Analysis of Liberalism and Democracy

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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


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 ...

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...this also links with the liberal idea of limited

government - the state should not become involved with the economy, or

any other matter which does not concern the protection and defence of

human rights.

In conclusion liberalism is not entirely compatible with democracy -

some important liberal ideas, in particular the principle that every

individual opinion should be taken into account, directly conflict

with the system of democracy. However, in many other ways democracy

does correspond with liberal values - it provides political equality

for example, and protects the rights of the people against overly

strong governments. In general, I feel that liberalism has been able

to adapt and fit in with democracy, despite the problem of trying to

balance popular participation against the protection of individual

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