Print Issue Volume 97 - No. 5

When Is It OK to Limit Direct Democracy?

There are many commentators and critics who want to limit direct democracy for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason (chaotic policy making/uninformed voters/exaggerated influence of money, etc.) the end result is the same: initiatives and direct democracy should become harder to use. The difficulty is twofold: first, often the criticisms are greatly over-stated. In fact it is surprisingly hard to find the train wrecks that are supposed to have occurred due to direct democracy. Second, even if there were train wrecks, the arguments do not seem unique to direct democracy. It is therefore hard to find a basis for limiting direct democracy. Still, there are issues that need to be addressed. In particular there are issues involved when initiatives either change the constitution or contain a poison pill that makes them hard to amend. The argument advanced in the Essay is that some limits can be placed on these features of direct democracy by appealing to the definition of sovereignty.


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