Liberalism and Democracy

Liberalism and Democracy

Liberalists have a slightly different view of democracy than the definition that is dominant in today’s society. The term democracy comes from the Greek words demos (people) and kratos (power), and in this context, it means representative government. Usually this means that citizens with voting rights (today, this usually means everyone over age 18) in a society can submit their vote to influence how the country should be managed.

In Norway, we have representative democracy, which means that citizens vote for different parties with politicians who will represent their views indirectly through their party platforms in the legislature, the Parliament.

The Power of the Majority

In this form of democracy, a majority, no matter how big or small it is (51-99 percent), has full sovereignty over the remaining minority (1-49 percent). A phrase that is often used is that democracy is the tyranny of the majority.

Basically, there is no difference between a rule by one dictator or by a minority, and a majority rule. The similarity lies in collectivism: All have to participate, no one is off the hook. None of these forms of government put the sovereignty of the individual in the driver’s seat, and all violate the rights of the individual to varying degrees.

Now, admittedly representative democratic majority rule in a society is based on liberal values, such as freedom of speech and human rights, as we have them in Norway, and it is not as bad as a minority rule. The balance of power is divided among several people and groups, making it difficult to perform violations in secret.

Representative democracy is still a form of tyranny of the majority. The minority must see itself overrun and in principle can be victimized in any way, based on the wishes of the majority. Liberalism is against this.

The Power of the Individual

Democracy means government by the people, and in liberalism this definition has direct impact: The people govern their own lives. Every individual in the community decides over him- or herself, and is no longer a victim to the wishes of the majority.

In practical terms, this means that you can buy or use drugs freely, run a shop that’s open 24 hours a day, ban or allow smoking on your commercial property, and so on. Other people or organizations may not use force against you, as long as you behave peacefully.

Constitutional Republic

The system of government in such a society will not be a representative democracy, but rather a constitutional republic. This means that the government and the citizens have a Constitution to relate to, while separation of powers between the legislative, judicial and executive power is maintained.

In this case, the constitution will be simple and easily understandable, and mainly deal with how the right of the individual to decide over his or her own life and property will be protected by the government.

In practice, it will be very difficult or impossible to change the constitution (due to the balance of power between the three branches of government). One must simply put up with living in a liberal society, where the majority can no longer control the minority.

What does this mean? Does it mean that those who want socialism cannot live their lives as they wish? Socialists can get together to form communities in society, and the only difference will be that they can no longer force others to participate in their form of government against their will.


  • Demokracy can have several meanings
  • One meaning is «the power of the majority», while another meaning is «the power of the individual»
  • Liberalism relates to «the power of the individual»
  • In a liberal demokracy, a majority can never again decide for a minority
  • A constitutional republic with an intact separation of powers ensures balance and prevents abuse of power



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