TLO’s Views 


Democracy’s Fundamentals

Original Meanings


Democracy originated more than 2,400 years ago in ancient Greece. To the Greeks, the word “democracy” meant “rule by the people.” While this definition tells us that the citizens in a democracy govern their nation, it also misses some essential principles, some of the basic aspects of democracy as practiced in countries around the world. For example, simply saying that the citizens in a democratic country are the ones who govern the nation misses the point that the principal reason why ‘the people’ establish a democratic government involve the protection and promotion of their rights, interests, and welfarePhilosophically, it misses the the idea that a democracy requires that each individual be free to participate in the governing of their community. Accordingly, political freedom lies at the heart of the concept of democracy. Over time, the overall concept of modern democracy has evolved to include three principal parts: “democracy,” “constitutionalism,” and “liberalism.” Each must exist in a political system for it to be a genuine democracy.

essential tenets


The American concept of democracy — what we believe democracy means — rests on five essential tenets: (1) The fundamental worth and dignity of every person; (2) The equality of all persons; (3) Faith in majority rule, but also an insistence upon minority rights; (4) The necessity of political compromise; and finally (5) The widest possible degree of individual freedom. These concepts can be worded in other ways. However, no matter what the wording, these five values form the minimum set of precepts with which anyone who professes to believe in democracy must agree. Here’s a brief elaboration of each one of these tenets.


Democracy is firmly based upon a belief in the fundamental importance of the individual. Each individual, no matter what his or her station in life, is a separate and distinct being. This concept of the dignity and worth of the individual is of overriding importance in democratic thought. At various times, of course, the welfare of one or a few individuals is subordinated to the interests of the many in a democracy. People can be forced to do certain things whether they want to or not. Examples range from paying taxes to registering for the draft to stopping at a stop sign. When a democratic society forces people to pay a tax or obey traffic signals, it is serving the interests of the many. However, it is not simply serving the interests of the many who, as individuals, make up that society. The distinction being made here between an individual and all individuals may be difficult to grasp. It is, however, critically important to a real understanding of the meaning of democracy.


Hand in hand with the belief in the worth of the individual, democracy stresses the equality ofall individuals. It holds, with Jefferson, that “all men are created equal.” Certainly, democracy does not imply an equality of condition for all persons. Thus, it does not claim that all are born with the same mental or physical abilities. Nor does it hold that all persons have a right to an equal share of worldly goods. Rather, the democratic concept of equality means that every person is entitled to (1) equality of opportunity and (2) equality before the law. That is, the democratic concept of equality holds that no person should be held back for any such arbitrary reasons as those based on race, color, religion, or gender. It states that each person must be free to develop himself or herself as fully as he or she wishes to, and that each person should be treated as the equal of all other persons under the law. We have come a great distance toward the goal of equality for all in America. It is clear, however, that we are still a considerable distance from a genuine, universally recognized and respected equality for all of America’s people.


In a democracy, the will of the people and not the dictate of the ruling few determines public policy. But what is the popular will, and how is it determined? Some device must exist by which these crucial questions can be answered. The only satisfactory device democracy knows is that of majority rule. Democracy holds that a majority will be right more often than it will be wrong, and that the majority will also be right more often than one person or small group will. Democracy can be described as an experiment or a trial-and-error process designed to find satisfactory ways to order human relations. Democracy does not dictate that the majority will always arrive at the best decisions on public matters. In fact, the democratic process is not meant to come up with the “right” or “best” answers. Rather, the democratic process is a search for satisfactory solutions to public problems.

Of course, in a democracy the majority’s decisions will usually be more, rather than less, satisfactory. Democracy does admit the possibility of mistakes, there is the possibility that“wrong” or less satisfactory answers will sometimes be found. Democracy also recognizes that seldom is any solution to a public problem so satisfactory that it cannot be improved upon, and that circumstances can change over time. So, the process of experimentation, of seeking answers to public questions, is a never ending one. Certainly, a democracy cannot work without the principle of majority rule. Unchecked, however, a majority could destroy its opposition, and in the process, destroy democracy itself. Thus, democracy requires majority rule restrained by minority rights. The majority must always recognize the right of any minority to become, if it can by fair and lawful means, the majority. The majority must always be willing to listen to a minority’s argument, to hear its objections, to bear its criticisms, and to welcome its suggestions.


In a democracy, public decision making must be largely a matter of give-and-take among the various competing interests. It is a matter of compromise in order to find the position most acceptable to the largest number. Compromise is the process of blending and adjusting competing views and interests. Compromise is an essential part of the democratic concept for two major reasons. First, remember that democracy puts the individual first, and, at the same time, insists that each individual is the equal of all others. In a democratic society made up of many individuals and groups with many different opinions and interests, how can the people make public decisions except by compromise?

Second, few public questions have only two sides. Most can be answered in several ways. Take the apparently simple question of how a city should pay for the paving of a public street. Should it charge those who own property along the street? Or should the costs be paid from the city’s general treasury? Or should the city and the adjacent property owners share the costs? What about those who will use the street but do not live in the city? Should they have to pay a toll? Essentially, compromise is a process, a way of achieving majority agreement. It is never an end in itself. Not all compromises are good, and not all are necessary.


It should be clear by this point that democracy can thrive only in an atmosphere of individual freedom. However, democracy does not and cannot insist on complete freedom for the individual. Absolute freedom can only exist in a state of anarchy- the total absence of government. Anarchy can only lead, inevitably and quickly, to rule by the strong and ruthless. Democracy does require that each individual must be as free to do as he or she pleases as far as the freedom of all will allow. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once had this to say about the relative nature of each individual’s rights: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

Drawing the line between the rights of the individual and those of another is not easy. Still, the drawing of that line is a continuous and vitally important function of democratic government. As John F. Kennedy put it, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

Striking the proper balance between freedom for the individual and the rights of society as a whole is similarly difficult- and vital. Abraham Lincoln, in a message to Congress on July 4th 1861, described democracy’s problem in these words: “Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?”

Human beings desire both liberty and authority. Democratic government must work constantly to strike the proper balance between the two. The authority of government must be adequate to the needs of society. At the same time, that authority must never be allowed to become so great that it restricts the individual beyond what is absolutely necessary.


In the United States, the definition of a citizen is someone who obeys the law and pays their taxes. These are the duties every citizen must fulfill. Our responsibilities as American citizens in this democracy of ours are different from our duties. While duties are required of every citizen, responsibilities are only strongly encouraged. For example, it’s our duty to stop at every red light we encounter while driving. In contrast, it is the responsibility of every citizen over the age of 18 to vote for their elected public officials. If a citizen does not vote, that citizen cannot expect his or her concerns to be addressed by the government. It is also the responsibility of all citizens to be active in their community. One can do this by volunteering for a cause, running for office, or simply writing to one’s representative about an issue. These are yet more examples of the influence of the will of the people on a democratic government. The difference is that between something that’s an extrinsic constraint, like the speed limit and something thats intrinsic like the respect and dignity we know in our heart that we owe to our fellow citizens.

Expanding the Essentials


History’s proven that democracy is not inevitable. It does not exist in the United States simply because Americans regard it as the best of all possible political systems. Rather, democracy exists in this country because the American people understand its essential tenets, believe in their value, and do their best to live its principles and values. Democracy in the United States exists because we, the people, understand, subscribe to, and practice it.

In recent years, in our efforts to better understand, subscribe to, and practice it, on occasion we have expanded, redefined and elaborated on what the country’s earliest citizens originally considered the essential elements of democracy. At this point in time, democracy in America has added these five foundational political values to our original tenets:

1. Accountability: In a democracy elected and appointed officials have to be accountable to the people. They are responsible for their action. Officials must make decision and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of people not for themselves.

2. Citizen participation: One of the most important element democracy is citizen participation government. As participation is key role of citizens in a democracy. It is not only their duty. The citizen participation may take many forms including running for election, voting in elections, debating issues, civic meeting, becoming unformatted paying taxes, being member of private voluntary organization, form an association, criticize the government. The participation of citizen is one essential element of democracy as participation brings better

3. The Rule of Law: In American democracy no one is above the law, not even elected president. It means that everyone must obey the law and be held accountable if they violate it. If anyone violate it, then culprit will punished by law. Thus, democracy insists equally, fairly and consistently enforce.

4. Political Tolerance: Democratic societies are politically tolerant. This means that while the majority of people rule in democracy, the right of minorities must be protected. People whose are not in power must be allowed to speech out. Minorities are sometimes referred to as “the opposition” because they may have ideas that are different from those majority. The individual citizen must also learn to be tolerant of each other. A democratic society is composed of people from different cultures, religions, racial and ethnic groups who have view point different majority of population. A democratic society is enriched by diversity. If the majority deny rights to and destroy their opposition, then they may also destroy democracy. The one of the goal of democracy is to make the best possible decisions for the society. To achieve this, respect for all people and their point of view is needed. Decision are more likely to be accepted, even by those who oppose them, if all citizens allowed to discuss, debate and question them.

5. Transparency: For government to accountable, the people must aware of what is happening in the country. This referred to as transparency in government. A transparent government holds public meeting and allow citizens to attend. In a democracy, the press and people are able to get information about what decisions are being made by whom and why.