Populist Democracy and Liberal Democracy Traditions
In the recent past, events within the global political landscape have been responsible for shaping democracy and the subsequent emergence of modern traditions of democracy. This new reality is largely responsible for the predominant perception of each of these versions of democracy as political systems with highly competitive multi-party systems (Esping-Andersen, 2017). However, modern traditions of democracy now incorporate new conceptions such as administrative intervention, popular sovereignty, and practices of government. Today, the most popular of these traditions include the Populist Democracy, Liberal Democracy, and Social Democracy. This discussion will center primarily on Populist Democracy and Liberal Democracy, in addition to providing a comprehensive comparison of their respective strengths and weaknesses.
A populist democracy tradition is an ideology based on the idea that free association is a fundamental right of each citizen as a foundation for free electoral processes and freedom of political expression. In this tradition, citizens hold the power; among one of the primary reasons why it is regarded as a form of government “by the people”. Furthermore, citizens are often regarded as a force for good based on the idea that they have the interests of the majority at heart as opposed to the elite. The idea underpinning the populist democracy framework is that the majority are better placed to hold power since they are less likely to place their interests above those championed by the majority.
In particular, populist democracies are normally in direct conflict with illegal immigrants, multinational corporations, and opposing nation states often viewed as being self-seeking. Populist democracies have also been hailed and presented globally as a form of popular engagement meant to boost citizen’s participation in making valuable political choices. This is meant to emancipate historically marginalized social forces while also benefitting the majority through the presence of multiple centers of power. Formal political authority is, therefore, placed squarely in the hands of the public who may also choose to subscribe to electoral coalitions. It is, therefore, crucial to also consider the strengths and weaknesses of populist democracy tradition.
Populist Democracy Strengths
A major strength of the populist democracy tradition is its recognition of the importance of diversity and the inclusion of marginalized segments of society within the larger political process. This creates a system where citizens can freely associate and clamor for the inclusion of different groups within the prevailing leadership framework. As a consequence, each of the participants represents a specific segment of the population which guarantees the involvement of each of these groups in the political process. The populist democracy tradition also provides interest groups with a unique opportunity to advocate for citizen’s rights, particularly the majority, while highlighting the actual importance of the involvement of professional associations and social institutions in political process. In the long run, each of these institutions is empowered to take on the role as ambassadors of the populist democracy tradition which contributes greatly to the distribution of political power.
The populist democracy tradition is also an instrument of political growth and maturity. It, therefore, draws its strength from the ability to encourage marginalized groups to actively participate in the decision-making process and routinely maintaining key primary interests. The political framework established by the populist democracy tradition also provides a degree of stability and faith in the political system and its ability to benefit the citizens in the long run. Whenever conflict emerges, individuals holding power bequeathed upon them by the populist democracy tradition also play an active role in mediation and ultimately paving the way for a system of checks-and-balances. This is essential as a practical solution to preventing authoritarian tendencies such as those witnessed in Italy under Benito Mussolini and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) under Josef Stalin.
A populist democracy is also stable and guarantees true representation of the entire cross-section of society as part of their political involvement. According to Moffitt (2017), citizens who feel heard and included in the political process are more inclined to participate in political matters and make a difference in their societies. Given that political power rests in citizen’s hands in populist democracy, they are more likely to have faith in the electoral process and actively participate in the electoral process. Moreover, it is a true representative of the people since it aspires to convey their wishes and address pertinent issues such as the state of the economy and healthcare which are directly tied to their overall wellbeing. The widespread application of this system also reduces incidences of corruption since individuals elected to occupy any given political are obligated to deliver on promises made to the public and held accountable.
Populist Democracy Weaknesses
One of the main weaknesses of the populist democracy is its inability to acknowledge inequality as a contemporary reality among modern societies. By ignoring this reality, proponents of this school of thought are essentially blindsided from the fact that certain groups are more dominant than others. Within this framework, less influential groups can be overshadowed and controlled by dominant groups; making it quite challenging to ascertain whether they represent the interests of the majority of personal interest. Furthermore, governments operating within the context of a populist democracy routinely fail to practice partiality and often side with dominant groups when mediating conflict. This response is often designed to avoid direct confrontation with the dominant group due to the influence wielded.
Besides, implementing the populist democracy tradition and ideology is challenging given the difficulty presented by the very act of dispersing political power and the idea of the “empirical” nature of democracy. This is likely to create a sense of confusion within the political establishment and poor coordination. As a consequence, nations that choose to subscribe to the populist democracy tradition may frequently grapple with inefficiency especially in cases involving political bias. This makes it impractical, especially when seeking to implement it on a larger scale, and may ultimately prove to be a slow and time-consuming process. Minorities ultimately find themselves in a situation where they have no say in the political process and unable to participate in the decision-making process or present pertinent issues that are part of their interests. Additionally, it is makes the erroneous assumption that all citizens are literate, capable, and with the educational qualifications to make the right decisions.
The liberal democracy tradition is a political ideology grounded in liberalism as the defining principles of representative democracy. Within this particular context, dissimilar political parties compete against each other in a free and fair electoral process in a society where the rule of law and a system of checks and balances takes precedence (Held, 2006). Liberal democracies are known for promoting the separation of powers in structures of government, universal suffrage, property rights, and the freedom to choose ones gender and religion. The implementation liberal democracy tradition in Western countries such as the United States and Britain is an ongoing process given that its basic defining principles are yet to be fully given the complexities of contemporary society.
Liberal Democracy Strengths
Liberal democracies offer stability given that the tradition is steeped in strict adherence to the rule of law and structure. For instance, the federal government adheres strictly to the constitution and expects the same of all political actors. Those who fail to follow and adhere to these tenets and relevant status risk being removed from elective posts given for failing to abide by the basic principles of liberal democracies. Within this same structure, minorities and individuals living in the fringes of mainstream society are also protected by law. The 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriages was a recent display of the strength and capabilities of liberal democracy as a protector of the inalienable rights and freedoms of marginalized groups in society.
The liberal democracy tradition also provides a sense of collective security and promotes the idea of minimal state intervention in citizen’s lives. Liberal democracies are, therefore, preoccupied with citizen’s wellbeing and are on the lookout for statutes that may infringe upon their rights. In this sense, the idea of individual liberties takes root and creates a society characterized by a wide range of freedoms to promote their overall wellbeing. Ultimately, they end up participating in the electoral and political processes because they do not feel repressed or discriminated from any sector (Kriesi, 2015). Societies that follow the liberal democracy model, such as the United States, are thus unlikely to be gripped by social unrest or anarchy given the harmonious foundation set by liberal democracy. The government ultimately focuses on state centralization through programs such as poverty eradication in inner-city communities.
Liberal Democracy Weaknesses
One of the main vulnerabilities of the liberal democracy tradition is its short-term focus and the presence of bureaucracy in the management of state affairs. Liberal democracies are malleable and provide numerous opportunities to legislators and policymakers to institute changes in government. Some of these changes may be deemed unnecessary and impulsive, especially given that elections will be held again in a given span of time. This trend promotes short-term focus based on the interest of a coalition or political partly, which may be contrary to wishes espoused by the majority.
Furthermore, liberal democracies also promote bureaucracy in the form of new laws to support new perspectives while also constricting personal liberties. This may breed an ideal environment for the abuse of power and dictatorship. Liberal democracies may also fail to serve the interests of all parties by adhering to “majoritarianism” (McGinnis, 2012). In this scenario, the rights and freedoms of minorities rarely take center stage such as scenarios where minorities are forcefully conscripted and the legalization of psychoactive drugs. Minorities are ultimately left with no other choice than to embrace proposed changes even when they go against their personal values.
From the evaluation above, it is clear that both the Populist Democracy and Liberal Democracy traditions have explicit strengths and weakness. However, I would prefer living in a nation that follows a liberal democracy tradition. Such nations would likely put the interest of their citizens above those presented by leading political parties. Societies steeped in liberal democracy, such as the United States, are also stable and provide an ideal environment to pursue set objectives with minimal government intervention.