Monday, 10 December 2012

Liberalism and Democracy

Today on the news, I saw a guy from the Egyptian National Salvation Front talking about how Morsi should not use his majority to act against "universal human rights" and "democracy". This seemed to me to sum up how little most of us in the twenty-first century understand what democracy is really about. Mostly we confuse "democracy"--decision-making via majority vote--and "liberalism"--a doctrine of respect for the life choices of individuals. In fact, these two concepts, while historically entangled in nineteenth century Europe, are analytically entirely distinct.

So often today we see believers in liberalism--usually urban and educated--agitating for a political system which in actuality allows the mass of the populace who have very different values to choose leaders whose views are totally incompatible with liberalism. There can be a positive relationship between democracy and liberalism--as there was in the nineteenth century in Europe--but there can also be a quite negative relationship--as for example, in many European countries in the twentieth century.

We really do require greater clarity of thought when considering political philosophy, so it's just a great shame that we don't ever seem to teach political philosophy in universities any more...


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