What Are Democratic Values?

Democracy is all about being able to make informed choices. For example, if there are three political parties in an election, you make a choice from the individual candidates, and/or from the programmes and positions of the parties they represent.

In order for you to make genuinely informed choices, you need to be able to:

  • engage meaningfully in open dialogue and debate
  • access relevant and objective information so that your views are informed
  • perceive that your participation in the debate and subsequent decision-making has value
  • feel safe
  • make a free decision without suffering or fearing harm to yourself or your family.

Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from India, provides this view of how these elements combine:

We must not identify democracy with majority rule. Democracy has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements and the guaranteeing of free and uncensored distribution of news and fair comment. Even elections can be deeply defective if they occur without the different sides getting an adequate opportunity to present their respective cases, or without the electorate enjoying the freedom to obtain news and to consider the views of competing protagonists. (Sen, 1999, pp.9–10)

Based on what we have read so far, in the next section we are going on to look in some detail at the principles that underpin our ideas of democracy.