One of the most important political ideologies used in the modern era especially by the Western countries is liberal democracy. A liberal democratic state involves of the goals of both liberalism and democracy. This essay will talk about the critiques of liberal democracy explaining the four criteria of liberal democracy and why it works or does not work in the context to the case study countries. In a liberal democratic model, it is necessary to have some basic criteria on liberal democracy. The four criteria that will be explored in relation to the case study countries are multiple distinct political parties, separation of power into different branches of government, an idea of equality and lastly secularism.
According to Gordon Smith political parties are, ‘the summation of pluralist tradition’. This means political parties are very important because of the role they play in society. Pluralists debate that there should be multiple contenders in opposing centres of power as the power should not rest in one group rather be divided and diffused (Schwarzmantel, 1994:51). Political parties represent the public interests. Likewise, multi- party system creates diversity and competition in turn parties makes efforts and try out to reach to a larger group of people making their policies relevant. It emphasises different groups of interests within the liberal democratic state which prevents any one group from dominating. As each human being have different perspective of looking at the world, similarly each party might have a different interpretation on a policy because of the different ideals and values. The main aim of political parties is to capture state power. This pluralist view applies to a country like Russia where they have multi-party system. It is practically accurate to argue that at the national level Russia has attained at least a semi-pluralistic political system, with number of national parties and the strong influence of business interests.
On the other hand Elite theory rejects the pluralist theory that power can be diffused and can be divided and spread among different groups of society. Elite theory argues that the power rests in the hands of few, who are wealthy. They assert that the average person cannot be heard because the power is usually concentrated in a few at the top. Democratic elite theorists argued that the decrease in internal party democracy and meeting process did not matter much, so long as competition between parties still give voters the final power. Elite theory says that two-party or multi-party system is usually dominated by an elite. For example in a country like USA elite theory works more than the pluralist theory. United States has two parties unlike the other countries that have multi-party system. In a multi-party system, political parties usually have specialised agenda which in turn represents their interests like environment, labor or business. But in America with a more generalised system, the two parties have to please a wider range of people to be elected. Consequently, both parties act neither too liberal nor too conservative. Many people agree that United States has a two-party system but there have been few cases where third party candidate won an election. Third party candidates have to struggle to get elected. The last time when the country saw a third party presented elected was in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln became President. In the view of elite theory they agree with the two-party system in United States as campaigns costs a fortune in this country. In their view the ‘wealth buys the political power by recruiting capable individuals to serve the interests of the ruling class, and by financing the campaigns of politicians and the operation of political parties'(Module guide).Political parties are important for keeping the check and balance of power through peaceful means and are thus important in a liberal democracy. ‘Without having any form of competition then from an elitist, then there would be only one outcome and that is whatever the elite considers the best then that will be the decision’.
In a country to be liberal democratic state power should be divided among different groups so that state cannot rule the masses on their own and the power is distributed among different factions of government. Pluralism critique of the state suggests a solution to how democracies can be realised in large and complex societies and how to achieve popular power and at the same time limit the power of the state. Pluralism is strictly against the totalitarian government. A pluralist society is on in which the decisions are taken by associations of citizens, acting independently of state. They assume state as a neutral actor which helps control conflicts and negotiations among groups. As all groups do not have equal resources or influence as some of the other groups in society, state does not favour any of the group rather remain neutral. Pluralism prefers a federal system of government in which power is divided among executive, legislature and judiciary. So that there is checks and balances and no one can misuse the power. Madison advocated a simple logic stating that, ‘grant independent power to the different branches of government, and each member of that branch will have a personal interest in maintaining that power and preventing the other branches from carrying out their repressive designs’. It means if the power is distributed among different bodies in the government, no person will be able to impose his or her will. Pluralist theory can apply to a country like France where there is a federal system of government although the executive is body is slightly stronger than that of legislature. However all the power does not rest with the executive, power also lies within the two remaining branches of government, the legislative, and the judiciary.
The second critique which describes the state is elite theory. In their view, the separation of power is unimportant within the state because in the end unified elite hold the power. They assert that the elites will always hold power in the society in different forms and their nature will directly determine the properties of society in which they live. The post- war elite theory critique C. Wright Mills argued that important decisions made in United States policy making were most of the times made by unelected power elite. For example, Unites States has a federal system of government in which power is evenly distributed among the 3 bodies of government , namely legislature, executive and judiciary but there certain cases where there are power elite makes the decisions. For instance the head of a big American business corporation or even the President or his appointed staff. On the contrary, Marxist theory argues that economy is the most important element in the society and that the society should grow towards a classless structure with an equal distribution of power.
Each citizen should be treated equally irrespective of gender, cast and religion to live in peace. Thus, idea of equality should be present in every country which makes it an important aspect of a liberal democratic country. Marxist Theory can best explain that why there is inequality among countries. Marxists states that unequal distribution of wealth is caused by exploitation in production as well as distribution of wealth. Capitalism and notion of private property creates class differences and unequal distribution of power. Private property maximises the gap between rich and poor. For instance if a person owns a property, he gets to exploit people who don’t which leads to other people working for the person who owns the property and can provide them with money. This form of organisation develops two classes, the bourgeoisie or ruling class who control and profit from the system and the working class who are much more numerous. In Marxist view wealth should be equally distributed among people. Rejecting this theory of Marxism, elite critiques argue that economic or social class forces do not determine what happens in society rather elites do. Italian writer Vilfredo Pareto criticises Marxists for overlooking the control of elite. For example in a country like America and Nigeria there is a huge income gap between rich and poor due to capitalism. The wealth is concentrated in the hands of elites which gives an adverse effect on the welfare of citizens. Utter poverty for a large percentage of the people of Nigeria is because of the mismanagement of the economy and widespread corruption by political elites. Therefore both the theories can be applied in the countries like Nigeria and United States.
All the liberal democratic countries should accept that citizens should not be prevented from practicing their religion and the state is no one to interfere with the religious decisions of citizens or their institutions. Marxist sees religion as a feature only of a class-divided society. The theory argues that whichever class controls the economic production also controls the production and distribution of ideas in society via institutions such as church, education system and the media. For example, France has declared herself as a secular country having divided church and state during the French Revolution. However, over 80% of her citizens claim to be Roman Catholics, on the other hand 10% claim to be Muslim (CIA).In spite of being a secular state France does not allow manifestation of religion in public sphere. In 2004, an anti-religious law passed through legislature that banned the wearing of headscarves, turban, skullcaps, or large crosses in the public schools as (Graham, 109).Therefore looking at this example of France it can be said that the Marxist theory can describe secularism in France as the person who is ruling is passing all the laws which controls all the power in the government and can influence any law in his favour. Moreover this law in the end can lead to divisions in society.
Similarly, Pluralism accepts all the religions in the society and rejects the notion that there can be a single belief in religion or culture. That is, pluralism is a simple recognition of the fact that there are many different faith groups active in the country. Pluralist theory works well in the liberal democratic countries as they demonstrate well about secularism. Pluralist theory works well in religious country like United States which is a multi-cultural society consisting of many religious groups such as Christians, Muslims, Hindus.