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The fundamental principles of a democratic society

Although the term is ubiquitous in today's world, explaining "democracy" can be challenging. This series provides the reader with an overview paper and then breaks down the specific elements of democratic governance into individual topics. Each paper in the series reflects both the thinking of mainstream theorists and common practices of the many free societies now flourishing under systems of democratic governance.

Related Questions

In democracies, it is the people who hold sovereign power over legislator and government. Although nuances apply to the world's various democracies, certain principles and practices distinguish democratic government from other forms of government.

All democracies, while respecting the will of the majority, zealously protect the fundamental rights of individuals and minority groups.

  • Some are small and built around a set of political beliefs;
  • This series provides the reader with an overview paper and then breaks down the specific elements of democratic governance into individual topics;
  • The voters are permitted the number of "X" votes that there are seats to be filled, for example, five in a five seat constituency, to be allocated in any desired manner;
  • To elect someone without knowing where they stand, and-or to know not what they do or how they vote once elected, is only a democratic shell;
  • Parties that lose elections step into the role of opposition — confident that the political system will continue to protect their right to organize and speak out.

Elections in a democracy cannot be facades that dictators or a single party hide behind, but authentic competitions for the support of the people. Democracies rest upon fundamental principles, not uniform practices. Democracies recognize that reaching consensus requires compromise and that it may not always be attainable.

In fact, however, these principles are twin pillars holding up the very foundation of what we mean by democratic government.

  • Once a society has become free from dictatorial oppression and men and women have control of their nation's political affairs, they must interpret their charter of liberty wisely, intelligently and fearlessly in order that there may be prevented;
  • This was the second of two campaign signs I posted in a Canadian federal election;
  • According to democratic theorists, a free and open debate will usually lead to the best option being considered and will be more likely to avoid serious mistakes.

Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country's democratic institutions. But democracies recognize that diversity can be an enormous asset.

The fundamental principles of a democratic society treat these differences in identity, culture, and values as a challenge that can strengthen and enrich them, not as a threat.

In democracies, questions of peace and war or other threats to national security are the most important issues a society faces, and thus must be decided by the people, acting through their elected representatives. A democratic military serves its nation rather than leads it. Military leaders advise the elected leaders and carry out their decisions. Only those who are elected by the people have the authority and the responsibility to decide the fate of a nation.

This idea of civilian control and authority over the military is thus, fundamental to democracy. It does not represent or support any political viewpoint or ethnic and social group. Its loyalty is to the larger ideals of the nation, to the rule of law, and to the principle of democracy itself.

The purpose of a military is to defend society, not define it. Civilian officials rely upon the military for expert advice on these matters and to carry out the decisions of the government. But only the elected civilian leadership should make ultimate policy decisions — which the military then implements in its sphere. Military people must first retire from military service before becoming involved in politics; armed services must remain separate from politics.

The military are the neutral servants of the state, and the guardians of society. It is the responsibility of all political leaders to enforce civilian control and the responsibility of the military to obey the lawful orders of civilian authorities. And the principal way of doing that is through political parties.

Parties recruit candidates and campaign to elect them to public office, and they mobilize people to participate in selecting government leaders. Parties of the opposition are free to criticize the majority party's policy ideas and offer their own proposals. Some are small and built around a set of political beliefs. Others are organized around economic interests, or shared history. Still others are loose alliances of different citizens who may only come together at election time.

They know that only through broad alliances and cooperation with other political parties and organizations can they provide the leadership and common vision that will win the support of the people of the nation. It means that all sides in political debate — however deep their differences — share the fundamental democratic values of freedom of speech and faith, and equal protection under law.

Parties that lose elections step into the role of opposition — confident that the political system will continue to protect their right to organize and speak out. In time, their party will have a chance to campaign again for its ideas, and the votes of the people.

Democracies grant many freedoms to their citizens including the freedom to dissent and criticize the government. Citizenship in a democracy requires participation, civility, and even patience. They recognize that democracy requires an investment of time and hard the fundamental principles of a democratic society — a government of the people demands constant vigilance and support by the people.

Other obligations apply to all democracies and are the sole responsibility of the citizen — chief among these is respect for law. Paying one's fair share of taxes, accepting the authority of the elected government, and respecting the rights of those with differing points of view are also examples of citizen responsibility. For democracy to succeed, citizens must be active, not passive, because they know that the success or failure of the government is their responsibility, and no one else's.

In turn, government officials understand that all citizens should be treated equally and that bribery has no place in a democratic government.

They need the steady attention, time, and commitment of large numbers of their citizens who, in turn, look to the government to protect their rights and freedoms. They accept the fact that their party may not always be in power.

Democratic governments do not have ministries of information to regulate content of newspapers or the activities of journalists; requirements that journalists be vetted by the state; or force journalists to join government-controlled unions.

An independent judiciary, civil society with rule of law, and free speech all support a free press. A free press must have legal protections. Citizens therefore expect to be informed about decisions their governments make on their behalf.

  • Such systems, though serviceable, do not necessarily bring the best qualified people to represent public interests;
  • A written test to gain a voting certificate would disqualify only the illiterate, the indolent, and those incapable of understanding this fairly simple material.

The press facilitates this "right to know," by serving as a watchdog over the government, helping citizens to hold government accountable, and questioning its policies. Democratic governments grant journalists access to public meetings and public documents. They do not place prior restraints on what journalists may say or print. Through professional associations, independent press councils, and "ombudsmen," in-house critics who hear public complaints, the press responds to complaints of its own excesses and remains internally accountable.

In order for the public to trust the press, journalists must provide factual reporting based on credible sources and information. Plagiarism and false reporting are counterproductive to a free press.

Expert Answers

A democracy allows the press to go about its business of collecting and reporting the news without fear or favor from the government. The government's obligation to protect national security; and the people's right to know, based on journalists' ability to access information. Governments sometimes need to limit access to information considered too sensitive for general distribution.

But journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such information. A federal system of government — power shared at the local, regional, and national levels — empowers elected officials who design and administer policies tailored to local and regional needs. They work in partnership with a national government and with each other to solve the many problems the nation faces.

It grants and protects decision-making ability where results are most immediately felt — in local communities, as well as at higher levels of government. Defense, international treaties, federal budgets, and postal services are often cited as examples. The national government often has authority to mediate disputes between regions. Citizens are free to run for government positions at all levels — local and regional governments offer the most positions the fundamental principles of a democratic society, perhaps, the most opportunity to make a difference in their communities.

Even if a particular party does not hold a majority in the national legislature or the executive, it is permitted to participate at the regional and local levels. A first step away from such tyranny was the notion of rule by law, including the notion that even a ruler is under the law and should rule by virtue of legal means.

Democracies went further by establishing the rule of law. Although no society or government system is problem-free, rule of law protects fundamental political, social, and economic rights and reminds us that tyranny and lawlessness are not the only alternatives.

Democratic governments exercise authority by way of law and are themselves subject to law's constraints. Justice is best achieved when the laws are established by the very people who must obey them.

To serve their necessary role in the legal and political system, judges must be committed to the principles of democracy. Regardless of origin the law should enshrine certain provisions to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens: If convicted, they may not be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment. This principle protects citizens from coercion, abuse, or torture and greatly reduces the temptation of police to employ such measures.

These human rights empower people to pursue lives of dignity — thus, no government can bestow them but all governments should protect them. Freedom, built on a foundation of justice, tolerance, dignity, and respect — regardless of ethnicity, religion, political association, or social standing — allows people to pursue these fundamental rights. Whereas dictatorships deny human rights, free societies continually strive to attain them. Human rights are interdependent and indivisible; they encompass myriad facets of human existence including social, political, and economic issues.

Among the most commonly accepted are: Governments should create laws that protect human rights while justice systems enforce those laws equally among the population. A professional police force respects all citizens as it enforces the laws of the fundamental principles of a democratic society nation.

  1. The candidate most different from the others has an unfair advantage because the majority vote is split between two or more similar candidates while the minority are all voting for just one person, who is thus likely to win even when more than half the voters would have preferred any one of the other two or more similar candidates. Hence social progress under such governments tends to be very slow at best.
  2. The first of these topics is covered in an appendix. In North America over 60 state jurisdictions are merged into just three large nations, while Africa remains fragmented into almost as many small unaffiliated countries.
  3. They accept the fact that their party may not always be in power. This by itself changes the prospects for the choices, and levels the field.
  4. Democracies recognize that reaching consensus requires compromise and that it may not always be attainable. In some such systems, a given number of seats are won directly by constituency and a second block of seats by the party list system.
  5. But if there are three or more candidates for one office, often the result of an "X" vote is not what the majority of the voters actually wanted on account of a phenomenon called "vote splitting".

Governments should recognize the rights of minorities while respecting the will of the majority. They should receive at least an elementary education, proper nutrition, and healthcare.

Explain the 5 principles of democracy.

Citizen responsibility — through a variety of participatory activities — ensures that government remains accountable to the people. The family of free nations is committed to work toward protection of human rights. They formalize their commitment through a number of international treaties and covenants on human rights. Such leaders are powerful not because they command armies or economic wealth, but because they respect the limits placed on them by the electorate in a free and fair election.

In a constitutional democracy, power is divided so that the legislature makes the laws, the executive authority enforces and carries them out, and the judiciary operates independently. In such systems, the political opposition serves as a chief means of limiting, or checking the authority of the executive. Consequently, democracies may be slow to reach agreement on national issues; yet when they do, their leaders can act with great authority and confidence. They perform a number of roles essential to the functioning of a healthy democracy.

They are not so-called rubber stamp parliaments merely approving the decisions of an authoritarian leader. In some democracies, legislative committees provide lawmakers a forum for these public examinations of national issues. But they must work within the democratic ethic of tolerance, respect, and compromise to reach agreements that will benefit the general welfare of all the people — not just their political supporters.

Each legislator must alone decide on how to balance the general welfare with the needs of a local constituency. To do this, they often maintain a staff of trained aides. In the proportional system, often used in parliamentary elections, voters usually cast ballots for parties, not individuals, and representatives are chosen on the basis of their party's percentage of the vote.