‘A fear of democracy runs throughout liberalism’ Discuss. 45 Marks (Jan 2011) Some political thinkers have argued that Liberalism can be defined by its fear of democracy. Democracy is ‘rule by the people’, this term suggests that there is popular participation and also public interest within government. While liberals fear democracy they know and see it as the best possible way. As there is a clear fear of it lying underneath the liberal ideology, there are obvious arguments for and against this point.
Both have valid indications to say there is and isn’t a fear respectively.
However this essay will be looking at both sides, not looking to give a judgement but aiming to establish these for and against arguments. There can be seen a direct fear of democracy from the support of collectivism that democracy gives. Democracy is seen as enhancing the collectivism. As liberals, both classical and modern, do not aim to support collectivism it is clear why they would fear democracy.
Collectivism is also the opposite of individualism, in this sense many liberals fear collectivism as it gives a collective rather than an individual.
On the other hand the divide between modern and classical liberals over their respective views on freedom can come into play here. Positive freedom which is advocated by modern liberals is linked to the collective. This is the sense that people should help people, and that the state is more interventionist than that of a classical liberal view. This link to collectivism can also be linked to the term ‘tyranny of majority’. Democracy can become this tyranny, as with a voting system it is the majority that counts. This means that a minority will become lost within society, while the majority enjoy happiness.
For liberals this is feared as individuals and their freedom are at the core of the ideology, democracy can be seen to limit their liberty and individuality. This is also related to conformism and a stagnate society. With all this included liberals therefore see it as hindering the individuals chances of self-realisation if they are made to conform and live within a stagnate society. Consequently this is a clear fear of democracy, the question is does it run throughout the ideology as a whole. Some modern liberals have argued that democracy is a defence of freedom.
This theory can also be defended, when looking at democracy it is able to see this defence as it ensure the public are accountable for their vote. It is also key to liberals as it is argued that it protects individuals. Modern liberals aim to protect the individuals and allow them to protect themselves, But classical liberals also believe deeply in individuals being able to protect themselves against unpopular policies and governments. With democracy it is implied that in a democratic system citizens are able to protect themselves from a ‘tyrannical’ government.
This indicates a deeper view of popular participation, that the individuals can only be protected when they vote and take part in the democratic system. Liberal thinkers such as Rousseau and JS Mill saw this as a huge benefit to democracy. Participation not only meant the individuals protecting themselves but also gaining a wider knowledge of the sometimes confusing political system and parties. With this increased knowledge it was suggested that participation would be able to help individuals achieve self realisation, It would in addition promote the liberal idea of power from below.
On a whole this would make a healthier, growing society and make government more legitimate, while still enhancing the individual. This shows no support of democracy but does show how helpful and needed it is for the ideology. John Locke is a clear example of showing a fear of democracy. Locke named the government as a ‘necessary evil’. This clearly shows that while it is needed, a ‘necessity’, it is also a possible tyranny. While there are pro’s and con’s it is obvious that most thinkers fear it while agreeing it is the best way possible.
This fear can also be backed up with the point of over-government. Some thinkers believed that democratic systems create and interventionist approach. This is feared by classical liberals as they believe in minimal intervention. This shows the fear as it goes against what they believe. Although modern liberals to a certain extent believe in some intervention, they would argue that a completely interventionist state is not needed. However while there is this disagreement over intervention democracy is feared for other reasons by liberals.
Liberals believe that people are naturally power hungry and greedy. This was summed up by Acton who said ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. This supports the theory that once people have power they want more. This would be extremely possible in a democratic framework. However Montesquieu had advice on this, and suggested power should be a check on power. This shows that while they fear it they once again believe it is the best possible option. In addition to these points here is one very contradictive point raised by a liberal thinker which seems to go against the majority of the ideologies theories. JS Mill stated he feared democracy as the ‘uneducated’ would have a political say, in a system he believed that only the politically educated should have a say. Again a contradiction to the ideology but it shows they fear democracy as a whole. Liberals see democracy as a threat to their ideology. However as stated before it is the best possible way for the system to work. This can be seen with some of the support democracy has. Democracy is seen to have an avoidance of conflict.
As people vote for their government and people within the system the individuals themselves in society are held accountable and therefore they are unable to revolt against the system as it was their say that got them into this situation. This suggests that it avoids conflict and can be linked to rationality, as there is some coherence with Hobbes idea of state of nature. The state of nature began as a perfect state, which then became a state of war, and in the end the rational individuals decided to create a state. On top of this democracy advocates pluralism, by giving people choice of who to vote for and having different policies.
Another positive is that all groups get there say. Although a minority is created by the system, they still have their say. Some may argue against this but in the next election they are able to withdraw or give their consent to another party. To finalise this liberals may fear democracy but they do give reasons to keep it under control. They simply believe democracy is fine, as long as there are constraints to protect people. Js Mill clearly goes against the liberal ideology when stating about the ‘uneducated’. However one believes that this is a clear fear of democracy.
He feared it that much that he began to create theories against the ideology of why democracy is a bad thing. It doesn’t show what he truly means as he was just attempting to prove democracy is a fearful subject. With all the thinkers going against democracy it is clear there is a fear, although some thinkers have suggested benefits of this system. This suggests that there is an obvious fear throughout the ideology; it is not a definitive fear that means democracy should be removed or abolished it is merely just the fear that means they have to strengthen the benefits.
Cite this Fear of Democracy
Fear of Democracy. (2016, Dec 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/fear-of-democracy/