What Valid Criticisms Can Be Made of Liberal Democracy?

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International Foundation Programme

Culture, Theory and Society

Assignment 2

“What valid criticisms can be made of liberal democracy?”

Class: F4
Student: Tzu-Han Lin

What valid criticisms can be made of liberal democracy?

Liberal democracy is seen as the most common political form of government which has been implemented in the contemporary world. According to the finding of Freedom in the World 2011 Survey released by the US-based Freedom House (http://www.freedomhouse.org/), there are 76 percentages of total countries in the world which is liberal or partly liberal democracy. Moreover, the most of current leading countries are liberal democracies such as U.K., U.S.A, Germany, and Japan. As they represent as a powerful, peaceful, free and wealthy state, liberal democracy has been generally considered as ideally suited governance to modern age. Parekh (1992a) stated this perspective was introduced by U.S.A. in later 20th century, due to the collapse of communism in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the following negative consequence. However, contrary to popular belief, the performances of major liberal countries are somehow to fall short of public expectations (Schmitter and Karl, 1991a). Since the perfect image of liberal democracy has been broken by day-to-day practices, meanwhile, liberal democracy has started to attract many criticisms based on its problems and insufficiencies. This essay will firstly give a generic definition of liberal democracy and the principle of two liberal democratic election systems. Secondly, it will attempt to evaluate a particular criticism that liberal democracy is just a decoration over a plutarchy, and finally conclude that liberal democracy is not absolutely better than direct democracy. It overcomes some problems occur in direct democracy, and vice versa.

Liberal democracy, an ordinary form of representative democracy, is “basically a liberalized or liberally constituted democracy.” (Parek, 1992b, p. 161). It is also named as a bourgeois democracy or constitutional democracy. In terms of the working definition, liberal democracy had been addressed as a degree of political system and its principle based on democratic rule and political liberties. (Bollen, 1993a; Bollen and Paxton, 2000). The former dimension, also be called as political rights, exists that both government and politicians are accountable to the citizenry, and” each individual is entitled to participate in the government directly or through representatives.” (Bollen, 1986, p. 568-569). Political liberties, the second dimension, exist that nationals of a state have “the freedom to express a variety of political opinions in any media and the freedom to form and to participate in any political group.” (Bollen, 1993b, p. 1208-1209). Generally, in the practice, all elections should be competitive, free and fair, and individual liberties and the right of minorities are protected such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right of property.

There are two major variant election systems, derived from liberal democratic theory, are proportional and plurality voting system (Barber, 2000a). In the former system, electors choose their preferred party or the candidate listed by party, and seats allocated by the proportion of votes that a party receives nation-wide or in a given constituency (Barber, 2000b). The latter, or be called as first-past-the-post system, awards a seat to the candidate who receives the most votes whether a relative plurality or an absolute majority (Bogdanor and Butler, 1983).

The one of the strongest criticism had been made is liberal democracy is just a decoration over a plutarchy which is a combination of plutocracy and oligarchy. This criticism made by the opposition who mainly advocates direct democracy instead. For the supporters of liberal democracy, they have argued firstly, individual liberties and minority rights must be protected from majority interests...
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