The world is organised in nation states. Basic duties of the state are maintaining law and order as well as providing for education, defence and infrastructure. Welfare states go further and provide their citizens with assistance when they are in need. Democratic states ought to work in the interest of their citizens.
Why is democracy important? Most products and services are provided by corporations. If you don’t like the products and services of one corporation, you can often choose another. But governments face little competition. A way to make governments provide a better service to their citizens is giving citizens a say.
Many states claim to be democratic but they do not adhere to some of the principles of democracy. There may be some disagreement with regard to the details or how to weigh one principle against another when they conflict, but in general democratic societies have come to agree on them. The most important principles are listed below.
Human rights include equal rights, dignity, liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and the right to education.
Rule of law
All people must be equal before the law and no-one is above the law. The law should be equally, fairly and consistently enforced.
Regular free and fair elections
Elected officials should be chosen and removed from office in a free, fair and peaceful manner. This implies the following:
- every citizen should be allowed to vote and to stand for election
- there should be multiple political parties to choose from
- there should be no intimidation, corruption, fraud or obstacles to vote
- the results of the elections should be accepted by all parties
Access to information
People should have free access to all relevant information and different opinions. This means that te press should be free and diverse, also in ownership, and that information should be freely available. Currently the ownership of the mass media is concentrated.
The press should be of good quality and be asking unpleasant questions, while not indulging in conspiracy theory peddling. The press should adhere to the journalistic principles like verifying the facts and allowing all relevant opinions to be heard.
The government should allow private ownership of property and businesses. People must be allowed to choose their profession and organise themselves in labour unions.
Governments should be trustworthy to participants in the economy. This means that governments must ensure a fair and stable set of rules for businesses and consumers.
Safeguards against the abuse of power
Government officials and other groups of people should be prevented from misusing or abusing their power, for example by corruption and rent seeking.
Traditionally, it has been recognised that the power of the government should be divided into three independent branches. These are:
- the executive branch (the government) that governs the country
- the legislative branch (the parliaments) that makes the laws
- the judicial branch (the courts) that verifies whether the laws are upheld
All parties involved should be respectful towards each other. Democracy operates best when there is a diversity of opinions and a rational debate to resolve differences. The majority should respect the rights of minorities. Minorities should respect the majority.
Transparency and accountability
The citizens should be allowed to know what government officials do. The press and the public must be able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom and why, so that government officials can be held accountable to the people.