Virtues for a Democracy

So what virtues are most relevant for a democratic society? What virtues help us live together and even thrive in a democracy? To get at that question, we have to ask a prior one: What are the answers that democratic society gives to those most fundamental questions?

Democracy is a messy and contentious concept (just like its practice), so no set of answers is going to be without controversy. But we have to start somewhere. Any list of virtues implies some set of answers, and so too does the one to follow. It is only fair, then, that I start with mine. So, with no claim of completeness, here it is:

  • There is a world out there, a reality, that is the same for all of us, even though we all perceive it differently, and that world exists regardless of whether we understand it or agree about it
  • As citizens, all of us have equal standing, and within wide limits, an equal right to live life the way we want, to believe what we want, and to express those beliefs freely.
  • People can disagree deeply, even passionately, about those beliefs and still live together peaceably.
  • Our all-too-human commitment to our group identity or self-interest does not wholly overwhelm our commitment to reason, fairness, and the goals of liberty and justice for all.
  • Despite the difficulties, it is nevertheless possible to genuinely hear arguments with which we disagree, to debate those arguments productively, and (sometimes) to even find ourselves persuaded. 

From “The Seven Democratic Virtues: What You Can Do to Overcome Tribalism and Save Our Democracy” by Christopher Beem