Liberal Democracy for Freedom
Strictly speaking, democracy is not one of liberalism’s core values, but adding them up, democracy becomes the only political system under which these values can really exist. To be more precise: liberals believe that it is liberal democracy, not a ‘one-party democracy’ and not a ‘people’s democracy’ that is needed. It is not enough for a liberal democracy simply to have regular elections, if there is only one party to choose from, or if a majority votes a government into power that promises to kill all members of a certain group or class, or if not all citizens above a certain age are allowed to vote. A liberal democracy demands free and fair elections, which are held regularly and in which all citizens (usually 18 years or older) are allowed to vote – but in addition, it requires all the core values described here: the commitment to fundamental human rights, equality, rule of law, individual freedom and private property and a free market.
Another important part of a liberal democracy is what is called ‘separation of powers’. That means that there is one body that has the power to make the laws (parliament), another body that has the power to implement those laws (the government or the ‘executive’) and a third body (the courts) that has the power to judge disputes and disagreements that may come from these laws. Liberals believe that these powers should not all be in the same hands, because that can very easily lead to abuse of power and to corruption. By keeping these powers separate, all these bodies (parliament, the executive, the courts) check and balance each other.
There are other liberal values that are also very, very important, such as the right to hold private property or the right to free economic activity. In addition, in the South African liberal tradition, compassion is a liberal value. Many liberals believe that these and other values follow automatically from the belief in fundamental human rights and individual freedom.
Unlike some other political belief systems, liberalism does not pretend to be ‘scientific’ and that one can measure how ‘pure’ a liberal is. Liberalism is a very dynamic, adaptable and pragmatic belief offering solutions for today’s problems. Liberal democracy is the best guarantee invented against abuse of power and the corruption that goes with that.