Liberal Democracy Term Paper
A number of countries such as Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, and Zimbabwe always make news each on matters relating to poorly conducted elections. The issues are either post-election violence or the incumbent refusing to hand over power. On the contrary, countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia have demonstrated admirable peace for decades regardless of the parties that win elections or the individuals elected to various positions. The answer to this disparity is liberal democracy. Man countries around the world consider themselves democratic but they depict anti-democratic characteristics in many ways. Liberal democracy is extreme adherence to democratic principles to the extent that there is no question about their violation. Consequently, countries such as the US, UK, and Australia are deemed liberal democracies better than other democracies known around the world. This research essay discusses what it takes to be a liberal democracy by giving examples from known liberal democracies as justification. In rebuttal, it will bring out critical arguments to show that liberal democracy was an exaggerated concept that is already falling apart. Despite the current crises, liberal democracies have stood strong through history on the principles of universal suffrage, fundamental rights and freedoms, and the rule of law, which makes them capable of exploring better solutions to the world’s problems.
Tracing the Roots of Liberal Democracy
The roots of liberal democracy are traceable to the Age of Enlightenment of 18th century Europe. Most of the states in Europe practiced monarchy prior to the 18th century and it was common to find monarchs holding political power (Gunlicks, 2011). Indeed, no political theory existed to gist democracy because a democracy was deemed inherently chaotic and unstable. Democracy was also considered a contravention of human nature because people were deemed inherently evil, violent, and deserving good leadership to control (Gunlicks, 2011). Many monarchs in Europe were convinced that their powers drew from God and it was blasphemous to challenge their leadership for whatever reasons (Gunlicks, 2011).
Some few Enlightenment intellectuals started to challenge the orthodox views of political structures in Europe. As Gunlicks (2011) explains, such intellectuals believed that reason, liberty, and equality should guide all affairs of humanity. All people were born equal and there was no way some people could claim they held noble political authority drawn from God. Such theories only helped to stamp superiority and authority over a people and they could not be justified in the world of reality (Gunlicks, 2011). Furthermore, the Enlightenment intellectuals believed that governments ought to serve the people instead of the people serving the government. Applicable laws should apply to everyone including the people in power, which concept today makes up the rule of law (Gunlicks, 2011).
The ideas of Enlightenment intellectuals gained momentum and they were the reason behind the French Revolution and the American Revolution. In fact, the two revolutions birthed the concept of liberalism and formed governments that placed the principles put forth by the intellectuals into practice. Some of the principles were freedom of religion and freedom of speech (Gunlicks, 2011). However, the democracies then were not the same as the democracies of today, as they had serious inhibitions for minority groups. A good example was the denial of voting rights for some people such as African Americans and women (Gunlicks, 2011). Despite the setbacks of the early democracies, they became the prototype against which modern liberal democracies were built (Gunlicks, 2011). The supporters of such forms of governments post-revolution were known as liberals and they referred to their governments as liberal democracies.
Structure of a Liberal Democracy
Liberal democracies practice universal suffrage whereby all people are allowed to vote during a general election or presidential election. The right to vote applies to all people past the age of majority regardless of their gender, age, religion, ethnicity, or social status. However, the right to vote has must be exercised in an orderly manner including due registration before one could be allowed to take part in the exercise. The US is an excellent example of universal suffrage because people turn out to vote in large numbers after a heated period of campaign by all participant parties. States vote their senators, representatives and governors through the simple majority rule in which the candidate that garners the highest number of votes is declared the winner regardless of party affiliation.
Elections in liberal democracies are free and fair. No siting president or other external force is allowed to interfere with the process for whatever reasons. For example, in the US, the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 was welcome by all despite some factions preferring Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party. Candidates often accept the results as announced because they believe in the process through which the elections were conducted. Voter bribery, stashed ballot boxes, election official interference, and other forms of malpractices are hardly witnessed in liberal democracies during elections (Rodrik, 2016). Supporters of various candidates may clash at times but none of such clashes has ever led to a serious conflict or national standoff. In short, liberal democracies appreciate the need to conduct free, fair, and peaceful elections where the winning candidate wins unquestionably.
Pluralism in the political process is yet another hallmark of liberal democracies. Accordingly, the existence of many parties and their freedom to participate in any elections boosts competition. The case is different in some countries where one or a few parties dominate the democratic process and scoop nearly all seats (Rodrik, 2016). For example, the US has many parties each with equal right to participate in elections at wall levels. Presidents have alternated between the Democratic and Republican parties not because of the individual but the party philosophies regarding certain matters affecting the nation (Gunlicks, 2011). Donald Trump clinched power in 2016 mainly through his hard stance against immigration. Angela Merkel of Germany, Emmanuel Macron of France, Theresa May of the UK, and Scott Morrison of Australia have equally been elected to hold their various positions through competitive processes based solely on attractive arty ideologies on issues affecting the nation at a particular time.
Rights and Freedoms
Liberal democracies are popular or guaranteeing their citizens specific rights and freedoms always elusive in other forms of government. Although such rights initially were deemed essential for the proper functioning of a liberal democracy, they have become the defining factor of this form of government and the basis for which democratic governments are assessed for liberalism (Cushman, 2016). The rights and freedoms particularly involved are right to life and security of person, freedom of movement, freedom from slavery, freedom of speech, equality before the law, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of information, freedom of education, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, security of the person, right to own property, and an independent judiciary (Rodrik, 2016). Indeed, the rights now form part of Constitutions under the subject “Bill of Rights”. This is the case in the US and several other liberal democracies. On the other hand, a country such as the UK that does not have a written constitution has incorporated the rights in various statutes to ensure no infringement happens (Gunlicks, 2011).
Liberal democracies have limits on some of the rights such that a government could prevent a citizen from enjoying the rights if certain conditions are unmet. For example, the right to speech does not apply when a person defames another. The right to press also applies in a limited manner when it comes to classified information (Cushman, 2016). For example, the First Amendment to the US Constitution restricts the freedom of press such that the government could determine what portions of classified information reaches the public (Cushman, 2016). A prisoner also cannot claim freedom of movement or association because he lives. A person cannot also use religion to promote terrorism or radicalize people. In the view of liberal democracies, the exercise of a right or freedom by one person should not affect other people’s protected rights (Cushman, 2016).
Equality before the Law
Liberal democracies promote equality before the law under the umbrella principle of the rule of law. Notably, being equal before the law implies that no person, by virtue of his or her social status, ethnic background, racial background, religion, or any other factor, can circumvent the law whatsoever. The Constitution is usually the supreme law in liberal democracies and any other law inconsistent with it is void to the extent of that inconsistency. Moreover, court systems are such a person can appeal a matter all the way to the Supreme Court from lower courts. Judges are required to be impartial and decide cases solely on their merits.
The rule of law is the strength of liberal democracies because it ensures the safeguard of crucial rights and freedoms discussed above. A number of Supreme Court decisions in the US have championed rights and freedoms of Americans under threat on various occasions. For example, the landmark case of Sherbert v. Verner (1963) upheld the right of people to exercise their religion freely. A business had chosen to open on Saturdays but Sherbert objected to such a move citing Saturday as her day of worship. She pleaded with her employer to allow her to rest on Saturday but she met unexpected firing. Due to the firing, Sherbert was not eligible for unemployment assistance. South Carolina state government declined her request for religious exemption. Consequently, Sherbert sued the state government because she should be entitled to the benefit owing to the fact that she was discriminated because of her religion. The Supreme Court upheld Sherbert’s constitutionally protected freedom of religion and ordered that she be entitled to state benefits immediately. The private employer had the right to hire her and fire her but the state government had to respect the First Amendment and not allow religious discrimination to cloud its determination of Sherbert’s unemployment assistance request.
Liberal democracies have been glorified for years but recent public opinion and trends reveal dwindling popularity for this form of government. The West has been wrestling endless crises since the Second World War ended and many people have questioned whether liberal democracy is effective any more. Resurgent authoritarianism in China, Russia and other places are clear indicators of a collapsing liberal democracy. In fact, some scholars have gone as far as using the terms “democratic deconsolidation,” “global authoritarianism,” and “illiberal democracy” to signal the end of liberal democracy worldwide (Berman, 2018).
Scholars have adduced economic and social change as the main reasons behind liberal democracy in crisis. Regarding economic change, rising inequalities, slowed growth, and decline in social mobility especially in the US have made some scholars to worry about the health of liberal democracy (Berman, 2018). The middle and working class have become more insecure since highly educated persons and urban dwellers have economic advantages over the less educated and rural dwellers. Indeed, this situation has magnified economic risks in liberal societies in addition to creating social divisions. The futures of liberal economies have become very dark economically speaking (Berman, 2018). Liberal societies are also characterized by changing traditional norms, family life, sexuality, and attitudes (Berman, 2018). Such problems have come about due to the growth of feminism and other social movements such as the LGBTI (Berman, 2018). Mass immigration and increased mobilization of oppressed groups such as African Americans certainly have shaken up political hierarchies and long held social norms and statuses leading to more discomfort, resent, and anger. For example, many US are currently waking up to the annoying rate at which Mexicans are coming into the country to find better opportunities. President Donald Trump has put up an aggressive campaign to clean the US of Mexicans through such strategies as building a wall between Texas and Mexico at the expense of the Mexican government (Pierce & Selee, 2017). This is in addition to the controversial executive order that barred immigrants from seven Muslim nations citing threats to national security (Pierce & Selee, 2017). Since governments cannot handle such pressures, scholars conclude that liberal democracies have failed.
There is no doubt that liberal democracies are in crisis; better solutions will come someday to deal with the shocks. However, the causes of such crises are factors beyond the control of an individual government. The dawn of globalization was meant to integrate the world yet it turned out to be an incurable disease. With their advanced economies and stronger social institutions, Habets (2015) argues that liberal democracies created an image to the rest of the world that they were the best places to live in, work in, and conduct business in pursuant to the goals of capitalism. The unbearable numbers of immigrants seeking better opportunities in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and other liberal economies has been the outcome of good performance in the previous years (Habets, 2015). It is not bad to welcome visitors because liberal economies have a role to play to make the world more integrated and peaceful. Indeed, liberal economies are unprepared to handle shocks but they can certainly think of better solutions to problems such as immigration and declining economies. The most viable solution, currently seen as interference, is the increased efforts of liberal economies to intervene in conflicts around the world to restore peace and spur economic growth.
Liberal democracies are the most complicated yet the best democracies the world has ever known. Started in the 18th century onward, liberal democracies have shown to the world that it is possible to move away from autocracy, monarchy, and other forms of political systems that violate people’s rights. Universal suffrage is the major hallmark in liberal democracies followed by constitutionally protected fundamental rights and equality before the law. Countries such as the US, the UK, and Australia have led the way in promoting liberal democratic ideals. However, critics have argued that liberal democracy is in crisis due to social and economic upheavals experienced around the world. The problems are solvable if the right approaches are utilized. For example, intervention in unstable countries would help to restore peace and prevent people from migrating to other countries in large numbers. Liberal democracies should embrace such solutions to make the world a better place.
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