Liberal democracy is a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism, i.e. protecting the rights of the individual, which are generally enshrined in law. It is characterised by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all persons.
- Liberty is an empty sound as long as you are kept in bondage economically. [...] Freedom means that you have the right to do a certain thing; but if you have no opportunity to do it, that right is sheer mockery. The opportunity lies in your economic condition, whatever the political situation may be. No political rights can be of the least use to the man who is compelled to slave all his life to keep himself and family from starvation.
- Humanity cannot be made equal by declarations on paper. Unless the material conditions for equality exist, it is worse than mockery to pronounce men equal.
- Voltairine de Cleyre, "In Defense of Emma Goldman and the Right of Expropriation" (1893).
- It does seem quite ironic to me that the very people who have made no attempt to think for themselves, are always the most vocal in demanding respect for their "ideas". But some Muslims go further than this and claim that they're being victimized in British society. But I don’t really believe that's true. I do think a lot of people are getting fed up of hearing about Muslims all the time, and wish that Muslims would just shut up and get on with their lives, instead of constantly belly-aching about nothing, but that's not the same as being victimized. But because we live in a liberal democracy and therefore have certain double standards to maintain, any criticism of Islam or of Muslims always draws the immediate accusation of Islamophobia, a dishonest word which seeks to portray legitimate comment as some kind of hate crime.
- Critic: I'm inclined to that theory myself. I believe that many fundamental rights (including political rights) possess a moral standing, an ontological basis if you will, altogether independent of democracy and democratic process. They serve as limits on what can be done, properly at least, by means of democratic processes. A citizen is entitled to exercise these rights, if need be, against the democratic process. Because the liberty they make possible is potentially threatened by the democratic process, to preserve fundamental political rights and liberties we ought to protect them from infringement even by means of the democratic process itself.
Advocate:Your view is often called a theory of limited democracy, in supposed contrast to unlimited democracy. But I think that contrast is misleading.
Critic: But if you don't believe in limiting the democratic process, then obviously you believe that democracy doesn't have any proper limits.
Advocate: I think that's a false contrast. The right to self-government through the democratic process is itself one of the most fundamental rights a person can possess.If any rights can be said to be inalienable, surely you'd agree that this must be among them. Consequently, any infringement of the right to self-government must necessarily violate a fundamental, inalienable right. But if people are entitled to govern themselves, then citizens are also entitled to all the rights that are necessary in order for them to govern themselves, that is, all the rights that we essential to the democratic process. On this reasoning, a set of basic political rights can be derived from one of the most fundamental of all the rights to which human beings are entitled; the right to self-government through the democratic process.
Critic: That has a very lofty sound to it, but a "right to self-government through the democratic process" is so general as to be meaningless. How can a right as general as that ever be enforced? I mean by a court of law, not by a revolution.
Advocate: Of course the "right to self-government" is general. It's a general moral right, not a specific right enforceable by a court of law. But that general moral right translates into an array of moral and legal rights, many of which are specific and legally enforceable.
- Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics (1989), Ch. 12 : Process and Substance
- Ascribing human brotherhood, social justice, world peace, self-sacrifice and compassion to Christianity and Islam is tantamount to proclaiming that the wolf is a votary of vegetarianism.
- Sita Ram Goel, Freedom of expression - Secular Theocracy Versus Liberal Democracy (1998)
- What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such … That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
- If the resistances in one direction are impossible to overcome, then the artist’s invention and powers of expression turn to a goal the way to which is not obstructed, and it is very unusual for him even to be aware of the fact that his achievement is a substitute for the real thing. 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. The different measure of freedom may be of the greatest importance for him personally but in principle there is no difference between the dictates of a despot and the conventions of even the most liberal social order. If force in itself were contrary to the spirit of art, perfect works of art could arise only in a state of complete anarchy. But in reality the presuppositions on which the aesthetic quality of a work depends lie beyond the alternative presented by political freedom and compulsion.
- Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Volume I. From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, 1999
- 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.
- An effective defense of the open society must begin with an empirically-minded account of its complex inner workings and its surpassing value. Liberal political order is humanity’s greatest achievement. That may sound like hype, but it’s the cold, hard truth. The liberal state, and the global traffic of goods, people, and ideas that it has enabled has led to the greatest era of peace in history, to new horizons of practical knowledge, health, wealth, longevity, and equality, and massive decline in desperate poverty and needless suffering. It’s clearer than ever that the multicultural, liberal-democratic, capitalist welfare state is far-and-away the best humanity has ever done.
- Will Wilkinson, "Revitalizing Liberalism in the Age of Brexit and Trump" (30 November 2016)