representatives (senators in this case).
In short, the primary answer is fear that people wouldn’t be educated or world-wise enough to make good decisions. And we hear that same argument from many conservatives today. So who gets to decide, then? As it was in the beginning, so it remains today in the U.S.: Because of issues like corporate lobbyists such as A.L.E.C, massive amounts of dark money funding election campaigns because of Citizens United, and imbalanced corporate control of media messaging after the Fairness Doctrine was ended by Ronald Reagan, those with financial means and social capital and status have ended up making a lot of the most important decisions about who gets elected and what legislation gets passed. This is why the U.S.A. has always been a mix of democracy and plutocracy — with the balance leaning more and more toward plutocracy in recent election cycles.
Again, there are many direct and semi-direct democracies around the world that demonstrate how an engaged, thoughtful, and well-informed electorate can make excellent governance decisions about their own lives — both locally and nationally.
For more on this topic, I recommend these links:
Direct democracy - Wikipedia
The way to modern direct democracy in Switzerland
Switzerland: Swiss Direct Democracy
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