Democracy can mean a government or organization where all the citizens or members have a say in decisions, usually with majority rule. Democracy can also be used to communicate a general spirit of social equality. Democracy is “rule by the people” — and how democratic a government is depends on who is really included in “the people.” Thus, in the ancient seat of democracy, Greece, women and slaves didn’t have a say in the decisions about public power. Today, many would assert that wealth gives more power to some in political decisions. Today, political democracy is generally used to mean inclusion of all citizens with equal voices in decision-making.

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To envision a society as caring is to envision a society engaged in the daily and extraordinary activities of meeting peoples’ needs. To envision a society as democratic and caring is to envision a society whose account of justice balances how the burdens and joys of caring are equalized so as to leave every citizen with as much freedom as possible. Such a vision requires that citizens see clearly how they care with others, that is, how they think about responsibilities for care.

— Joan C. Tronto, Caring Democracy

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

— John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 15 Apr. 1814

The aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education … (and) the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth. Now this idea cannot be applied to all the members of a society except where intercourse of man with man is mutual, and except where there is adequate provision for the reconstruction of social habits and institutions by means of wide stimulation arising from equitably distributed interests. And this means a democratic society.

— John Dewey

The end of democracy is a radical end. For it is an end that has not been adequately realized in any country at any time.

— John Dewey

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

— John F. Kennedy

Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

— John Lewis

We have come a long way in America because of Martin Luther King, Jr. He led a disciplined, nonviolent revolution under the rule of law, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a distance to go before all of our citizens embrace the idea of a truly interracial democracy, what I like to call the Beloved Community, a nation at peace with itself.

— John Lewis

Democracy is the only system capable of reflecting the humanist premise of equilibrium or balance. The key to its secret is the involvement of the citizen.

— John Ralston Saul

Property-owning democracy avoids [inequalities], not by redistributing income to those with less at the end of each period, so to speak, but rather by ensuring the widespread ownership of productive assets and human capital (educated abilities and trained skills) at the beginning of each period.

— John Rawls

The perennial conviction that those who work hard and play by the rules will be rewarded with a more comfortable present and a stronger future for their children faces assault from just about every direction. That great enemy of democratic capitalism, economic inequality, is real and growing.

— Jon Meacham

It is impossible to provide unlimited visitation and the essential qualities of an unconventional, non-urban experience simultaneously. Here too a compromise is called for: a willingness to trade quantity for quality of experience. There is nothing undemocratic or even unusual in such a trade. The notion that commitment to democratic principles compels the assumption of scarcity is one of the familiar misconceptions of our time. We need a willingness to value a certain kind of experience highly enough that we are prepared to have fewer opportunists for access in exchange for a different sort of experience when we do get access.

— Joseph L. Sax, Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks

It was hardly surprising that fighting for suffrage felt like a sacred duty when one’s religion was based on the same democratic beliefs as one’s claim to the full rights of citizenship.

— Julia Ward Howe, on why so many woman suffrage activists were Unitarians

We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know, and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.

— Katharine Graham, 1988

I swear to the Lord I still can’t see what democracy means to everybody but me.

— Langston Hughes

Nobody black or white who really believes in democracy can stand aside now; everybody’s got to stand up and be counted.

— Lena Horne

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a comparative few, but we cannot have both.

— Louis D. Brandeis

The function of the press is very high. It is almost holy. It ought to serve as a forum for the people, through which the people may know freely what is going on. To misstate or suppress the news is a breach of trust.

— Louis D. Brandeis

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.

— Louis D. Brandeis

What I have desired to do is to make the people of Boston realize that the most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen. The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.

— Louis D. Brandeis

There is no democracy in physics. We can’t say that some second-rate guy has as much right to opinion as Fermi.

— Luis Walter Alvarez

We preach the virtues of democracy abroad. We must practice its duties here at home. Voting is the first duty of democracy.

— Lyndon B. Johnson

Tokenism is a promise to pay. Democracy, in its finest sense, is payment.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

The capacity to combine commitment with skepticism is essential to democracy.

— Mary Catherine Bateson

Given the power and influence that science increasingly has in our daily lives, it is important that we as citizens of an open and democratic society learn to separate good science from bunk. This is not just a matter of intellectual curiosity, as it affects where large portions of our tax money go, and in some cases even whether people’s lives are lost as a result of nonsense.

— Massimo Pigliucci

Capitalism is against the things that we say we believe in – democracy, freedom of choice, fairness. It’s not about any of those things now. It’s about protecting the wealthy and legalizing greed.

— Michael Moore

Here’s what I don’t think works: An economic system that was founded in the 16th century and another that was founded in the 19th century. I’m tired of this discussion of capitalism and socialism; we live in the 21st century; we need an economic system that has democracy as its underpinnings and an ethical code.

— Michael Moore

Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy.

— Michael Moore

Capitalism and democracy are the opposite of each other. Capitalism is a system that guarantees that a few are going to do very well, and everybody else is going to serve the few. Democracy means everybody has a seat at the table. Everybody.

— Michael Moore

The family meal is really the nursery of democracy. It’s where we learn to share; it’s where we learn to argue without offending.

— Michael Pollan

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

— Mohandas K. Gandhi
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