Liberal democracy

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Liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy where the ability of elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law and moderated by a constitution which emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities (also called constitutional liberalism), and which places constraints on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised.

These rights and freedoms include the rights to due process, private ownership of property, privacy, and equality before the law, and freedoms of speech, assembly and religion. In liberal democracies these rights (also known as ‘’liberal rights’’) may sometimes be constitutionally guaranteed, or are otherwise created by statutory law or case law, which may in turn empower various civil institutions to administer or enforce these rights.

Liberal democracies also tend to be characterized by tolerance and pluralism; widely differing social and political views, even those viewed as extreme or fringe, are permitted to co-exist and compete for political power on a democratic basis. Liberal democracies periodically hold elections where groups with differing political views have the opportunity to achieve political power.


Qualities of liberal democracies

Qualities of liberal democracies include:


Some would argue that 'liberal democracy' is not democratic or liberal at all. They would argue that 'liberal democracy' does not respect majority rule (except when citizens are asked to vote for their representatives), and also that its "liberty" is restricted by the constitution or precedent (in the UK) decided by previous generations. They would argue that, by prohibiting citizens the right to cast votes on all issues (especially for serious subjects like going to war, constitutional amendments or constitution abolishment, etc.), this turns 'liberal democracy' into the precursor of oligarchy.

Anti-capitalists including Marxists, socialists and anarchists argue that liberal democracy is an integral part of the capitalist system and is class-based and not fully democratic or participatory. Because of this it is seen as fundamentally un-egalitarian, existing or operating in a way that facilitates economic exploitation.

Others would say that only a liberal democracy can guarantee the individual liberties of its citizens and prevent the development into a dictatorship. Unmoderated majority rule could, in this view, lead to an oppression of minorities.

Open society

The concept of an open society is closely related to liberal democracies. Since many liberals see democracies with strong statist reflections through the public choice theory as slow, dogmatic, conservative and not too apt for change, the liberal democracy contrasts with what could be called the "statist" democracy in that it emphasizes the civil society as the engine of its public discourse and development further.

All in all, liberal democrats often simply see the civil society as exactly the best way to satisfy the private, cultural and communitarian preferences of minorities (as well as majorities). Democratically supporting the arts, private communities, sports leagues or other associations in the civil society is seen by them to boost the majorities' preferences, either willingly or unwillingly by the policy makers.

Relation to indirect democracy

Liberal democracies are representative democracies. Some of these democracies have additional systems of referenda to give the electorate a possibility to overrule decisions of the elected legislature or even to make decisions by plebiscite without giving the legislature a say in that decision. Switzerland and Uruguay are some of the few liberal democracies with a representative system combined with referenda and plebiscites. Other countries have referenda to a lesser degree in their political system. Adding referenda to a political system could help prevent the evolution of a liberal democracy into an oligarchy.

Australia, Canada, the member states of the European Union, Iceland, India, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Brazil and the United States are all examples of somewhat liberal democracies.

See also

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