• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

To what extent is liberalism compatible with democracy?

Extracts from this document...


To what extent is liberalism compatible with 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'. ...read more.


This is very important because liberals believe that any view, however unpleasant, has to be tolerated, because the opinion of every individual in society matters, not just the opinion of the majority. Therefore all groups within society should have the opportunity of political representation, and democracy allows this. Utilitarian liberals support democracy because they believe that the best way to ensure 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number' is universal suffrage. Being essentially selfish, people can be expected to base their votes on their own best interests, so if the result is chosen by the majority, then consequently the best interests of the majority will be served. Universal suffrage is also important in that it provides people with political equality - 'one person, one vote; one vote, one value'. This gives people formal equality within society, and there is no element of discrimination based on class, race, gender or religion. No system of government other than democracy would provide this level of political equality, which is such an important part of liberalism. Finally, liberals believe that equal access to policy formation amongst all of the competing groups in society leads to an equilibrium - although these groups have different opinions and opposing interests, democracy gives them a political voice and binds them to the system, ensuring social stability. ...read more.


Although this is rather a drastic view, many liberals would agree with earlier political thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle in describing democracy as rule by the masses at the expense of wisdom and property. Liberals have also argued that democratic pressures have led to an increase in interventionist government. Liberals, particularly classical liberals, are deeply opposed to government economic intervention as they feel it destabilises the market economy. They feel that the economy works better when left alone, as it is self-regulating, and 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 rights. Meghan Rimmer February 2006 1 Politics - Liberalism ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Political Systems section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Political Systems essays

  1. Canadian Health Care System

    Much of the early attention was paid to the recommendations with respect to the financing of health care in Canada and especially transfers from the federal government to provincial and territorial governments[26]. The report set the stage for another round of federal-provincial/territorial bargaining leading to a significant agreement in September

  2. How culture and values, in particular religion, have shaped American contemporary politics

    in Guantanamo Bay without trial.31 The CIA was also paying $5,000 bounties to anyone turning in terror suspects in Pakistan. Not surprisingly, this lead to the widespread disappearance and torture of innocent civilians. 'Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater

  1. Why has neither the UK nor the US adopted a system of proportional representation?

    of the vote and gained 356 seats, whilst the Conservatives gained 32.3% of the votes but only 198 seats1. Moreover, in the USA in 2000, a worse scenario arose when in fact George W Bush gained only 47.9% of the popular vote compared to Al Gore's 48.4% and yet won the election2.

  2. To what extent can it be argued that the local government system in Britain ...

    (2000) Atkinson H. & Wilks-Heeg S. p13 Due to this many single-purpose bodies were set up with the intention of providing for the needs that had arisen with the industrial age but many local boroughs still operated alongside these bodies which led to a very complicated system which provided ranges of different service which meanwhile failed to provide for the needs of growing urban society.

  1. Fighting the Guns, Goons and Gold: Philippines' Democratisation and Prospects for Democracy

    The Nationalist Alliance, an organization of small "nationalist" groups advocates the eviction of U.S. military bases and curbs on multinational companies. This was followed by criticism from the Catholic hierarchy. Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a pastoral letter urging Marcos to end his repressive decrees that violate

  2. Economic Development is a necessary and sufficient condition for democracy. Discuss.

    This paper shall begin therefore by investigating the classic argument that economic development is conducive to democracy put forward by Seymour Martin Lipset in his 1961 book 'Political Man'. Lipset first observed that democracy was related to economic and as Przeworski and Limongi points out, there are two reasons why

  1. Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?

    and does not hear that the reason there is no democracy in that region of the world is due to the religion of Islam. On the contrary, one hears that the solution to military rule and dictatorships can only be achieved through Islam.

  2. The Sierra Clubs Organizational Repertoires. Over the course of the 20th century, the ...

    The masses that came out on Earth Day showed those politicians that there was political capital available in the environment. The rise of the environmentalism movement was reflected in the Sierra Club. Throughout the 20th century, it was safe to estimate that "three-quarters of the members joined for the outings

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work