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We live in an era of democracy. A majority of the world’s people live in countries with a democratic form of government, and many others desire democracy. This is a startling new development.

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Further reading suggestions for those interested in more on Understanding Democracy: a Hip Pocket Guide.

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Virtue is excellence in the character of a person. It refers to a desirable disposition, which can prompt individuals to be good persons and to do good things in regard to others and the community in general. Civic virtue refers to the dispositions or habits of behavior that direct citizens to subordinate their personal interests when necessary to contribute significantly to the common good of their community.

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In a unitary state, the central or national government has complete authority over all other political divisions or administrative units.

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A state is a political community occupying a specific territory that claims sovereignty or independence in the exercise of power over the people of its territory. The state or nation-state is the basic political unit of the international community.

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Social democracy is a system of political thought and action that calls upon the government to provide certain social and economic rights or entitlements necessary to the well being of all members of the community.

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The separation of powers among three independent branches of government is a defining characteristic of the presidential system that characterizes the institutions of some constitutional democracies, such as Argentina, Brazil, Panama, the Philippines, and the United States of America.

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In a limited government administered according to the rule of law, the rulers use power following established principles and procedures based on a constitution. By contrast, when the rulers wield power capriciously, there is rule by the unbridled will of individuals without regard for established law.

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A right is a person’s justifiable claim, protected by law, to act or be treated in a certain way. For example, the constitutions of democracies throughout the world guarantee the political rights of individuals, such as the rights of free speech, press, assembly, association, and petition.

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A republic is a form of government based on the consent of the people and operated by representatives elected by the people. Hereditary rule by a monarchy or an aristocratic class is prohibited.

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Some representative and constitutional democracies have a presidential system of government, which is based on the separation and sharing of powers among three independent and coordinate branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial.

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Popular sovereignty is government based on the consent of the people. The government’s source of authority is the people, and its power is not legitimate if it disregards the will of the people. Government established by the free choice of the people is expected to serve the people, who have sovereignty, or supreme power.

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A political party in a democracy is an independent and freely formed organization that nominates candidates for positions in government with the purpose of winning elections in order to form or control the government.

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Pluralism in a democracy is the widespread distribution of political power and influence within the state and civil society. Individuals and groups can express different points of view freely, independently, and effectively in order to influence public opinion and the decisions of government.

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Participation by citizens in their civil society and government is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition of democracy. Civic participation refers to the voluntary activities of citizens in forming and sustaining independent nongovernmental organizations that contribute to the well-being of the community.

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Defining characteristics of the parliamentary system are the supremacy of the legislative branch within the three functions of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—and blurring or merging of the executive and legislative functions.

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A market economy is a dynamic and flexible system for producing and distributing the goods and services that the people of a country need and want.

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The essence of democracy is majority rule, the making of binding decisions by a vote of more than one-half of all persons who participate in an election. However, constitutional democracy in our time requires majority rule with minority rights.

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A person who has liberty is free to make choices about what to do or what to say. A primary purpose of government in the United States and other constitutional democracies is to protect and promote the liberty of individuals.

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Liberalism is a theory of government that pertains to individuals’ personal and private rights to liberty.

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Justice is one of the main goals of democratic constitutions, along with the achievement of order, security, liberty, and the common good.

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Judicial review is the power of an independent judiciary, or courts of law, to determine whether the acts of other components of the government are in accordance with the constitution.

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The judicial component of government is independent in order to insulate its members from punitive or coercive actions by the legislative and executive departments of the government.

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In a constitutional democracy, the mass media—newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and websites—are for the most part privately owned, independent, and free of government control.

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Government is the institutional authority that rules a community of people. The primary purpose of government is to maintain order and stability so that people can live safely, productively, and happily.