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Liberal Democracy vs Social Democracy Essay

The essay to follow will discuss what is meant by liberal democracy. The term will be defined and further discussed. In addition, it will be contrasted with that of a socialist democracy. This democratic system will be defined in political terms with reference to valid examples as too will liberal democracy.

The following essay is based on a contrast between liberal and socialist democracy from a political perspective. An analysis of the terms, concepts and the question will then follow. In addition, reference will be made to current examples such as that of the USA, Great Britain, and Chile as evidence for each type of democracy that is being examined. Furthermore, key issues that will be discussed in this paper consist of democracy as a whole, negative and positive freedom within a liberal democracy, and the failure of socialism in the third world. Furthermore this essay will prove that Sweden is not a socialist democracy.

In order to contrast liberal and socialist democracy one must first hold an understanding of what each term means. In order to go about understanding these terms, it is important to first understand what democracy. In simple terms, democracy can be defined as the rule of the people. A democracy is about the people who come together to decide on laws. And according to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863, democracy links government to the people as he stated that democracy is a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Heywood, 2014). Universal suffrage plays a role in deciding these laws. This term is understood as the right of almost all adults to vote in political elections. Depending on the country, there are different requirements which have to be fulfilled. In the Philippines, citizens have to be at least eighteen years of age, and have to have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the region wherein they wish to vote, for at least six months prior to the election (Castillo, 2011).

There is not always collective decision-making within every democracy. Zimbabwe for one claims to be a “democracy” based on the will of the people
with a leader who claims to a monopoly of ideological wisdom but there isn’t collective decision making. Whereas it really is a totalitarian democracy in which there is absolute dictatorship that pretends to be a democracy. Also here, which is a republic version of democracy, where you elect representatives to make decisions on your behalf.

The scope of a democracy defines what should fall under the sovereignty of life, and divides the liberals from the socialists. Heywood (2013) states that liberalism is “the ideology of the industrialized West”. By this Heywood means that liberalism is a classical ideology that supports social progression and the changing of laws through reform rather than through a revolution. The individual is the primary focus of liberalism, not of revolution. Consequently we can understand liberal democracy as a modern form of governance that denies that popular rule is the ultimate political rule. Leaders are elected by the collective to govern the entity on behalf of the community. In South Africa not all leaders declare voted for by the collective due to the fact that there are provisional elections that are only open to those citizens residing in that province, such as you could not vote in Cape Town if you live in Gauteng. But you choose to vote for an overall party during the elections based on the rule of the law and therefore the election is free and fair (Yufo, 2008).

Great Britain is an example of a state which has a liberal democracy even though it is also a monarchy (Evolution News, 2014). It is considered a laissez-faire liberalism in that the Government are free to do as they choose for up to 5 years before the next free and fair democratic election The British declaration political settlement of 1688 is evidence that Great Britain became the first liberal state in 1614. Another liberal democratic state is the United States of America according to the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 as freedoms such as that of thought, speech, association and religion are all basic liberties that take priority over popular rule (Gutmann, 1993). Liberal freedom within this democracy is a characteristic of negative freedom as individuals are equally free and protected from collective decisions. Negative freedom has no external constraints on the individual or the collective due to the freedoms
available to them and the fact that there is no interference in decision-making and a lack of forces which prevent individuals from doing as they please.

Although in South Africa, government has implemented the “Secrecy Bill”. This bill is somewhat a farewell to democracy, as the freedom of speech is no longer a right, as both citizens and the media have been censored by government. The purpose of the secrecy bill is to protect state information (SABC, 2013) and many people would argue that this silencing is due to the self-interest of politicians that are involved in activities such as corruption. Laws such as this contradict democratic freedoms such as that of speech. Positive freedom can be defined as having some control over your decisions. This is an autonomous state which gives you as the individual an education for example in order for you to reach your full potential. The government also provides grants and subsidies to assist individuals in achieving this potential. The formation of free and compulsory education, public health systems limit the freedom of the capitalists to exploit workers, but give worker the opportunity to develop as human beings. Positive freedom has been built up due to the struggle of the working class which in which the legislation limited the hours of work per day, per person and abolished child labor (Marxist, 2014). In the words of J.S Mill “the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way” and this is exactly what Liberal democracy aims at achieving as American and Great Britain citizens have individual and property rights which are both a principle of classical liberalism (Heywood, 2014, p32).

Socialist democracy in essence is a modern version of socialism. All these notions were integrated but there are small distinctions between them. Social democracy takes some of its principles from socialism such as free enterprise and the focus on societal framework. Whereas capitalism, private enterprise and maximization of life opportunities are more democracy than socialism. In theory South Africa is an example of democracy as the constitution states that RDP housing is provided by government (Rabbani, 1994), due to the fact that government provide grants and education in order to correct the ills of Apartheid. Socialism, by definition, is a system
marked by the “common ownership of the means of production (Legon, 2013).

Having said so, we can simply understand it is a democracy that uses socialist reforms in their referendum. It is pivotal to make this distinction between socialism and socialist democracy as they are not the same concept and often the two terms are confused. A social democracy is a government that uses democratic process but also consists of characteristics that resemble those of a socialist society as mentioned in the above. Social democrats generally are committed to acting for the common good. In a government that is a social democracy, the government plays an active role in regulating certain political and economic conditions (Jablonsky, 2014). A socialist democracy is a Marxist organisation which believes that the poverty and misery and the oppression and exploitation that marks their society is the result of control of the world’s wealth and productive resources by a tiny class that exploits the vast majority of society. This leads to humanity crippled by the reality and ideology of capitalist society.

In the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe socialist democracy is the dominant system. The trouble of the people in liberal democratic countries is not as wretched as it is in socialist countries, due to the fact that in communist countries, political and economic system are imposed on society by party officials therefore resulting in untold human suffering and severe psycho-economic exploitation. Both liberal democracy and socialist democracy may be considered forms of political democracy because these systems are based on economic and political centralization (Evolution news, 2014). Many would argue that socialism has failed and that the Cuban economy is a disaster and when Cuba found itself caught in disagreement therefore facing both the merciless US blockade and enduring the suspension of all trade with the former members of the socialist bloc–, leaders of the Cuban revolution told the people: “either we stand our ground or we lose everything we have achieved under socialism” (Legon, 2013).

This brings us to discuss the failure of socialist democracy in third world countries. This democracy promised prosperity, equality and security. Yet it is evident that it rather delivered poverty, misery and autocracy. Equality
was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery. Socialism is now a bankrupt, discredited, and flawed nineteenth century theory that has failed miserably in countries around the world (Perry, 2014).

We can agree that Socialism has collapsed because of its failure to operate under a competitive, profit- and-loss system of bookkeeping. A profit system is a very effective monitoring tool which frequently assesses the economic performance of every enterprise (Perry, 2014). The firms that are the most efficient and most successful at serving the public interest are rewarded with profits. Evidence of a socialist democracy can be seen in Chile as their changeover to democracy has still not been achieved. After a decade of non-combatant rule, the state remains under the military dictatorship’s 1980 constitution. According to the writings of Alejandro Reuss “The president has made sure to not aggravate the still-powerful Armed Forces. He has insisted that his relations with the Armed Forces are “excellent and that they can work together for Chile”. The Chilean Socialist leader Ricardo Lagos has declared that Chileans should stop worrying about the past, concentrating instead on their future together (Reuss, 2001). The above clearly proves that socialism has failed in the third world.

The question of whether Sweden is or is not a socialist democracy has risen many times before in the past within the left internationally, with regards to the politics and economy of the Nordic state or if Sweden is an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism (Olsson, 2009). Sweden has never been a socialist society as it is based merely on public ownership of production, workers’ control and management, social equality and a democratic plan of production which are characteristics of a socialist entity according to Olsson (2009). Neither has Sweden been a ‘mixed economy’. In fact it is one of the most well off country’s to date. It is evident that the social democrats and the trade union movement in Sweden are “facing a historic crisis as they have lost roots, influence and support, with no prospect of regaining their old ground as their policy and methods mean further attacks on what is left of the general welfare system. The social democratic party has become an empty shell” (Olsson, 2009) but that doesn’t change the fact that Sweden is not a socialist democracy.

In conclusion, there is a major contrast between liberal democracy and social democracy. Evidently a liberalist democracy is built on the foundations of organic social solidarity with private ownership of production, empirical (demonstrable, verifiable reasoning), scientific, reflective and constructivism. The pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all is a major view of liberal democracy. It considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed no better and no more efficient than others and wishes the abolition of all monopolies as well as the disappearance of classes and that there should be no more proletariats (Lesigne, 1887). Liberals wish to leave each in possession of its own and desires everybody to be a proprietor. The latter promises liberty and makes the State the employee of the citizen. Whereas socialist democracy is based on collective ownership of the means of production, political restrictions, and is dogmatic, meaning that the government is inclined to lay down principles as undeniably true as well as being destructive. Socialist democracy wishes for the governed class to become the governing class and that that there should be none but proletariats. The most obvious distinction is that socialist democracy wishes to take everything and all positions away from everyone and impound them (Lesigne, 1887). The greatest contrast between both democracies is that liberal democracy is the future, while socialist democracy is the past.

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