Liberal democracy

political philosophy and form of government

Liberal democracy, also referred to as Western democracy, is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism.

The Eduskunta, the parliament of Finland as the Grand Duchy of Finland, had universal suffrage in 1906 for being the first with universal suffrage


  • In a capitalist democracy there are essentially two methods by which social choices can be made: voting, typically used to make ‘political’ decisions, and the market mechanism, typically used to make ‘economic’ decisions. In the emerging democracies with mixed economic systems Great Britain, France, and Scandinavia, the same two modes of making social choices prevail, though more scope is given to the method of voting and to decisions based directly or indirectly on it and less to the rule of the price mechanism. Elsewhere in the world, and even in smaller social units within the democracies, the social decisions are sometimes made by single individuals or small groups and sometimes (more and more rarely in this modern world) by a widely encompassing set of traditional rules for making the social choice in any given situation, for example, a religious code.
  • Experience suggests that if men cannot struggle on behalf of a just cause because that just cause was victorious in an earlier generation, then they will struggle against the just cause. They will struggle for the sake of struggle. They will struggle, in other words, out of a certain boredom: for they cannot imagine living in a world without struggle. And if the greater part of the world in which they live is characterized by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy.
  • Even in the most liberal democracy the artist does not move with perfect freedom and unrestraint; even there he is restricted by innumerable considerations foreign to his art.
    • Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Volume I. From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, 1999
  • Manifestly, in August 1914 the status quo of western Europe was about to vanish. Either the liberal democracies would engage in a terrible episode of bloodletting in order to preserve their independence, territorial integrity and great power status, or they would avoid bloodshed by permitting the autocracy and militarism of the kaiser’s Germany to overwhelm them. That is, the alternative to the horrors of this war was not the continuation of the existing order. It was western Europe's abandonment of some of its finest achievements. These achievements derive from its struggles against absolute church and absolute monarchy, and from its endorsement of the principles of the enlightenment: elected governments, freedom of speech and of conscience, respect for the rights of minorities, and at least partial acknowledgment of the notion that all people are created equal and possess the same entitlements to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    • Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson, The First World War (1999), 2001 paperback edition; ISBN 0–304-35984-X p. 217
  • Liberal democracy has never dared face the fact that industrial capitalism is an intensely coercive form of organization of society that cumulatively constrains men and all of their institutions to work the will of the minority who hold and wield economic power; and that this relentless warping of men's lives and forms of association becomes less and less the result of voluntary decisions by "bad" or "good" men and more and more an impersonal web of coercions dictated by the need to keep "the system" running.
  • Let us confidently declare that Christian democracy is not liberal. Liberal democracy is liberal, while Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues – say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favour of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.
  • And yet republican America was no more the end of history in the mid nineteenth century than Western democracy was after the Cold War. Liberal democracy as we understand it today in fact only properly took root across the Western world in the early years of the new century. It grew from the same bloodied soil of war, revolution, and economic crisis as its principal competitor ideologies of fascism on the right and communism on the left. The term itself had relatively little traction in America until President Woodrow Wilson roused the nation to war in its name: to “make the world safe for democracy” (he meant safe for America) in 1917. And it took the experience of yet more illiberal regimes and failed democracies—by 1941, there were just eleven democracies left amidst the carnage of the Second World War—before the commitment to combining liberal values and the institutions of democratic equality was reaffirmed amid the “general political fatigue” of the postwar moment.
    • Simon Reid-Henry, Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West Since the Cold War, 1971-2017 (2019), p. 3
  • What modernity requires is not that you cease living according to your faith, but that you accept that others may differ and that therefore politics requires a form of discourse that is reasonable and accessible to believer and non-believer alike. This religious restraint in politics is critical to the maintenance of liberal democracy.
  • In terms of marginal efforts to improve liberal democracy, perhaps one of the best things we can do to entrench better values in our institutions and in society at large is to promote sentiocracy — working to gradually increase the concern for and representation of non-human beings in the political process, and thus to make sentiocracy the future of democracy.

See also

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