ARE LIBERALISM AND DEMOCARCY COMPATIBLE? “If you could represent me ideally, you would need so much understanding and knowledge of me and my interests that you would virtually be identical with me, in which case I may as well represent myself” (Goodwin, 1997:292) The above quote shows one of the incompatibilities between liberalism and democracy, despite sounding almost comical and amusing to me, it is, in a sense, very true. These two ideologies are very different yet suprisingly share some basic principles. In this essay I hope to describe and explain the basic background and context to the two ideals.
Democracy’s ancient Greek origins and founding principles and what it has come to mean today. How liberalism was thought to have been conceived in the ancient world yet wasn’t prominent until at least the seventeenth century. I am also going to examine the compatibility of liberalism and democracy. Detailing their shared basic principles and those that contradict one another, and how today we have arrived at a compromise of liberal democracy. I will also conclude by sharing my own views on the compatibility of the two ideals, which are liberalism and democracy. “There are few people nowadays…
who do not praise democracy and claim to be democrats” (Ball and Dagger, 1995:23). Democracy today is very popular, both on its own and linked with other ideologies. Its origins however are found in ancient Greece. The central features of direct democracy in ancient Greece included; An assembly which every citizen was entitled to attend; All offices of government were appointed by election; Freedom of speech; Equality before the law; Active citizenship. Little about democracy has changed since then but one significant difference to today is that the universal citizenship in ancient Greece was only for men.
Today there are many diverse theories of democracy but the central ideas are as follows (taken from Using Political Ideas, Goodwin, 1997:272): 1) Supremacy of the people 2) Consent of the governed as the basis of legitimacy 3) The rule of law: peaceful methods of conflict resolution 4) The existence of the common good or public interest 5) The value of the individual as a rational, moral active citizen 6) Equal civil rights for all individuals Democracy is the belief that people should govern themselves and that the purpose of the government is the good of the people.
It is based on a government that is chosen by the people through the voting process, and is then obeyed by those same people. It is difficult to find a clear present day example of democracy, like that of ancient Greece, as so many political ideologies have stemmed and developed from the original idea eg. social democracy. The other difficulty is that the word democracy is often used to mean different things. Democracy is popular and the word is some what of a ‘buzz word’ that is taken out of context and used incorrectly. People of varying ideological beliefs link or associate themselves with democracy and often its roots
and basic ideas are confused and lost. It is thought that even the ancient world had a conception of liberalism, and indeed did the Greeks and Romans. However Benjamin Constant, an eighteenth century French liberal writer, believed it to be “a conception of liberty radically different from that held in modern times” (Gray 1986:1). Nonetheless it wasn’t until the seventeenth century that we find “the first systematic expositions of modern individualistic outlook from which the liberal tradition springs” (Gray 1986:7). Similarly throughout the ‘early modern period’ there was evidence of liberalism in Hobbesian individualism,
Christianity, Aristotelian traditions, and during the medieval period. Nineteenth century Europe, was regarded as “exemplifying the historical paradigm of a liberal civilization” (Gray 1986:26). A. J. P Taylor said of the state in England during this time “It left the adult citizen alone” (Taylor:1965:1), one of the crucial elements of liberalism. In her book Using Political Ideas, Goodwin denotes the ‘ingredients’ of Liberalism as: 1) The individual 2) Contract and Consent 3) Constitutionalism and Law 4) Freedom of Choice 5) Equality of Opportunity 6) Social Justice based on Merit7) Private and Public life Of these the first and fourth are probably the most fundamental of the seven.