In a world of ideologies, liberalism and democracy have long coexisted. Liberalism in essence advocates for liberty and equal rights and the importance of the role they play in the development of individuals (“liberalism.” 1/1). Democracy takes a step further and most types of democracies aim to bring this into execution by the subsequent granting of these rights and liberties i.e. providing a platform for the individuals to grow via equal participation in the realm of economic, social and political affairs, and thus enabling them to decide their own destiny (“What Is a Liberal Democracy?” 1/1). At times, the two have managed to complement and supplement each other when either the liberals in their attempt to ‘liberate’ themselves de-democratized or the democrats in their attempt to ‘democratize’ de-liberated. The purpose of this paper is to explore the role, if any; liberalism plays in the democratization of systems that govern the modern political ideologies. The correlation between liberalism and democracy has been one where liberalism has both strengthened and destabilized democracy at different times, in different ways. It is not merely the explicit merger or clash of the two ideologies that provides the basis for liberalism to promote or undermine democracy, as the case may be. The problem is one of a more complex nature, which upon closer look, can be rooted to several democratizing and de-democratization practices of the liberal democrats in their attempt to liberate themselves. The subsequent advent of Neoliberalism did not help much and by aiming to promote a market driven approach to politics and economics by maximizing the role of the private sector in determining the political and economic policies of the state (McChesney 1/1).
The liberal ideology that voices for liberty and equal rights help in the running of democracies where people are granted these rights and liberties and are subsequently entitled to freedom of speech, equal right to vote and tolerance towards religions. Liberalism emphasizes on individual freedom and the protection of that freedom (“Liberal Ideas” 1/1).
The origin of democracy can be traced back in history to the liberal ideology of capitalism which won against fascism and led to the democratization of the state, as advocated by John Locke (Uzgalis 1/1). It was the principle that not only liberated people but granted them fundamental rights laying the basis for democratization (Uzgalis 1/1). It was the individual economic power of the business class that allowed them to liberate themselves from the tyranny of dictators after they had started to get irritated by the thought of having to follow someone according to Charles Tilly, besides having the means to rule themselves and subsequently led to a more representative form of government (Tilly 1/1). The liberal idea of individual freedom and social equality as put forward by John Stuart Mill, laid the basis for granting of civil rights to people, subsequently leading to the democratization of the state where the role of civil society is considered to be one of great significance (Wilson 1/1).
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A major characteristic of liberal democracies is the existence of pluralism i.e. the coexistence of different political parties that allow people with opposing views to join together and be able to pursue their own agendas (“liberal democracy” 1/1). While free media, another brainchild of liberalism, enables people to voice their opinions, debate, analyze and critique the performance of the state thereby ensuring transparency thus strengthening democracy as the rule of the majority (Charlton 1/1). Another feature of liberal ideology i.e. capitalism argues for markets to operate freely (“Capitalism and democracy take two” 1/1). This provides people with increased choice and opportunity to grow and consequently protect individual wellbeing. Governments, in order to gain popular support, aim to benefit the majority and thus regulate this idea of capitalism to an extent only to make sure that the freedom to earn and grow is not concentrated and rather benefits the community at large (“Capitalism and democracy take two” 1/1).
Liberalism has also been one of the major reasons for the demise of the democratic order in states over the years. Although liberalism provides the basis following which most democracies aim to flourish, the same at times has been guilty of promoting anti-democratic practices such as use of influence by elite to stay in power, more commonly known as Marx’s idea of dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (“MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms.” 1/1), use of media to propagate against opposition (Charlton 1/1) and bureaucracy’s promotion of self-interest (Clarke, and Foweraker). It has been debated that media while playing a significant role in the strengthening of democracy can also be used to derail the democratic order (Charlton 1/1). The theory put forward is that liberalism promotes the role of media and considering the magnitude of importance attached, concentration of media i.e. ownership and control by a specific group or class (elite) can lead to its abuse (Charlton 1/1). These undesirable practices only contribute towards weakening of democracies. The existence of many political parties and the right to decide whether to vote or not granted to people by liberalism at times leads to the problems of promotion of self interests and not everyone voting; subsequently undermining the legitimacy of the electoral process as the choice of the majority (“Compulsory Voting.” 1/1). One such example is of Pakistan where the voter turnout was merely 44.91 percent in the 2008 elections (“Pakistan voter turnout put at 44.9 percent 1/1).
Moreover, many socialists argue that as liberalism promotes capitalism, the resulting democracy is not one of equality but rather one biased towards the influential elite (“MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms.” 1/1). They further argue that policies aimed at helping the elite for personal interests lead to increased disparity between rich and poor and thus are considered anti-democratic (“MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms.” 1/1). Bureaucracy also occupies great importance in the political and economic affairs of democratic states. Arguably, these bureaucrats in their desire to obtain individual benefits toy with laws to not only mend them in their favor but also ensure that their stay in power is both prosperous and long lasting (Clarke, and Foweraker). Such corrupt practices hamper the democratic order. Majoritarianism aims to again highlight the problem of the selected few (a minority) who have the means and power via self liberation through capitalism and concentration of media, to not only influence the political process but subsequently rule the majority while falsely proclaiming to be the voice of the majority (“What Is a Liberal Democracy?” 1/1).
Another argument that highlights how liberalism undermines democracy is one of equal participation and the attainment of economic, social and cultural equality to go with the granted political equality (Carter and Stokes 8-12). Liberal democrats argue that as everyone has a right to vote thus the political system is democratic in essence, however the argument is that unless economic, social and cultural equality is also granted to marginalized groups such as feminists and gay right liberalists, democratization cannot be achieved in essence (Carter and Stokes 8-12). First wave feminists although did get a right to vote (West 1/1), it still did not ensure equality as the men who dominated society formed policies promoting self interests leaving them worse off. It was not until the second and third waves of feminism that women got more rights but still not equal to those enjoyed by men (West 1/1). Similarly gay right activists, Afro-Americans/blacks and ethnic minority liberalists argue that although they do have a say in the political sphere, they still have to bear several inequalities in terms of social, cultural and economic rights (Carter and Stokes 8-12). They also argue that the fact that women or blacks are given jobs it doesn’t mean they are equal in all spheres (Carter and Stokes 8-12). The influential class not only is able to implement policies which benefit themselves but also ensure that these groups of people remain subservient to them (Carter and Stokes 8-12).
The advent of Neoliberalism, however, has been the defining moment in this complex relationship between liberalism and democracy. Neoliberalism has managed to affect democracy in more explicit terms as it “â€¦neoliberalism has strengthened the sustainability of democracy in Latin America but limited its quality.” (Weyland 1/1). Implying that globalization has led to the forced maintenance of democratic order while also increasing social inequality (Weyland 1/1). Neoliberals, the advocates of a market driven mechanism with no scope for government intervention, aim to maximize the role of private sector in the formation of all economic and political policies (McChesney 1/1). The shift of focus from the society to the individual has led to several extreme policy changes regarding privatization of public institutions, redistribution of wealth through taxation, and provision of welfare facilities including basic necessities such as health, education, food, clothing and shelter (McChesney 1/1).
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Neoliberalism has become the dominating political ideology in recent times. “Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan gave neo-liberalism a big boost in the 1980s.” (“Neoliberalism” 1/1). The parties that follow neoliberal ideology and the policies implemented tend to have a clear bias in favor of a wealthy few and many multi/trans-national corporations (McChesney 1/1). Everything that seems to be in contradiction with the operations of the free market mechanism is subsequently suppressed by using even unfair means or undemocratic practices (McChesney 1/1). Business forces face little or no opposition and the primary objective of the state is not welfare and equality and rather profit making and economic growth even at the cost of increased disparity (McChesney 1/1). Democracy is only seen acceptable as long as it is in line with the objectives of the business class (McChesney 1/1). Any anti-democratic measures that promote business environment are considered to be acceptable and democratic to a great extent (McChesney 1/1).
Neoliberalism leads to complete alienation of the non business class from the political process (McChesney 1/1) as it can be seen in Pakistani politics where the political system is one that is either hereditary or elitist. The consequences of such an ideology range from low voter turnout to wide spread depression as while some are playing in billions, the others are even deprived of food for survival due to the nonexistence of public institutions that would otherwise aim to address the issue of social welfare which can and will never be addressed by corporations driven by profit motive (McChesney 1/1). “Neoliberal democracy, with its notion of the market uber alles [sic], takes dead aim at this sector. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.” (McChesney 1/1).
According to Ha-Joon Chang (2004), a professor at the University of Cambridge, “global neo-liberalism threatens democracy by granting global investors and corporations veto power over domestic policy choices that they oppose.” He also argues that neoliberal policies have granted excessive power to monetary bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over domestic policies of recipient countries (Manurung 1/1). The influential capitalists, with their monopoly over property, media and political institutions amongst others, use coercive measures to suppress this opposition, a practice completely against the norms of democracy (McChesney 1/1).
Those in favor of Neoliberalism, however argue that the idea of free market mechanism has provided people with choice and freedom (McChesney 1/1). They argue that it is a merit based system that promotes competition and provides equal opportunity to everyone who is good enough. Projects such as micro financing have emancipated women economically, who have been deprived otherwise (Mayoux 1/1). They argue that feminists have long fought for economic rights which have in turn been granted by Neoliberalism; the only condition is that one has to be good enough to attain (Mayoux 1/1).
Liberalism, democracy and Neoliberalism have shared a strange relation since the time they have started to interact. Although liberalism and democracy do tend to complement each other as long as there is no misuse of power, Neoliberalism, has contributed mostly to the de-democratization while also contributing to democracy in the sense of increased participation. It mostly undermines the basic characteristics that define democracies and also goes on to contradict itself at times with regards to the liberation of every individual. The use of coercion to suppress opposition, that arises due to the increasing inequalities resulting from the market driven approach of Neoliberalism has done nothing but deprived the states of democratic order. Anti democratic policies of promoting self centered agendas through misuse of authority i.e. exercising economic and political influence via media and bureaucratic structures etc to stay in power have led both, liberalism to an extent and Neoliberalism to almost completely, undermining democracy.
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