Liberal Democracy

Essay by emsharp April 2004

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The concept of 'democracy' was first conceived in Athens, Greece around 400bc. Democracy was the characteristic form of government in Athens, home to Socrates and Plato. We acknowledge that Plato had no high opinions regarding the much valued Athens democratic systems (the political systems that Socrates was put to death under), however, Socrates and Plato accept its unrivaled attractiveness and its acceptance of human rights and freedom, "Well, in the first place, the members of the community are autonomous(self-governed), aren't they? The community is informed by independence and freedom of speech, and everyone has the right to do as he chooses, doesn't he?......And given this right, then clearly every individual can make for himself the kind of life which suits him." (Plato Republic, Page 296, para 557a). These are Socrates' assumptions of the foundations of democratic states.

The democratic system was seldom used anywhere after Athens, until the late 18th century, around the time of John Locke.

Before looking at John Locke's contributions to liberal democracy, we will clarify the meaning of the word 'democracy'. Democracy derives from the Greek words 'demos', meaning the people and 'kratos' meaning authority.

Democracy can be divided into two separate categories, direct democracy and representative democracy. In a direct democracy all people in society have the power to make decisions and create laws. Direct democracy gives all people the right to participate regardless of social group, i.e. religion, gender etc. It is fine in theory, however if we take a country the size of America which has an approximate population of 200 million, then how could American citizens who wanted to participate in politics, possibly meet together? How many people have the time to commit themselves fully to participating in political meetings? How many people fully understand the issues being discussed whether local or...