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The Theory of Liberal Democracy The principles of liberal democracy as we understand them today grew out of the bourgeois

critique of autocracy in early modern Europe, beginning in the sixteenth century and culminating in the French Revolution 1789 with its slogan of Liberty, Egality, Fraternity. In the political structures of autocratic societies, such as those typical of the absolutist monarchies of European feudalism, power resided in the king or queen, whose right to rule was divinely ordained by God. Subordinate classes---the peasantry and artisans---were subject to divine order, lacking political rights of any kind. Even the aristocracy lording it over the lower classes in society, owed unquestioning allegiance to the monarch. The institutions of state were directed primarily to the maintenance of this hierarchical system, and to the suppression of dissent, from wherever it came. The emergence of the bourgeoise (or capitalist class) as the dominant Economic force in Europe and America required the overthrow of autocracy and its monopolization of political power. For capitalism to develop freely there had to be freedom of thought and action for those with entrepreneurial skills and the wealth to use them. There had, therefore, to be freedom from the arbitrariness of absolute power, an end to the ideology of divine right, and recognition of the status of capital, earned in the marketplace rather than inherited. Consequently, bourgeois philosophers such as Locke and Milton worked out a critique of autocratic power, replacing it with a theory of representative democracy and individual; or citizenship rights, which reflected in the ideological sphere the realities of bourgeois economic and political power. Voting rights were introduced, gradually extending to wider and wider sections of the populations, through such means as the British Reform Act of 1832. Constituent assemblies---such as the British House of Commons---were erected, and constitutional constraints on the abuse of political power put in place. The main concern of liberal democratic theory was thus to grant individuals civil liberties against the incursion of the state. For the bourgeoise, rejecting the principle of divine ordination, the extension of citizenship rights was also a necessary stage in the legitimation of its own political power, as the dominant class of a new type of social information. By formally requesting the consent of all citizens elected political leaders had the right to demand respect and loyalty even from those who had not voted for them. Equally, citizens had the right to dissent from the prevailing political wisdom, and to expect that they would be able to express their views at the ballot box at agreed intervals. The citizens right to choose presupposed the availability of alternatives from which meaningful selection could be made, and a rational, knowledgeable electorate capable of exercising its rights. Democracy was real, in other words, only when it involved the participation of an informed, rational electorate. For Italian political sociologist Norberto Bobbio, liberal democracy assumes that citizens, once they are entrusted with the right to choose who governs them, are sufficiently well-informed to vote for the wisest, the most honest, the most enlightened of their fellow citizens. Drawing these strands together, we can identify the defining characteristics of a democratic regime in the following terms: constitutionality, participation and rational choice.

Constitutionality First, there must be an agreed set of procedures and rules governing the conduct of elections, the behavior of those who win them and the legitimate activities of dissenters. Such rules will typically take the form of constitution (although some countries, like Britain, do not have a written constitution) or a bill of rights. Participation second, those who participate in the democratic process must comprise what Bobbio terms a substantial proportion of the people. In the early democratic period, as we have noted, citizenship rights were restricted to a small minority of the population---men with property and/or formal education. For John Stuart Mill, one of the great early theorists of liberal democracy, only this guaranteed the rational, informed electorate demanded by democracy. In reality, of course, this retriction merely demonstrated the close relationship between democracy and the rise of the bourgeoisie. Gradually, voting rights were extended to the lower classes and, by the early tweetieth century, to women. In the US, only in the 1950s were blacks able to vote. Conversely, societies which deprived the majority of their people of voting rights, such as South Africa until the elections of April 1994, have rightly been viewed as undemocratic. Rational Choice A third condition of democracy, as already noted, is the availability of choice ( Democrat versus Republican, Labour versus Coservative, Christian Democrat versus Social Democrat), while a fourth is the ability of citizens to exercise that choice rationally. This inturn presupposes a knowledgeable, educated citizenry.