Moral Democracy

Moral Democracy cover

Is democracy essentially moral? Is a harmonious society possible? Or does harmony in both society and religion require an orientation towards the spiritual core of human experience? If it does, then of what does that spiritual core consist? George Lowell Tollefson discusses these issues in this book, which is an excerpt from his longer work, Unbridled Democracy.

Author information:

George Lowell Tollefson, a former philosophy professor, lives in New Mexico and writes on the subject of philosophy.

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UNTIL a way is found to create peace within individual people, the peace which is achieved between them will be next to worthless.

THE Achilles heel of democracy lies in a tyranny of the majority. This consists of a complacency of that majority, which makes possible a domination of the political environment by financial interests and social pressure groups.

WHAT is most important is the life of the spirit: a life of the emotions well regulated by the mind. But where emotion is given priority and the mind is made unclear, the emotions can be manipulated. Until this problem is solved, democracy will always fail.

A FREE and successful republic is a political order in which social placement depends upon talent and self-improvement. It is not a radical democracy in which everyone is treated socially and morally as the same. Rather, it implies an aristocracy of the mind, a society in which merit is respected and rewarded.

Equality under the law, the legal basis of a successful republic, is a political concept which guarantees fairness, or justice, to each member of society. But in social and ethical matters, there can never be an equality. For the former depends upon talent and self-improvement. And the latter depends upon individual moral development. These differ with every person.

WESTERN style democracy, as described by John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, is based on a high regard for the rights of the individual. In a certain sense, it places the individual’s interests above those of the state. For the state is thought to be founded upon the intelligence and will of its citizens. In Locke, they are thought to be rational beings. In Rousseau, they are assumed to be fundamentally good.

These ideas are unlike those of the classical form of a democracy or republic, as in Greece and Rome or the thought of Plato and Aristotle. These ancient societies and thinkers put a person’s duty to the state above his personal interest. The interests of the individual were clearly subsumed within the community.

This difference between the ancients and the moderns seems to be due to the influence of Christianity with its emphasis on the importance of the individual person. But the fact should not be overlooked that the interests of the individual can only be realized through the community. Conversely, if the individual is not recognized, his creative capacity will be greatly reduced. So finding a balance is of the greatest importance.

THE first and most compelling half of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is derived point by point from John Locke’s Second Essay Concerning Civil Government. But Jefferson brings to these ideas a conviction and elevation of sensibility which transforms them into an inspiring monument to human dignity and self-determination.

THE founding of the American republic in the Age of Reason was based on the idea that free people would use reason to discover moral, social, and political truth. But the French Revolution released irrational forces into Western Civilization. Though it claimed to be based upon principles of reason, it began the Romantic era, where emotion was seen . . .

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