Aasof on Liberal Democracy


This week on Facebook: I never realised that I was living in what is called a Liberal Democracy, I would certainly not connect such a democracy with the Liberal Party here in the UK. It does however appear to be consistent with what one of my Facebook colleagues called Liberal Authoritarianism¹ and is increasingly illiberal. So what is a Liberal Democracy? It seems that even trying to define such a thing as a Liberal State² only succeeds in further dividing a disparate demos.

A fully liberal state is a state in which every citizen has equal rights and liberties, which are as extensive as they could be consistently with all others having the same rights and liberties. In these states this equality of rights and liberties coexists with a considerable socio-economical inequality. This raises questions about the extent to which these states are just and can be called true democracies.  Liberal Democracy

Most theorists agree that the concept democracy denotes some form or process of collective self-rule, yet beyond this basic meaning, a vast horizon of contestation opens up. Important questions arise: who constitutes the people and what obligations do individuals have in a democracy? What values are most important for a democracy and which ones make it desirable or undesirable as a form of government? How is democratic rule to be organized and exercised? What institutions should be used and how?

Once instituted, does democracy require precise social, economic, or cultural conditions to survive in the long term? And why is it that democratic government is preferable to, say, aristocracy or oligarchy? These questions are not new. In fact, democratic theory traces its roots back to ancient Greece and the emergence of the first democratic governments in Western history. Ever since, philosophers, politicians, artists, and citizens have thought and written extensively about democracy. Yet democratic theory³ did not arise as an institutionalised academic or intellectual discipline until the 20th century.


The three crises of liberal democracy: Yascha Mounk’s extraordinary new book, The People versus Democracy, provides a clear, concise, persuasive, and insightful account of the conditions that made liberal democracy work – and how the breakdown in those conditions is the source of the current crisis of democracy around the world. He reveals the water in which liberal democracy has been swimming unthinkingly all these years.

Is the World Done With Liberal Democracy? Italy’s election was another milestone in the unfolding of this future. They will set up a “conciliation committee” between the two populist parties to decide on and advance legislation; no members of parliament will be able to switch parties, locking the majority in place, and rendering the parliament a rubber stamp; “unpopular laws [will] be submitted to a sort of screening by referendum; the same [will] apply to international treaties, and therefore to all the steps that Italy has taken to be part of the E.U. and the eurozone.” So combine a little Brexit and direct democracy. Add to that a massive increase in borrowing for higher public spending (breaking the eurozone’s rules); forced mass immigrant deportations; and the ending of asylum centres.

Nationalism and Liberal Democracy: The view that Europe’s wars originated in nationalism became common, along with the belief that nationalism gave rise to fascism, and that the preservation of liberal democracy required nationalism’s suppression. From this, the European Union emerged as a moral project, along with the idea that a re-emergence of nationalism would return Europe and Euro-American civilisation back to barbarism. Historically, that may be a persuasive argument. But it fails to understand that nationalism — however distorted it might become — is the root of liberal democracy, not only historically, but also morally. The two concepts are intellectually inseparable.

The tribulations of wishy-washy Liberalism: Within liberal constitutional democracies, the challenge is coming from populists and nativists. Outside these democracies, the challenge is coming from autocracies… a growing band of hard men and maximum rulers. In Africa, for instance, rather than the building of vital and strong institutions we have the saddening return of the Big Men. They win power and refuse to leave, even when they become doddering old fools. I submit that all this would not matter that much if Liberalism itself were in rude health. But it is in a bad way.

Will Liberal Democracy Survive the Century? A steadfast belief in the inevitability of progress is not modernity’s only conceit, but it is one of its most dangerous delusions. Armed with the legacy of Enlightenment rationalism, a commitment to liberal democracy, and steady, remarkable successes, humankind marched through the latter half of the 20th century confident that we were approaching the end of history, even if we had not yet arrived. The world was converging and democratizing; buttressed by technological solutionism, the liberal-democratic capitalist utopia was at hand. After a long road trip and centuries of bumpy stretches and periods spent stalled on the side of the highway, we were just pulling into the driveway of our political utopia.


Referenced Articles & Books: A book or pdf (usually free), or simply a url that may sometimes link to a download that is also usually free. Sometimes a link to JSTOR is used, this lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.

¹Liberal Authoritarianism (url): Critics often view liberals as deeply authoritarian.  Most liberals naturally object to this unflattering claim.  Critics notwithstanding, liberals don’t relish using the power of government.  They don’t have a raw preference for forcing everyone live their way.  Instead, liberals maintain, they favor using the power of government to advance liberal aims because such policies have good overall consequences.

²Theory of Liberal State (url): If any inequality or discrimination is to be followed that must be for the general interest of the body politic and to the least disadvantage of anybody. By resorting to this system the authority of the liberal state will be in a position to ensure the progress of the individuals. In precise term liberalism implies what is granted in the forms of rights and privileges to one shall also be granted to others.

³Democratic Theory (url): Democratic theory is an established subfield of political theory that is primarily concerned with examining the definition and meaning of the concept of democracy, as well as the moral foundations, obligations, challenges, and overall desirability of democratic governance. Generally speaking, a commitment to democracy as an object of study and deliberation is what unites democratic theorists across a variety of academic disciplines and methodological orientations.

One response to “Aasof on Liberal Democracy

  1. Pingback: China Brazil a perspective | Aasof’s Reflections

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This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

TCWG Short Stories

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The Real Economy

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