Sunday, October 11, 2020

Democracy, liberalism and populism

Democracy and liberalism are to different words; they have different meanings and pragmatic uses through history. One, democracy is ancient  and its birthplace is  classical Athens. Government of the poeple meant goverment by the male citizens only. And the citizen had no rights vis a vis the State. The State was sort of a despot. Aristotle was agaisnt that kind of democracy, because it could degenarate in the rule of a demagogue. Sort of what we call today a populist. No human or citizen's rights whatsoever. Nothing more different to our liberal democracies. The word liberalism is, in comparison, relatevily new. Starting with the French Revolutions that swiped away absolutism or enlightened rulers. And proclaimed the Rights of Man and the Citizen, to protect individuals from the abuses of an almighty State or monarch. It also swiped away all the privileges of the aristocracy  and enshrined the equality of every citizen in front of the law.


John Locke. It could be argued that concept of modern  liberal democracy rised with  his “The Second Essays on Civil Government” And in a certain way it did. During the French Revolution, moderates wanted to establish a Constitutional Monarchy in the style of the British one. Certainly that the contractual theory about the origins of societies was created by Locke and developed by Rousseau afterwards; yes...but the principles and the seed of modern liberal democracy was planted on European soil by the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic ones. The French soldier carried not only the baton of Marshal in his backpack, but also the Rights of Man and the Citizen.



 Republic is also another ancient word. Republic is a  form of government in which a state is ruled by representatives of the citizen body. Modern republics are founded on the idea that sovereignty rests with the people, though who is included and excluded from the category of the people has varied across history. Because citizens do not govern the state themselves but through representatives, republics may be distinguished from direct democracy, though modern representative democracies are by and large republics. The term republic may also be applied to any form of government in which the head of state is not a hereditary monarch. The Athenians had a direct democracy, the Agora could house almost all the citizens, but the first Republic was the Roman Republic, Despite its democratic implications, the term was claimed in the 20th century by states whose leadership enjoyed more power than most traditional monarchs, including military dictatorships such as the Republic of Chile under Augusto Pinochet and totalitarian regimes such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


  The Wars of Religion of Europe certainly had an economic, social and political background and causes; but religion was a main driver in those wars. The War of the Thirty Years began as a war of religion in 1618 with the Prague Defenestration, but during such war it became just a war of politics, with France making alliances with Ottoman Turkey. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 created the principle of the balance of power, principle that justified many wars to come. The war between France and Spain lingered for a couple of years more. .” American purpose says  declares.


“Today, there is a broad consensus that democracy is under attack or in retreat in many parts of the world. It is being contested not just by authoritarian states like China and Russia, but by populists who have been elected in many democracies that seemed secure.

The “democracy” under attack today is a shorthand for liberal democracy, and what is really under greatest threat is the liberal component of this pair. The democracy part refers to the accountability of those who hold political power through mechanisms like free and fair multiparty elections under universal adult franchise. The liberal part, by contrast, refers primarily to a rule of law that constrains the power of government and requires that even the most powerful actors in the system operate under the same general rules as ordinary citizens. Liberal democracies, in other words, have a constitutional system of checks and balances that limits the power of elected leaders.

Democracy itself is being challenged by authoritarian states like Russia and China that manipulate or dispense with free and fair elections. But the more insidious threat arises from populists within existing liberal democracies who are using the legitimacy they gain through their electoral mandates to challenge or undermine liberal institutions. Leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, India’s Narendra Modi, and Donald Trump in the United States have tried to undermine judicial independence by packing courts with political supporters, have openly broken laws, or have sought to delegitimize the press by labeling mainstream media as “enemies of the people.” They have tried to dismantle professional bureaucracies and to turn them into partisan instruments. It is no accident that Orbán puts himself forward as a proponent of “illiberal democracy”




Liberalism, the belief in freedom, equality, democracy and human rights, is historically associated with thinkers such as John Locke and Montesquieu. Constitutionally limiting the power of the monarch, affirming parliamentary supremacy, passing the Bill of Rights and establishing the principle of "consent of the governed". The 1776 Declaration of Independence of the United States founded the nascent republic on liberal principles without the encumbrance of hereditary aristocracy—the declaration stated that "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" echoing John Locke's phrase "life, liberty, and property". A few years later, the French Revolution overthrew the hereditary aristocracy, with the slogan "liberty, equality, fraternity" and was the first state in history to grant universal male suffrage. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, first codified in 1789 in France, is a foundational document of both liberalism and human rights. The intellectual progress of the Enlightenment, which questioned old traditions about societies and governments, eventually coalesced into powerful revolutionary movements that toppled what the French called the Ancien Régime, the belief in absolute monarchy and established religion, especially in Europe, Latin America and North America.


William Henry of Orange in the Glorious Revolution, Thomas Jefferson in the American Revolution and Lafayette in the French Revolution used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. Liberalism started to spread rapidly especially after the French Revolution. The 19th century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, South America and North America. In this period, the dominant ideological opponent of classical liberalism was conservatism, but liberalism later survived major ideological challenges from new opponents, such as fascism and communism. Liberal government often adopted the economic beliefs espoused by Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and others, which broadly emphasized the importance of free markets and laissez-faire governance, with a minimum of interference in trade.

During 19th and early 20th century in the Ottoman Empire and Middle East, liberalism influenced periods of reform such as the Tanzimat and Nahda and the rise of secularism, constitutionalism and nationalism. These changes, along with other factors, helped to create a sense of crisis within Islam which continues to this day—this led to Islamic revivalism. During the 20th century, liberal ideas spread even further as liberal democracies found themselves on the winning side in both world wars. In Europe and North America, the establishment of social liberalism (often called simply "liberalism" in the United States) became a key component in the expansion of the welfare states ] Today, liberal parties continue to wield power, control and influence throughout the world, but it still has challenges to overcome in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Later waves of modern liberal thought and struggle were strongly influenced by the need to expand civil rights. Liberals have advocated for gender equality, marriage equality and racial equality and a global social movement for civil rights in the 20th century achieved several objectives towards those goals.

John Stuart Mill contributed enormously to liberal thought by combining elements of classical liberalism with what eventually became known as the New Liberalism. Mill's 1859 “On Liberty” addressed the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. He gives an impassioned defence of free speech, arguing that free discourse is a necessary condition for intellectual and social progress. Mill defined social liberty as protection from "the tyranny of political rulers". He introduced a number of different concepts of the form tyranny can take, referred to as social tyranny and tyranny of the majority, respectively. Social liberty meant limits on the ruler's power through obtaining recognition of political liberties or rights and by the establishment of a system of constitutional checks.

Green's definition of liberty, influenced by Joseph Priestley and Josiah Warren, was that the individual ought to be free to do as he wishes unless he harms others. Mill was also an early proponent of feminism. In his article "The Subjection of Women" (1861, published 1869), Mill attempted to prove that the legal subjugation of women is wrong and that it should give way to perfect equality.


Although Mill's initial economic philosophy supported free markets and argued that progressive taxation penalised those who worked harder, he later altered his views toward a more socialist bent, adding chapters to his Principles of Political Economy in defence of a socialist outlook and defending some socialist causes, including the radical proposal that the whole wage system be abolished in favour of a co-operative wage system.




Populism, political program or movement that champions, or claims to champion, the common person, usually by favourable contrast with a real or perceived elite or establishment. Populism usually combines elements of the left and the right, opposing large business and financial interests but also frequently being hostile to established socialist and labour parties.


The term populism can designate either democratic or authoritarian movements. Populism is typically critical of political representation and anything that mediates the relation between the people and their leader or government. In its most democratic form, populism seeks to defend the interests and maximize the power of ordinary citizens, through reform rather than revolution. In the United States the term was applied to the program of the Populist Movement, which gave rise to the Populist, or People’s, Party in 1892. Many of the party’s demands were later adopted as laws or constitutional amendments (e.g., a progressive tax system). The populist demand for direct democracy through popular initiatives and referenda also become a reality in a number of U.S. states.


In its contemporary understanding, however, populism is most often associated with an authoritarian form of politics. Populist politics, following this definition, revolves around a charismatic leader who appeals to and claims to embody the will of the people in order to consolidate his own power. In this personalized form of politics, political parties lose their importance, and elections serve to confirm the leader’s authority rather than to reflect the different allegiances of the people. Some forms of authoritarian populism have been characterized by extreme nationalism, racism, conspiracy mongering, and scapegoating of marginalized groups, each of which served to consolidate the leader’s power, to distract public attention from the leader’s failures, or to conceal from the people the nature of the leader’s rule or the real causes of economic or social problems. In the second half of the 20th century, populism came to be identified with the political style and program of Latin American leaders such as Juan Perón, Getúlio Vargas, and Hugo Chávez. In the early 21st century, populist authoritarian regimes arose in Turkey, Poland, and Hungary, among other countries.


The term populist is often used pejoratively to criticize a politician for pandering to a people’s fear and enthusiasm. Depending on one’s view of populism, a populist economic program can therefore signify either a platform that promotes the interests of common citizens and the country as a whole or a platform that seeks to redistribute wealth to gain popularity, without regard to the consequences for the country such as inflation or debt.


What do Donald Trump, the late Hugo Chavez and Rodrigo Duterte have in common? Despite their differences, each man has been labelled a populist. Populism is on the rise - especially among Europe's right, and in the US, where it helped crown Mr Trump. Italy's populist Five Star Movement and anti-immigrant League parties have emerged as two major players in the latest elections - the most recent of several such results in Europe.


But there's a difference between being popular and being populist.


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