Democracy is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the alternatives of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision-making process.
The Semisovereign People (1960)
I suppose the most important thing I have done in my field is that I have talked longer and harder and more persistently and enthusiastically about political parties than anyone else alive.
As quoted by Sidney A. Pearson, Jr. in the 2004 introduction to Party Government: American Government in Action
Two Hundred Million Americans in Search of a Government (1969)
What is government? From the outside it looks like a security system based on the marriage of land and people, From the inside, it looks like and attempts to create a community. A government is like an oyster, hard on the outside and soft on the inside, and the outside and inside are utterly dependent on each other.
People who do not know what government is are not likely to know what democracy is either, for democracy is only what the soft inside of the oyster looks like.
The love of people goes far beyond liberty, rights, equality, and justice. It is something positive, seeks the fullest possible self-realization; it contemplates happiness, overflows all differences, and creates the kind of wealth that can be produced only by people who enjoy their common participation in a community.
Democracy begins as an act of imagination about people. For this reason democracy is a doctrine of social criticism.
Democracy has no place for the kind of justice implied in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Democracy is a system for the resolution of conflict, not for vengeance. Simple black-white notions of right and wrong do not fit into democratic politics. Political controversies result from the fact that the issues are complex, and men may properly have differences of opinion about them. The most terrible of all over-simplifications is the notion that politics is a contest between good people and bad people. Democracy is based on a profound insight into human nature, the realization that all men are sinful, all are imperfect, all are prejudiced, and none knows the whole truth. That is why we need liberty and why we have an obligation to hear all men. Liberty gives us a chance to learn from other people, to become aware of our own limitations, and to correct our bias. Even when we disagree with other people we like to think that they speak from good motives, and while we realize that all men are limited, we do not let ourselves imagine that any man is bad. Democracy is a political system for people who are not sure that they are right.
Government is the most successful idea in the world, but for all its success and importance it is something imperfect. There is no ideal state. After thousands of years it is still a mixture of good and evil.