Volume 37, Issue Supplement, 2012
Selected Papers from the XXII World Congress of Philosophy
Liberal Democracy and Its Critics
Some Voices from East and West
Liberalism and democracy are not identical. In the phrase “liberal democracy” the two terms are conflated—with the result that liberalism tends to trump democracy. My paper challenges this tendency. It first examines critically central features of “minimalist” liberal democracy as formulated by some leading theorists. The discussion then shifts to critical assessments in both the East and the West. Turning first to South Asia, the focus is placed on Gandhi’s teachings regarding popular self-rule (swaraj) where the latter does not mean “selfish rule” but rather the ability of people to rule themselves in an ethical manner. Moving to East Asia, I concentrate on Confucianism which emphasizes the basic ethical “relationality” of human life and stands opposed to both radical individualism and collectivism. The paper concludes by invoking the work of John Dewey who famously defined democracy as an ethical community.