Explain the 5 principles of democracy. 

The 5 principles of democracy could be considered the consent of the governed, representative government, individual rights, the rule of law, and a system of checks and balances.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The five principles of a democracy ensure that citizens have rights which are protected by law and that there is order which is enforced by elected representatives.

The first principle, rule of law, provides the framework for a democracy. In America, the US Constitution establishes the boundaries for every citizen and government official to follow, as it is the supreme law of the land. Likewise, American state and local governments also have laws to keep order and freedom. There must be a clear establishment of law to secure liberties.

Next, individual rights are essential to a democracy, because citizens are the heart of a nation. The US Constitution provides for individual rights in many capacities. One of the most prominent places is in the First Amendment (which provides for freedom of worship, speech, assembly, petition, and the press). The founding fathers of America wanted to make sure that a democratic form of government was created, so citizens never lived under tyranny again. The premise that “all men are created equal” and have natural rights (which should never be taken away) is central to democracy.

Another principle, the consent of the governed, is essential for a democracy to endure. This means that all citizens agree to abide by the laws of the land but that they also have a voice in the government. Citizens have the right to vote, petition the government, elect and recall officials, and more. When a form of government loses the consent of the governed, it is no longer a democracy. This principle asserts that the government is to exist for the people, not the other way around.

The next principle of a democracy, representative government, coincides directly with the consent of the governed. In America, citizens vote for many officials to be their voices in government. These representatives are to serve the people as they work for the expressed needs and desires of their constituents. Citizens can call, write, and visit their representatives to petition government officials or demand change. If citizens lose their voice, government officials can begin working for their own agendas.

Lastly, a system of checks and balances is also vital for a healthy democracy. In order to maintain this, the US Constitution established three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—each with its own responsibilities and powers. Again, the founding fathers of America did not want a king who acted as a despot ever again. Likewise, they did not want lawmakers who made unjust rules or judges who were corrupt. So, checks and balances exist to maintain accountability and keep citizens’ rights at the center of government.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 20, 2021
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Democracy is government by the people (direct) or by their elected representatives (indirect). Ancient Greece practiced the "direct" form while the US practices the "indirect" form.

Democracy has been the cornerstone of American government from its inception in the late eighteenth century. The Founding Fathers rejected monarchy and aristocracy. Democracy is complex, and it is not possible to unequivocally list its five most important tenets, but most modern democracies share certain key characteristics.

First, they have freedom of the press. Without free access to information, it is not possible for the people or voters to carry out their responsibilities. Second, democracies follow the rule of law. The Constitution is the ultimate set of laws in the United States. Most other democracies also have a written constitution.

Finally, democracy is based on ideas promulgated during the Enlightenment in Europe. John Locke, Montesquieu, and other intellectuals laid the foundations for modern democracy—their eloquent concepts influenced the Founding Fathers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Democracy is a very dynamic style of government, and as such, it is difficult to define five things that make it unique. There are, however, several things that were established when the first democratic governments were formed as ways to safely distribute power and ensure equality and freedom.

Consent of the governed is the entire basis for elections: those who are under the government decide who rules them, which is the opposite of a monarchy or dictatorship. Additionally, representative government is the idea that the governing people come from the constituency—meaning that they are equals and citizens.

Furthermore, rule of law means that the law holds the highest power, and not even those in positions of power are exempt from the rule of law. Another tenant of democracy is the idea of individual rights; this means that every being (not just certain groups) has specific rights, and they are allowed to exercise unalienable and fundamental rights.

Finally, a system of checks and balances was created to ensure no branch of the government became too powerful. For example, in the US, the judicial, executive, and legislative branches each hold one another accountable to ensure proper power distribution.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are no specific five principles that are universally acknowledged as the five principles of democracy.  In other words, different people can identify different principles of democracy.  Here is one possible way to list five principles of democracy.  However, as you can see from the link below, there are many other principles that are important to democracy.  It would be a good idea for you to look in your textbook and/or your class notes to see how your instructor wants you to answer this question.

  1. Consent of the governed.  Democracy is based on the idea that governments are only legitimate (they only have the right to rule) if they are based on the consent of the people.  People have to agree to be ruled by a government in order for it to be democratic.
  2. Representative government.  In a democracy, citizens have to be able to elect people to represent them in the government.  That allows the people to be in overall control of the government.
  3. Rule of law.  This means two things.  First, governments and government officials have to obey the law just like everyone else.  Second, it means that governments can only punish people for disobeying laws that are actually written down.  The government cannot make up rules on a whim and punish you for violating them. 
  4. Individual rights.  In a true democracy, people have to be guaranteed certain fundamental rights.  These are rights like the right to freedom of speech and religion. 
  5. Checks and balances.  A democratic government needs to have various parts (the US has three branches and two separate houses in the legislative branch) that can stop one another from acting in bad ways.  This prevents any one person or part of government from becoming dominant and dictatorial.

This is one way, but not the only way, to identify five principles of democracy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial