Discuss the five principles of Robert Dahl's traditional democratic theory.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Dahl was a renowned Yale professor of Political Science.  He came up wish some stunning theories about democracy, not the least of which is the one you mention:  his traditional democratic theory.  This information can be derived by reading his book written in 1989 called Democracy and Its Critics.  In this book, Dahl admits that democracy is an ideal, not a reality, even for modern countries.  Believing democracy to be an improbability as opposed to an impossibility, Dahl describes the five aspects of democratic criteria.  (The terms are taken directly from Democracy and Its Critics and are, therefore, in quotes:

  1. "Effective participation"
    This term is given in regards to the members, or the citizens, of the democracy.  They must have both the ability and the opportunity to provide questions, give suggestions, provide reasoning, and indicate preferences that can be found on the political agenda. 
  2. "Voting equality at the decisive stage"
    As any and all decisions are about to be made, every member of the democracy must know that each citizen's votes will be counted as equal with the next citizen.  Further, this equality must be a reality and not just a spoken idea.
  3. "Enlightened understanding"
    Instead of being told what is "the best" for them and/or being fed weighted propaganda, there must be ways for the members of the democracy to learn about the different choices provided them.  In this way, each citizen can make a decision as to which idea will best serve his or her interest. There for each citizen is "enlightened" with "understanding" as to what the best decision might be.
  4. "Control of the agenda"
    This takes the first aspect a bit further.  More than just weighing in on the agenda, citizens should have the ability to help form the actual agenda.  In other words, citizens should (somehow) be allowed to indicate both general and specific matters that should be discussed and eventually decided upon.
  5. "Inclusiveness"
    Put simply, the democratic process must be available to every human being, in other words, all citizens within the democratic country or state.

Now let's deal quickly with the idea of the improbability of this democratic idea.  As Dahl admits, a true democracy does not exist. However, Dahl does mention in Democracy and Its Critics that there are countries "advanced" in the political arena.  He describes these countries as "polyarchies."  The United States' balance of power is a good example of why America is a polyarchy according to Dahl.  The power rests on many instead of one, or just a few.  There are varying opinions, freedom of speech and press, rights to participate in the political process, inclusive voting rights, non-corrupted elections, and truly elected officials.  In short, we are on our way; however, fully achieving the five aspects above would be equal to a utopia.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Dahl

The five principles are:

1.    Effective participation- everyone has to be able to participate effectively, through unhindered voting or some other way of sharing opinions and making views known.
2.       Voting equality at the decisive stage- once it counts, everyone should have an equal vote.
3.       Enlightened understanding- the populace should be educated and informed.
4.       Control of the agenda- the people need to be able to decide what is going to be decided.
5.       Inclusiveness- no one should be excluded.