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Analysis Of Liberalism And Democracy

1550 words - 6 pages

Analysis of Liberalism and Democracy
Liberalism has an ambivalent relationship with democracy, as liberals
are against collective power, but support political equality. In the
nineteenth century liberals were often opposed to democracy as they
saw it as a threat to individual rights - the people are not a single
entity but rather a collection of individuals with different opinions
and interests, and so it is impossible for every view and opinion to
be respected. Since the twentieth century most liberals have come
round to the idea of democracy, and support it, but they still have
reservations.

Liberals defend democracy for a variety of reasons. First of all it
ensures public accountability. This gives the people a degree of
protection against governments becoming too strong. Liberals believe
in limited government, and democracy provides this system, as the
government is accountable to the people. Although most liberals would
agree that government is essential in order to defend the rights of
the people, it can also be seen as a threat to individual liberty, so
people need some form of protection against it.

According to John Stuart Mill, ‘the only purpose for which power can
be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community,
against his will, is to prevent harm to others’. Therefore, the role
of government is to protect the liberty of individuals against others
who may seek to exploit them for their own gain. In the liberal view,
government powers should not extend beyond this minimal role. However,
government officials may exploit their position for their own personal
gain, and therefore the people should have a means of protecting their
rights against this risk - democracy provides a means to do this. A
democratic system allows people to choose their own government, and
remove them from power if necessary.

Leading on from this is the issue of property - according to John
Locke, it was crucial that those with property were able to protect
their rights against the government. The government has the right to
expropriate property through taxation, therefore the owners of
property have the right to control who makes up the tax-making body.
This idea was summed up in the slogan ‘no taxation without
representation’.

Also, liberals believe that political participation is important in
itself, as it allows personal self-development and political
education. Self-development is very important to liberals - modern
liberals in particular see freedom as the ability to develop skills,
broaden understanding and gain fulfilment. Therefore any kind of
self-development is very important.

Democracy also allows individuals more control over their own lives -
they play an active part in government, and indirectly affect all
decisions made over their lives. This...

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