Democracy demands from the common man rational conduct and active participation in the affairs of government. Democratic government is government by criticism. The people should have the courage to protest against and criticize the injustice and tyranny of the government. “To be articulate is its very life; to be dumb its demise.” It is only the will of the people to action which can save them from the tyranny of the rulers.
The rulers become masters when citizens are passive. They become their servants when citizens assert and uphold their right that they are the masters. The successful working of democracy depends upon the intelligence, interest, public spirit and civic sense of its citizens, the sense of ‘public spirit’ and social consciousness in brief.
Democracy involves fellowship, that is, a feeling of fraternity or what Giddings calls the ‘consciousness of kind’. Fellow-feeling aims at realization of a common end—the welfare of humanity. Fellowship appeals to our sense of common humanity.
Democracy does not recognise class distinctions. Fellowship knows no limits created by religion, caste, birth or wealth. It is only in a society of equals that harmony can be secured. By equality we mean, of course, equality of opportunity—a fair and open field for all.
This kind of equality ensures social justice, which is the very life-breath of democracy. When there exist vast inequalities of wealth, social justice cannot be obtained. A wide gulf between the rich and the poor makes it impossible for the latter to live and exercise their political rights independently and freely.
The rich become a class of vested interests and equality in all its meanings disappears. Where there is no equality, there can be neither liberty, nor fraternity nor rationality. Democracy is the product of liberty, equality and fraternity and all these three make for rationality.
Democracy demands a spirit of tolerance. This is necessary, as democracy involves the rule of the majority and submission of the minority or minorities to the decisions of the majority. The majority should not be prompted in its public actions by sectional interests and ruthlessly disregard the interest of minorities and frustrate their aspirations.
A rational majority is the prerequisite of tolerance and tolerance is the basis of democracy. Exactly, the same rational role the minority is expected to play. It must not act in an irresponsible manner and play a constructive role in opposing and proposing to the party in office. It must not always suspect the bona fides of the majority and remain at perpetual political animosity with it.
There should prevail a sense of give and take; the habit of tolerance and spirit of compromise. The more there are cleavages and party squabbles in society the more difficult it is to make democracy operative and enthuse democratic spirit among citizens.
The differences in majority and minority opinion prove beneficial only when they are directed towards the common good and are free from partisan considerations.
Each party should have full and fair opportunity to express its opinion and influence government’s policy by reasoning and persuasion. But once the decision has been taken, it is the duty of the minority parties to abide by it and perform the well-recognised functions of a responsible Opposition.
This is true resignation and true service; the real meaning of fellowship. A democratic system envisages alteration in government and both the victors and the vanquished should accept that at some future date their positions may be reversed and, as such, there should be wide agreement on the benefits of playing the game of politics according to rules.
There should be adequate provision of opportunities for the individual to develop his personality. This can be realised when everyone has free access to knowledge, security against unemployment, a minimum wage, fair conditions of work and leisure, and provision against sickness and old age.
Democracy here invades the realm of industry. It has now become a common demand that economic democracy must precede political democracy. A society where wealth is most unevenly distributed and one class of people is out to exploit the rest, democracy cannot succeed. A democratic society is a partnership among equals.
The democratic ideal, therefore, cannot be realised until industry is entirely democratized and inequalities in the distribution of national wealth are reduced to the minimum. To some this may mean socialism, but democracy, too, aims at social justice. Justice, as Barker says, is a joining or knitting together not only of persons, but also of principles.
“It joins and knits together the claims of the principle of liberty with those of the principles of equality, and both with those of the principles of fraternity or cooperation. It adjusts them to one another in a right order of their relations.”
Democracy is participation. It means doing things in common with others, and taking your share of the responsibilities involved. “The democratic problem,” says Lindsay “is the control of the organisation of power by the common man.”
A citizen of a democratic State must be a thinking human being possessing independent opinion, which is the result of his considered judgment, and intelligent interest in public affairs.
Widespread participation in politics is the sine qua non of a democratic government and its success essentially depends upon the ability, character and power of discrimination the common man possesses. Democracy becomes a show affair if he exhibits a sheep-like behaviour —a crowd mind in public affairs.
The active and intelligent participation of citizens in public affairs can be assured if: all of them are adequately educated. The government must, therefore, provide a system of free and compulsory education for all.
Education produces thinking human beings who know, according to Rousseau, that they are both sovereign and subjects and they must fulfil their dual obligations. A citizen of a democratic polity is not merely to obey; he has also to see if his obedience is rational. Vigilance, wisdom, intellect, commonsense and honesty are the virtues which citizens must possess and all such qualities flow from the gift of education.
President Lincoln said: “You can fool part of the people all the time, and all the people part of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” If citizens are educated and they have the courage to be critical of the government this befooling business becomes infinitely difficult.
Those who follow Bentham’s maxim: “While I will obey punctually, I will censure freely” are the true citizens of a democratic polity. They possess the powers of discrimination to obey and to criticize.
They do not belong to an uncritical herd. This means that there should be a free and fearless mass media of communication which should serve as a popular forum of educating and shaping public opinion. The press, most importantly, should be a jealous guardian of the rights and liberties of the people, if democracy is to be a government of the people, for the people and by the people.