The Pipe Dream of Undemocratic Liberalism

Issue Date July 2017
Volume 28
Issue 3
Page Numbers 29-38
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Over the past decade illiberal democracy has spread across the globe. Many analysts argue that democracy itself is to blame. Democracy is all about empowering the people, but, according to this line of argument, the people can be moved by passions and self-interest, and their unchecked rule can lead to tyrannical majoritarianism. While illiberal democracy is certainly worrying, many of its critics fundamentally misunderstand how democracy has traditionally developed and what its historical relationship with liberalism has been. Rather than the norm, liberal democracy has been the exception. Moreover, illiberal democracy is most often a stage on the route to liberal democracy rather than the endpoint of a country’s political trajectory. In addition, although democracy unchecked by liberalism can slide into tyrannical majoritarianism, liberalism unchecked by democracy can easily deteriorate into elitist oligarchy.

About the Author

Sheri Berman is professor of political science at Barnard College. Her works include Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day (2019) and The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century (2006).

View all work by Sheri Berman