Direct democracy is any form of government based on a theory of civics in which all citizens can directly participate in the decision-making process. Such participation can take various forms:

This was first experimented with in the ancient Athenian Democracy, which was governed for two centuries by a council of randomly selected representatives and a general assembly of all citizens.

The restrictive conditions for citizenship (only a very small male elite could participate) and small size of the Athens city-state minimized the logistical difficulties inherent to this form of government. Since then, however, this form of government has rarely been used (for example in some cantons of Switzerland and in town meetings in parts of New England). Modern mass-suffrage democracies generally rely on representatives elected by citizens.

Many political movements seek to restore some measure of direct democracy or a more deliberative democracy (based on consensus decision-making rather than simple majority rule). Such movements advocate more frequent public votes and referendums on issues, and less of the so-called "rule by politician." Collectively, these movements are referred to as advocating grassroots democracy or consensus democracy, to differentiate it from a simple direct-democracy model. The term semi-direct democracy is also sometimes used.

Interestingly, direct democracy models usually focus on the adversarial process of advocating and choosing one of a list of multiple choice options defined for the citizens by experts. They usually de-emphasize the deeper, and some would argue more "direct" to public concerns, deliberation required for agreement that actually stands the test of time. For this reason, direct democracy is associated more with right-wing politics, and often perceived as more like a minarchy than like a democracy.

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