Saturday, February 26, 2011

Essay on Liberty and Democracy

Essay on Liberty and Democracy

"Democratic peace", as was first introduced by Kant, is the theory that no two democratic countries have gone to war with each other (Zakaria 1997, 36). However, Fareed Zakaria argues that "…the democratic peace is actually the liberal peace…" (1997, 36). In the following paper, I will to present the philosophies of several political scientists in order to help give a strong argument that supports this distinction of terms. First, a differentiation must be made of the words, democracy and liberty.

Often, the term "democracy" is defined by Joseph Schumpeter’s definition. He stated that democracy was "simply a political method, a mechanism for choosing political leadership" (Sorensen 1993, 9). From this very fundamental definition, new variations have evolved through interpretation by different people.

Liberty, on the other hand, is often defined as the basic freedoms granted to humans by nature. When used in context of the political world, often the line of distinction between the two terms becomes blurred, and as each individual interprets the words, the scope of meaning for each increases.

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I now turn to the philosophies of three major political scientists, along with Zakaria, to help further define “democracy” and “liberty” and to show how they relate to the original question of democratic peace versus liberal peace.

Political scientists, Dahl, Huntington and Sorensen, share a common interpretation of the word, “democracy.” All three scientists reserve use of this term to describe an “idealized” democratic nation. This “ideal” democracy includes the practice of democracy (elections) and liberty (the preservation of freedoms).

When one speaks of a democratic nation, one can place the nation upon a spectrum. On one end, one finds just democracy (elections), or an illiberal democracy, as Zakaria calls such nations. One historical example of such a democracy is Kenya’s government while under President Moi. On the other end, one finds complete integration of democracy (elections) and liberty. This type of democracy is sometimes called the “ideal” or “true” democracy. In between, one encounters governments with varying levels of liberalism.

For Dahl, Huntington and Sorensen, “democracy” actually encompasses the ideals of election and individual freedoms. Even though they differ slightly in how they integrate democracy (elections) with liberty, this basic ideal of a government based upon elections of its leaders along with the preservation of liberties is a common thread that joins them.

However, Zakaria, the fourth political scientist, takes a slightly different view. Zakaria sticks closer to Schumpeter’s definition and clearly separates democracy from liberalism. By Zakaria’s definition, democracy is a term linked to the idea of a government that allows all the citizens of its nation to actively participate in the selection of their leaders. On the other hand, liberty, as Zakaria states, is about a government’s goals (1997, 25). A government that defends and upholds an individual’s natural or “inalienable” rights is one centered on liberalism. These natural or “inalienable” rights include the freedom of free speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to one’s own religion, etc.

As Zakaria stated in his essay, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” the term democracy, when used in context of the Western nations, has truly meant liberal democracy. A liberal democracy has two clear characteristics: a government based upon the fair election of its leaders (democracy) and “a political system marked…by the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property (liberty)” (Zakaria 1997, 22).

In governments that do not completely embrace the notion of civil liberty, a potential for civil unrest and possible war exists. If the government does not uphold basic human rights, it matters very little if the leaders are or are not elected into office. The end results are the same. Many times oppressed people will eventually rise against the leadership in hopes of gaining freedom. Even within the US, one can find examples of oppressed people rising to gain more freedom. One such example is that of the woman’s battle for suffrage at the turn of the century.

With this understanding, one can find validity in Zakaria’s statement about liberal peace. Within nations that practice liberalism there lies a foundation of freedoms that allows each of its citizens to feel safe and cared for by his nation. These freedoms also symbolize the common goals that unite liberal governments, allowing them to work with one another without having to resort to physical means of manipulation and coercion.

As I pointed out before, Dahl, Huntington and Sorensen share a common philosophy or belief of what “democracy” means. However, a closer look of the individuals may give more insight into how their beliefs parallel or digress from Zakaria’s.

Dahl clearly states that “democracy,” in his mind, describes an idealized world where democracy (elections) and liberalism coexists in one nation, an epitome of what a liberal democracy should be. Thus, in relation to the imperfect, real world, he describes different liberal democratic governments as polyarchys.

In his book, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, Dahl clearly outlines those factors that are important to polyarchy. First, he states that there are “classic liberal freedoms” which are crucial to public participation in government (Dahl 1971, 20). Such freedoms include the right to oppose the government and form groups, the freedom of free speech and fair vote, etc. (Dahl 1971, 20). This clearly indicates a practice of liberalism. The second and third factors focus on increases in political competition and public participation. The last important factor he gives is the idea that with the increase of liberalism, more opportunities form, thus leading to an increase in the variety and number of interests that would be represented in policy making.

One can clearly see that Dahl’s view of “democracy” is one that combines democracy (elections) with liberalism. When trying to apply Dahl’s idea of democracy to Zakaria’s statement of peace, there arises a question of possible separation of democracy from liberalism, a key to Zakaria’s statement. However, Dahl does introduce the idea of a political democracy, separate from democracy in terms of elections, which is “sometimes referred to as a liberal democracy because of its focus on the form of government” (Sorensen 1993, 12). Making this distinction between democracy and political democracy seemingly separates the different ideals of liberty and democracy.

The next scientist, Huntington, followed Dahl in that he, too, “created” an ideal democracy. Instead of calling his idealized democratic nation a democracy, he calls it a “true” democracy. He states that democracy, when in reference to elections, is a very minimal definition and that “Elections, open, free, and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non” (1991, 9). By including the word “free” one can assume that Huntington is implying that a certain amount of political liberties, such as the freedom to free speech and form groups, are essential to democracy. With such a statement, it becomes more evident that Huntington does not really separate democracy (elections) from liberty. He then continues to present his opinion by making several points while defining democracy.

His fourth point was in reference to treating democracy and nondemocracy as a dichotomous or continuous variable. He chose to treat them as a dichotomous variable and this may be where the weakness in his argument lies. By choosing them to be dichotomous variables, he looses many of the subtleties that are so important in separating different governments. By trying to divide governments into two distinct categories, his definition may loose value as it is applied to a situation that does not seem to fit his criterion.

Though it may seem as if Huntington opposes Zakaria’s statement, one must look at Huntington’s weakness and judge if that weakness allows for Zakaria’s statement to still stand as true.

Before discussing a problem posed in Zakaria’s argument, I finally turn to Sorensen. In Sorensen’s view, Schumpeter’s definition of democracy is very narrow in scope. Sorensen labels this type of government as a political system. On the other hand, he states that liberal democracy, or democratic autonomy, encompasses a wider view of democracy. This type of government, in Sorensen’s opinion, could be correctly labeled as a social, economic and political system, thus integrating liberalism with democracy.

Like Dahl, Sorensen views the ideal democracy as one that practices both democracy (elections) and liberalism and labels democracy in the real world as political democracy. He gives in his book, Democracy and Democratization, three main requirements or elements that are needed to have a political democracy: “competition, participation and civil and political liberties” (1993, 12). Once again, we see a combination of liberalism and democracy (election).

Also in his book, Sorensen presents two routes to democracy (or political democracy): 1. An increase in competition or liberalization (the “extent to which rights and liberties are available to at least some members of the political system”) and 2. An increase in participation or inclusiveness (“the proportion of citizens who enjoy political rights and liberties”) (1993, 12-13). This idea clearly differentiates between democracy and liberalism, supporting Zakaria’s argument of separation of terms.

It is clear that each of these three authors present similar but varying definitions of democracy. In one aspect, one can say that they argue against Zakaria’s point of democratic versus liberal peace. Using their “real” world or “ideal” world definitions, it is evident that they support the idea that it is democratic peace of which Kant was speaking. All three, especially Huntington, clearly state how they felt that liberty was almost a virtue of democracy, thus connecting the two ideas. However, looking at a deeper level, it is also evident that all three initially distinguish between democracy (elections) and liberty. From this point each scientist expands upon the idea of democracy by incorporating liberalism with democracy (elections) and names these new definitions of democracy polyarchy (Dahl) and political democracy (Huntington and Sorensen). Thus, one could argue that the underlying philosophies are similar while the usage of terms differs. Thus, by one way of thought, they actually support Zakaria’s argument for liberal peace.
Finally, I would like to turn to an argument against Zakaria voiced by John Shattuck and F. Brian Atwood in their essay, “Defending Democracy: Why Democrats Trump Autocrats.” They state that “he (Zakaria) downplays the political repression of seemingly benevolent autocratic regimes” (1998, 167). They argue that the liberal autocracies that Zakaria refers to only appear to be liberal as compared to the totalitarian governments that previously help power in the countries (1998, 169). Others with the similar view question how fairly an autocracy could grant its people liberties without having to give up some of the power associated with an autocracy. Thus, these people would argue that a country moving toward democracy in respect to open elections is a country more likely to move to a liberal democracy (one that also upholds liberty) and peace within the nation.

I would argue that to bring liberal democracy and peace to country, there must lie at the foundation of the government, satisfaction and happiness of the people. Regardless of how this comes to be, it is the most important aspect in insuring peace. If a leader of an autocracy rules with the concern of the good of the people always at the basis of all decisions, then I believe that such rule will more likely lead to peace then a democratizing nation where the leader perhaps has only self-promoting interests in mind. Such a corrupt government could easily fall into an authoritarian rule if the leader begins to suppress rights, especially the right to vote, to keep in power. This fall out of democracy could lead toward conflict and unrest. One can observe that such situations occurred during the reverse of the first wave of democracy in the world (Huntington 1991, 17).

The term “democracy” alone is difficult to define. Applied to the political world, it becomes more obscure and indefinite. Each political scientist defines the word upon his own personal experiences and beliefs. However, by taking the word and critically analyzing it, one can begin to understand each variation of the definition and formulate one of one’s own. With this paper’s analysis of the world “democracy,” I have proven that “democracy” in its “pure” form takes on the definition given by Schumpeter (a method of choosing or electing a government).

Though the three philosophers I presented may differ in their definitions of democracy, I believe that it was evident that liberalism (liberty) is key to the growth of a liberal democracy and the increase of peace within a nation. With this insight, one can reread Zakaria’s statement that “the democratic peace is actually the liberal peace” and fully understand his viewpoint, and it also becomes clear that “democracy” has now taken a new, clearly defined meaning.

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