Weighing the Wrath of the Referendums

MIN READDec 20, 2018 | 10:00 GMT

Yellow vest protesters gather at the Place de l'Opera in Paris on Dec. 15. The French acronym "RIC" on some of the signs seen in this photograph stands for Citizens' Initiative Referendum -- a demand that the government hold referendums to allow voters to screen policy proposals.

(JEFF J MITCHELL/Getty Images)

When, where, under whose authority and under what circumstances is it politically sanitary to allow ordinary citizens to vote directly on massively impactful policies? While many Brexit-brooding Brits today could use a definitive answer to this question, the truth is, nobody really knows. This is a debate that has been going on for roughly 2,500 years, from the ancient Greek ecclesia to republican Rome to the rise of modern representative democracies on both sides of the Atlantic, many of which now find themselves in intense political turmoil. For all the academic literature on the topic, there is no equation to find the "right" balance of direct versus representative democracy, only a checkered list of historical and contemporary examples that can be either romanticized or vilified depending on the agenda and personality of the day....

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