Differences Between Modern and Pre-Modern Democracy


Pre-Modern Democracy

Modern Democracy

Concept of democracy

Classical direct democracy

Modern direct democracy

Model of democracy

Assembly democracy:
Athenian democracy,
Swiss “Landsgemeinde”

Individualistic democracy:
Activating democracy (AD)

Counter concept

Aristocracy, monarchy

Representative democracy (RD)

Concept of society

Organic: A natural community (organism) where the parts are a function of the whole. The needs and wants of individuals are subordinated to those of “society”.

Individualistic: A voluntary association of individuals where the whole is the result of the free will of the parts (government by consent); state and society are artificial, made by human beings.

Concept of the political relation

1) Power flows top-down, it is power over men, the imperium.
2) Power>>liberty: Rights are given and taken by the sovereign (state, monarch).
3) Metaphor: father>>children, sheperd>>flock, helmsman>>crew

1) Power flows bottom-up; the rule of law, democracy (constitutional state).
2) Liberty>>power: rights and liberty exist prior to the state.
3) Metaphor: Sovereign people, human rights.


Each part of the social body must carry out its own function.

Justice is the same for all people; the state should support the individuals in their endeavour to live a just live.

Political culture

Democracy, freedom, equality only for “us” as members of a particular, privileged collective. Democracy is reconcilable with domination of some by others.

Democracy, freedom, equality for “all” as an inalienable human right; individual human rights originally based on natural law. Democracy is irreconcilable with domination of some by others.


Democracy is the privilege of a particular group. This is justified historically, for example, by reference to origin in resistance to unjust tyranny (Wilhelm Tell).

Modern democracy and individual human rights are originally justified based on natural law. Today democracy is considered a fundamental right (constitutional democracy).


Collective freedoms

Individual freedom


Equality between the members of a particular collective.

Equality of all humans.


Particular: justice is confined to a particular group, an exclusive political community.

Universal: all humans are members in the political community. In practice: political rights are limited by nationality.

Politial equality

Swiss “Landsgemeinde”: The most important governmental, administrative and judicial posts occupied everywhere by members of eminent families (so-called “heads”), who were clearly distinct from the “common man” economically, socially and culturally – though not legally.

Formal equality linked to inequality in the actual practice of participation in politics.

Political practice

Swiss “Landsgemeinde”: Purchase of official posts and votes as a form of social equalization or political participation.

Purchase of official posts and votes condemned as corruption; some social equalization through the medium of the welfare state.

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