TOPIC THREE: The Merits of Liberal Democracy - Essay Prowess

TOPIC THREE: The Merits of Liberal Democracy

ENGLISH COMPOSITION II

Essay Examination Prompts

Directions:

Read both the introduction and articles listed below it, and then write an approximately five-hundred-word essay in which you respond to the prompt in the form of an argument supported by properly cited references to the sources. Please be advised that you must refer to at least TWO sources at least ONCE EACH to pass.

TOPIC THREE: The Merits of Liberal Democracy

Introduction: For most of human history, nations and civilizations were ruled by emperors, kings, dictators, and other illiberal and despotic leaders; however, this changed in the early 20th century. During his address to the United States Congress in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Many agreed, and since the end of the First World War in 1918, liberal democracy has been championed as the ideal system of government. Liberal democracy may take different forms such as a constitutional monarchy, a republic, a parliamentary system, or a presidential or semi-presidential system; but regardless of its form, this system of government remains dedicated to the principles of classical liberalism and is characterized by “elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, a market economy with private property, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people” (Wikipedia). Although some countries outside of the West have adopted liberal democratic systems of government, liberal democracy is nevertheless a largely Western phenomenon, and many attribute the stability and prosperity of Western countries as well as the freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of those countries to their liberal democratic governments. Faith in liberal democracy is so great, especially in the United States, that President Barack Obama has even claimed that it has “been proven to be the most stable and successful form of government.” However, liberal democracy also has many critics.

Liberal democracy has long been condemned as a volatile system that promotes short-term opportunism and takes advantage of voter ignorance. Many have also accused the liberal democratic system — a system that is based on “rule by the people” — of being an illusion in which citizens are manipulated and public consensus is manufactured by unseen forces. The “radical traditionalist” and philosopher Julius Evola attacked democracy’s universal suffrage, describing it as an absurd system “in which one vote is the equal of any other, in which the vote of a great thinker, a prince of the Church, an eminent jurist or sociologist, the commander of an army, and so on has the same weight, measured by counting votes, as the vote of an illiterate butcher’s boy, a halfwit, or the ordinary man in the street who allows himself to be influenced in public meetings, or who votes for whoever pays him.” The leader of the Bolshevik communist party Vladimir Lenin also derided democracy, calling it a system in which “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.” However, criticism of liberal democracy did not just come from those on the political fringes. The American journalist H. L. Mencken scathingly defined democracy as the “pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance,” though an even more sober criticism of democracy came from John Adams, the second President of the United States and one of the country’s Founding Fathers.  In 1814, Adams wrote in a letter:

Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.  There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.  It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy.  It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history.  Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.  When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation.  Individuals have conquered themselves.  Nations and large bodies of men, never.

Although many still hold liberal democracy in high regard, more people have begun to question whether this system is capable of addressing the crises that many Western countries face in the 21st century. Some voice old criticisms while others question whether liberal democracy really is the “most stable and successful form of government.”

Prompt:

Consider the nature of liberal democracy, and then consider the natures of alternative, illiberal systems of government (autocracy, military dictatorship, monarchy, theocracy, totalitarian systems such as communism and fascism, etc.). In an essay, argue whether Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama were or were not correct when they asserted that liberal democracy is a force for good in the world and that it is the “most stable and successful form of government.”

Sources:

Read the following articles, which discuss liberal democracy’s many advantages and disadvantages:

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