Democracy & Liberty

Today, democracy is one political system whose legitimacy goes unquestioned. The rhetoric and rituals of democracy defines the framework of the present world order. From its Greek root, ‘democracy’ means ‘the rule of the people.’ Hence more democracy should necessarily imply more power to the people and more freedom. But does it? While it is true to say that democracy over the last 100 years has gone from being a form of government to a way of life, it is equally true to say that democracy, more and more has come to represent nothing more than the process by which a government is formed.  
Democracy has been reduced to most part a process of free and fair elections. This in itself has given birth to the tension between democracy and freedom. The American diplomat Richard Holbrooke while describing about Yugoslavia in 1990s stated “suppose elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists……that is the dilemma.” Indeed it is a dilemma around the world today where the process of free and fair elections have produced and re-elected governments that have deprived their citizens of basic rights. In some places, elections have even paved the way for dictatorships. Indeed the gap between democracy and liberty could not have been more, in such oppressive situations.
If a country holds competitive, multiparty elections, it is called “democratic.” But really it needs to go beyond this minimal requirement to label a country democratic. A government produced by free and fair elections may turn out to be inefficient, corrupt, irresponsible, shortsighted, and even incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public. While such a government may be detrimental, they do not make them undemocratic. Democracy therefore cannot be considered as the one and only public virtue. Democracy as a process must be related to other public virtues that makes a shared humanity possible. If today’s scholars widely accepts democracy as a process of selecting a government, it must ensure that such a process is inherently related to other public virtues such a justice, freedom and liberty.
Hence democracy as a process of free and fair elections cannot be left unrestricted. Fareed Zakaria says it is “by restricting our democracy, we enhance our freedom and calls for restoration of the balance between liberty and democracy.” It is imperative therefore for a truly democratic government to guarantee social, political, economic, cultural and religious rights which are contextually relevant and consistent within the broader ambits of universal rights. Democracy cannot just be about the procedures for selecting a government; it must reflect the goals of the government; and the approaches it takes in realizing them. Today it is important to turn our question to why today ‘democracy is flourishing; liberty is not.’