Notes on the liberal and populist views of democracy

This is what I reflected upon after reading William Riker’s Liberalism against Populism Chapter 1.

The theory of social choice states why people form organizations. The theory of democracy, on the other hand, tells a story of how ordinary politics can realize the ideals of self-control and self-dignity (suggested by Plato).

The three elements of democracy — participation, liberty, and equality — are realized through the means of voting. Popular participation in decision-making process is needed to realize the benefits of the mass but not a limited number of individuals. Liberty and equality guarantees that popular participation yields the best choice for the society.

The liberal view and the populist view of democracy differs in their perceptions of the effect of voting. From the liberal view, voting is just a decision process and does not necessarily mean the officials elected will perform well to maximize the welfare of the society. Therefore, limited tenure and the shift in majority prevents tyranny. From the populist view, however, voting selects the government which represents the “general will” (by Rousseau) of the people and thus cannot oppress. The officials should carry out the rules made by the people and should be respected.

The populist view is true in emphasizing the importance of the common interest of the people. However, it is essentially taking the majority decision as morally correct and indisputable. This argument can be quite powerful, as is demonstrated by Adolf Hitler. The liberal view also has flaws: it attaches little importance to the voting decisions and weakens the government’s role as a representative of people’s will.

I will contemplate on related political and social issues to gain further understanding on this deep topic.


4 thoughts on “Notes on the liberal and populist views of democracy

    • Yes I’m taking a course called “State, Law, and the Economy”. The concepts are interesting yet deep, so I am trying to understand it better through reading and relating them to current affairs.

  1. oh do you discuss property right and something related in this course, right? perhaps you can share the knowledge with me sometime when you become an expert on that:)

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