Liberal Democracy and How It Contributes to Liberal Democracy - Democracy Essay Example

Introduction to Political Studies (POLS1007) Tutorial : 13:15 Mr. Hudson Dimpho Ramalose 717071 18 March 2013 THE CONTRIBUTION OF LIBERALISM TO LIBERAL DEMOCRACY “A political arrangement that promotes the liberty of the individual citizen from arbitrary government” , ( Gamble, n. d. ) . This is a political ideology that seems to put great emphasis on the protection of the individual through key principles such as individualism, freedom and equality (Heywood, 2007).

Principles that are of supreme importance to the practical well-being of an individual. Liberalism can be traced back to the seventeenth century, making it the oldest of the modern political ideologies (Funderburk, Thobaben, n. d. ) . The early ideas of liberalism were advanced by a stress on the importance of man’s individuality over “the collective” which was the core principle of the liberal ideology ( Heywood, 2007 ). Liberalism puts high emphasis on the protection of the individual by allocating each individual maximum negative freedom.


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Negative freedom can be defined as, “ the absence of external constraints upon the individual” which is commonly known as non-interference from both government and other individuals (Dewey, 2005). However the ideology of liberalism cannot be advanced unless we are able to distinguish between individualism and collectivism. Individualism is often seen as an attempt to strengthen individual responsibility by constraining state power. Collectivism suggests that the state is a mechanism through which collective goals are achieved thus expanding state power (Dewey,2005).

The concentration of power proved to be the liberals fear, since they believed that government is always bound to become a tyranny against the individual because the greater concentration of power the greater room for rulers self-interest thus the greater corruption. Hence the development of the ideology of liberalism which, as stated above, is “ a political arrangement that promotes the liberty of the individual citizen from arbitrary government” ( Gamble, n. d. ).

So in an attempt to further protect the individual, the doctrine of “natural rights” was developed by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke ( McNaughton, 1996). Their argument was that each individual was born with certain rights which are natural and cannot, therefore, be denied to the individual by any other man ( Hobbes, Locke, n. d. as cited in McNaughton 1996) . These particular rights suggested basic rights such as the right to life and liberty, to pursue happiness, avoid pain and enjoy one’s personal property.

Moreover, individuals are obligated to obey the law of nature, which is basically to acknowledge and respect the natural rights of others ( Locke, n. d. as cited in Funerburk, Thobaben,1989). Thus it is said that individuals have natural rights prior to or in the absence of government. These rights can therefore be defined as “Inherent rights” of free individuals ( Funderburk, Thobaben, 1989). Locke argued that, human beings, in the absence of government and society, society being the collective, are capable of viable existence as reasonable beings apart from society.

John Locke went on to argue that since individuals are naturally free, those that stand out as rational individuals may voluntarily enter into civil society ( Locke , n. d. as cited in Funderburk, Thobaben). These individuals formed the government, However the functions of the government itself were inherently limited because according to Lockean theory, government was put into place solely for the protection of God-given rights of men ( Hagopian, 1985 ). Individuals therefore are obligated to remain obedient because of the consent to be governed ( Funderburk, Thobaben, 1989).

However, it is not enough to classify this government as just a “government”, because in a liberal context it goes far beyond just “government”, the government has to be a government that focuses solely on the protection of the individual, while keeping its interference within limited boundaries. So the question remains, what sort of government adheres to this criteria? Well, from a liberal point of view, a government that embodies the concepts of a representative democracy seems to adhere to the criteria ( Heywood, 2007). A representative democracy being a limited and indirect form of democracy.

It is limited in the sense that popular participation in government is very brief, since it only occurs every few years by the act of voting. Moreover it relieves the individual from the burden of exercising power themselves, they merely elect those who will represent and rule on their behalf ( Heywood, 2007). In order to understand what representative democracy is , and what relevance it has to liberalism, it is much more sensible to expand on democracy itself. Even though the basic meaning of democracy, “rule by the people”, is simple, democracy remains a complex and contested ideal ( Gutman, n. . ) What brings about the complexities of democracy, are some beliefs about the term “democracy” which seem to mislead most people. These are: “That democracy is one specific form of government” and “That democracy has been, and still is, considered a universally ‘good thing’, to be supported by all right-thinking people the and pursued by all governments” (McNaughton, 1996). In truth the term can mean what we really intend it to mean based on one’s own general political beliefs, be it liberal, communist or fascist (McNaughton, 1996).

The origins of democracy can be traced back to classical Greece, where the idea was that democracy aspired to the popular participation in politics, political equality and the general notion that the government should be responsible to the people, because the people are, “ generally the best judge of their own interests” (Gutman, n. d. ) However liberals raised great concerns about democracy, commonly that democracy can result in a tyranny of the majority, thus the rule by the people dissolving into rule by the majority.

This would empower the majority to behave in a way which suits the majority and in the process infringing the natural rights and individual freedom, in the name of the people ( Mill, Tocqueville, n. d. ). Many other liberals supported this conception by terming democracy as a possible threat to liberty because it had a collectivist nature. Furthermore, Thomas Paine and James Madison, who contributed to the American Declaration of independence of 1776, raised concerns in the declaration about a democratic government (McNaughton, 1996).

They realized that enjoying increased authority of having been elected by a popular majority, the government might feel it has a mandate which allows them to take maximum power. Secondly they had doubts concerning the judgment of the mass of the people. They feared that the people might elect leaders for all the wrong reasons ( McNaughton, 1996). So this prompted the liberals to introduce a democracy best suited to the entire ideology of liberalism. Which is when Madison went ahead to introduce the concept of an indirect democracy.

This system was based on the fact that the individual would elect intermediate bodies between themselves and the government. This became widely known as representative democracy (Heywood, 2007). A democracy that made sure that individual rights could not be sacrificed to the power of government itself. Government intervention was also limited and the influence of popular opinion was monitored and moderated by representative institutions ( McNaughton, 1996). A new form of democracy was born.

A democracy that was seen as the perfect compromise between liberal individualism and democratic collectivism. Liberal democracy was the liberals answer to a governmental system that would protect the individual, through a system of “government by consent” that operated through a representative assembly ( Heywood, 2007) . Liberal Democracy is a type of representative democracy, under the key principles of liberalism, i. e. the protection of natural rights. Which serves as the perfect convergence of liberalism and democracy ( Hagopian , 1985).

Liberal democracy, in the Lockean theory, became the strongest form of “ civil society” which we now refer to as the “state” where individuals are highly encouraged to enter into public discourse (Hagopian, 1985). Secondly the individuals under a liberal democracy can overturn the decisions taken by the government especially if the government violates equality before the law or by seizing of private property (Hagopian, 1985). However, in the event that the government is overturned, there should be a peaceful transition from one government to the next.

This is a vital component of democracy , that a government should be removed from power by a popular vote, the government should then accept the popular decision, step down from their positions and agree to obey the laws that the new government (the victors of the elections) may wish to establish, as well as the individuals that formed the supporters of the government that has been defeated (McNaughton,1996) However even the new government should continue to embody the concepts of liberalism in the sense that they too must be subject to their own laws, i. They should not attempt to place the government above the law and should not adopt any arbitrary habits . So as a result, Liberal democracy was the title given to those states which follow a liberal tradition which dates back to the eighteenth century. Liberal democracy creates more room for judicial review, checks and balances or internal limitations to its own powers. To elaborate, this meant that each branch of government should have another branch to control it.

This would give less of a chance to an arbitrary government. (Gutman, n. d. ) . Over and above , liberal democracy protected the individual against itself. According to “The Enlightenment” philosophers, man always fails to apply rational and logical reason to matters concerning the state, instead man is quick to give an emotional response. This would result in a conflict of opinions between individuals, which would leave the state in a stagnant condition, and ultimately a great lack of individual freedom (McNaughton, 1996).

So to counter any form of tyranny, a “rational thinking” government is elected into power on the basis that it will give rise to the possibility of equal rights, individual liberty and government by popular consent (McNuaghton, 1996). This government is given power to decide on laws, which are collectively known as the constitution and are centered around individual rights, freedoms and equality, principles (as stated above) which are key to the ideology of liberalism because they guarantee the political well-being of the individual.

It is evident that liberalism has had a particularly great influence on democracy, by narrowing its complexities and broad meaning, to a very specific form of democracy. As stated above, democracy can mean what we intend it to mean, depending on one’s own general political beliefs, but liberalism has given liberal democracy a definite meaning. Liberal democracy owes its entire being to liberalism. It embodies all the principles of liberalism because it allows very brief and infrequent participation in government, which is the act of voting every few years ( Heywood, 2007).

A vote in a liberal context speaks volumes. This implies that the ballots are secret and there are adequate security measures that have been put into place to ensure that the results are an accurate depiction of the individuals input. Thus a vote lets the individual experience maximum negative freedom, because there is no interference from the government or other individuals , ensuring the free competitiveness of the elections (McNaughton, 1996) .

In the same token, the individual gets to experience liberal equality to a certain extent ( since equality is also a complex concept under liberalism and liberal democracy) because a vote has no status, rich or poor, black or white, president or normal citizen, every individuals vote is of equal worth. This is commonly known as “equality before the law” (Heywood, 2007). These are all key principles of liberalism. Liberal democracy proved to be a more favourable estimate of democracy in relation to liberalism since they both share common ideas and concepts (Hagopian, 1985).

So Liberalism on its own is just an ideology. Liberal democracy on its own is nothing but a form of democracy, but together, liberalism and liberal democracy, form the perfect political arrangement that is concerned entirely with the protection of the individual against an arbitrary government and the collective or otherwise known as the non-liberals which believe in the concept of Majoritarian rule. So to conclude , it is safe to say that there is no other ideology suited to the descriptions of what a lliberal democracy is all about.

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