According to the U.S. State Department, democracies can be organized under two general categories, direct and representative. In both forms the public participates in governance yet in a representative democracy elected or appointed officials mediate this participation, whereas in a direct democracy this participation occurs “without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials.” In citing spatial limitations, the State Department argues the impracticality of direct democracy with the following description of ancient Athens:
Ancient Athens, the world’s first democracy, managed to practice direct democracy with an assembly that may have numbered as many as 5,000 to 6,000 persons–perhaps the maximum number that can physically gather in one place and practice direct democracy.
The inability to physically organize a public within one place may (again… MAY) have, at some prior point in time, been a legitimate argument against direct democracy, but with the proliferation of ICTs and the continued assimilation of cyberspace into everyday life, can such an argument still be made?
Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign used cyberspace to organize a feedback loop with over 600,000 participants in order to shape his campaign’s platform and practices – a far cry from the 6,000 persons of ancient Athens. The question no longer is “can a direct democracy exist?” but “why doesn’t a direct democracy exist?”