To what extent is Liberalism compatible with democracy? Democracy played an important role in civilisation at the end of the 19th and early 20th century in terms of the liberation of the masses. In the modern world, Liberalism is seen to be merged with democracy but some disagree with this view. It can be argued that democracy is incompatible with liberalism which has been stated by philosophers such as Rousseau and Mill. It can be argued that Liberalism and Democracy can work together thorough democracy ensuring legitimacy and consent.
An example of this is the social contract, a main Liberal belief that individuals hypothetically agree to hand over their natural rights in order to preserve themselves and remain free from the chaos of the state of nature. John Locke stated "whenever law ends tyranny begins". Through natural rights being sacrificed it provides the state power to maintain law and order and to protect the individual's rights. The social contract also leads to constitutionalism which preserves the freedom of the majority and guarantees stability, through the mass ruling and therefore less chance of a rebellion.
This shows that democracy is compatible with liberalism through the element of consent and legitimacy. Another argument that can be made is that it is the best way of reconciling interest groups. Interest groups can be mediated in a way that promotes social harmony through avoiding conflict. Liberals support pluralism which is needed in society for different views and opinions to be expressed for example socialism, liberalism and conservatism.
It allows the individual the freedom of choice, to pursue their interests resulting in less conflict through the acceptance of pluralism. Democracy ensures pluralism can flourish and Voltaire once stated "I may despise what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it. " A third argument is that one definition of democracy is rule by the people which is an important belief of liberals who encourage political participation. There is a civic responsibility to educate individuals their rights and obligations.
This therefore leads to individual self-development (positive freedom) through people being better educated and having greater awareness; individuals see themselves as part of society. J S Mill was quoted he would rather be a "Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. " Enhancing civil liberties gives the individual greater interest through becoming more conscious of their position in the state and an example of this is the 90 day detention. Through self-development, it promotes toleration and diversity through a greater number taking part in political matters and contributing to how the state is ran.
The fourth argument is that it provides balances between the elite rule and participation. Liberals do not claim that everyone is equal but modern Liberals believe in equal opportunity. This is why they believe in meritocracy, where the individuals with the mental capacity are making the decisions. This links to representative democracy where the MP with the ability to handle the task is elected by the people. J S Mill believed in a qualified voting system that would allow the elite to have a greater influence.
It would allow those with a higher intelligence levels to have a vote that would count as two compared to an average intellectual individual whose vote would count as one, allowing confidence and stability on society evolving. Representative democracy though makes the elite accountable through regular elections but they do have the power so they don't have to ponder to the majority's view. However there are some that would argue that Liberalism is incompatible with democracy.
One argument could be that democracy undermines the individual through the tendency towards collectivism. Liberalism is for individualism which is why collectivism is opposed. Democracy takes into account all views and ignores the individuals which shows that democracy can't be compatible with Liberalism. Collectivism ties in with Rousseau's theory that the state should carry out the desires or interests of people as a whole. This leads on the majoritarianism, the belief that the majority should rule over the minority, "tyranny of the majority" said by De Toqueville.
Therefore through the democratic system, those that are the minority who want differently to the majority will always loose out and the example of this is the FPTP system. Another argument is that democracy generates a growing state intervention. Democracy means everyone having a say and therefore sum may want a more bureaucratic government that interferes in civil society. It can also lead to interference with the economy which classical Liberals oppose by wanting a free market through naturally promoting prosperity and well-being.
Classical Liberals believe when the economy is suffering, it will adjust itself with the "invisible hand" said by Adam Smith. It is also thought that democracy will result in dangerously powerful individuals rising from democracy through a majority becoming overpowering with their beliefs; like Lord Acton said "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. " The third argument is that democracy assumes the idea of substantive equality. Liberals believe that everyone should have the same equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome.
They believe in meritocracy through those with greater knowledge able to make the best decision for the whole of society but democracy does not promote this. Democracy assumes all people are equally capable of decision making and which is why every individuals vote counts as one. It is thought by some Liberals that the uneducated have sufficient understanding and therefore can be easily manipulated by things like the media. This therefore results in society not benefiting through beliefs that can be discriminating or sexist being accountable through democracy.
This is one reason why J S Mill suggested the qualified voting system. There are two Liberals, Classical and Modern which both fit in with democracy in different ways. Modern Liberals embrace democracy as conductive to personal development and true equality of opportunity whereas Classical does not as much. Liberals believe in a specific kind of democracy, liberal democracy, a believe in a limited government and the ideal for popular consent. Liberals reject having less pluralism and more participation forms of democracy through being to dangerous.