What Are the Basic Principles of Traditional Democratic Theory?

The Traditional Theory of Democracy holds that each citizen within the state is equal and their votes count equally. All citizens have the right to participate in the government and voice their opinion, and the people must receive an opportunity to set the political agenda. Finally, the people must have uninhibited and unadulterated access to information and ample time with which to contemplate and form an opinion on a matter.

The Traditional Theory of Democracy is one of the four most common theories on the role and outcome of democratic systems, as of 2014. It was advanced by Robert A. Dahl in 1989 in his book "Democracy and Its Critics." Dahl claimed that no country, as of his time, currently or historically met the criteria for a true democracy. He claimed that the supposed institutions of that time were a step in the right direction, but would not lead to a more perfect government.

The three rivals to Traditional Theory are the Pluralist Theory, the Elite Theory and Hyperpluralism. Pluralist Theory states that people form groups based on common agendas, which are the real forces behind democratic power, but this is just natural, healthy competition. The Elite Theory claims the majority of power in a democracy resides with the most elite persons, organizations and businesses, who create policies that benefit themselves. Hyperpluralism argues that groups are formed by people with common interests, and that a disproportionate amount of power lies with many groups, who take any law or issue they dislike through a lengthy legal battle, ultimately playing the judicial and legislative systems against one another. Once there are too many powerful groups, the democratic government becomes gridlocked.