The best societies, of course, are those that have all of these things. They should protect freedoms, treat their people equally, and have a great deal of political participation. If only one of these must be picked as the most important, it should be protecting the freedom of the people.
In our history, the time with the greatest political participation, at least as measured by voter turnout in presidential elections, was the “Gilded Age” between the end of the Civil War and 1900. If the best society is the one with the most participation, we should have been at our best at that time. However, this was not a great time in United States history. It was a time when there was a great deal of violence surrounding strikes. It was the time when Jim Crow laws were first instituted. These are not signs of a strong democracy.
Equality is very important. However, it is not important enough on its own. If the government were to treat all people equally badly, we would not think we had a great democracy. A society, for example, in which no one had the freedom of speech would be equal, but not very democratic at all.
Therefore, it is the extent of freedom that is the most important thing. Democracy is fundamentally about protecting the freedoms of the people. We cannot have a true democracy if a large percentage of people have their rights abridged. This is why our society today is a better society (with all its flaws) than societies in past times that had more political participation but less freedom.