The Notion of Liberal Democracy Is an Inherently Contradictory One

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“The notion of liberal democracy is an inherantly contradictory one”.

The notion of liberal democracy consists of two components- one, “democracy”, referring to a political process, and the other, “liberal”, referring to a political outcome. The argument that it is a contradictory notion lies in the fact that to presuppose or predefine politcal outcomes as liberal (consistent with liberal principles of individual autonomy, freedom from coercion, and equal and inherant rights) appears incompatible with the political process of democracy- under its literal definition meaning “rule of the people”. There is no apparant reason why the “rule of the people” will necessarily produce a society which is liberal. Might the people not instead choose illiberal political outcomes? Indeed, empirical analysis of political systems around the world suggests that illiberal democracy is the reality of many of them. However, an examination of some of the prominent theories of democracy reveals common liberalist themes running through the various definitions of, and justifications for, democracy. Theories of democracy as a system of balance are those that come closest to recognising the potential contradiction in the notion of liberal democracy- arguing that democratic rule must be underpinned by constitutionally protected bodies of rights in order to ensure desirable political outcomes. Clearly, understandings of the notion of democracy itself are crucial to the question of whether liberal democracy is a contradictory notion. Another crucial question is how the notion is used. If used as a descriptive term, it would appear entirely valid- many political systems may reasonably be described as liberal democracies. If however the notion is used prescriptively, at once prescribing a political outcome (liberalism), and a political process by which the “people” decide outcomes, the inherant contradiction is more clear. Zakaria’s 1997 article The Rise Of Illiberal Democracy highlighted...
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