Difference between Western Liberal Democracy and Non-Western Form of Democracy

Differences between Western Liberal Democracy and Non-Western Form of Democracy are as follows:

Western Liberal Democracy:

Western liberal democracy is a political theory that emerged in Europe during the seventeenth century and has continued to this day as one of the dominant theories and ideologies in the world. This excludes the socialist countries with dictatorships of different kinds. In the development of this concept, mention must be made of John Locke, Jeremy Bentham and J.S Mill. Locke contributed the ideas of limited government, constitutionalism, individual rights and the rule of law.

Bentham’s contribution lay in the utilitarian conception of majority interest calculated in terms of individual utility. Mill contributed the idea of individual liberty, plurality of opinions, and the principle of development of individual personality.

When we define the liberal state to be politically democratic, we should note that it refers not only to the electoral process, but also to aspects like the rule of law and right to property. In a liberal system without any written constitution such as in the United Kingdom, this means the law enacted by parliament is supreme.

And the property rights granted in liberal democratic states prevent the government from making drastic changes in economic matters. This is the reason that the radical view criticizes liberal democracy, for not laying emphasis on economic equality. They called themselves people’s democracy, which implies that the means of production are socially owned.

Thus, the above gives a fairly good picture of liberal conception of democracy which is based on a number of assumptions; first, it holds that an individual is endowed with an autonomous mind, reason and will; that is, he is a rational being. So, he can decide what is best for him. Second, the individual is a moral being, which means that they are all equal. Each one should have an equal opportunity to participate in politics.

Third, truth is relative and multi dimensional and is not absolute. Therefore, at a particular moment, truth can be established only through a free inter-play of ideas.

That, tolerance is the essence of democracy was strongly argued by Mill in ‘On Liberty’. Truth in a democracy implies that everyone can participate in politics and it is the government of all people; therefore, a democratic government acts in the interest of all. Competition among leaders and parties ensures popular control over government and maximum liberty for individuals. Rule of law, equality before law and basic minimum rights are characteristics of a Western liberal democracy.

Non-Western Forms of Democracy:

It may be surprising to some that countries like the erstwhile USSR (Soviet Russia), Communist China, North Korea and North Vietnam, to name but a few, claim to be democratic. Indeed, they claim to be the only true democracies. In order to understand that exact nature of this claim, it is important to go back to Marx.

He believed that, The Politics of the West was characterized by class conflicts, and that competition between parties would be no more once the feud between classes ended. True democracy he thought, would exist only where one class predominated, embodying the overwhelming mass of the people. All other forms of democracy were denounced as bourgeois.

If a power conflict existed on a competitive basis, so that it might be influenced by wealth, Marx considered that democracy to be bourgeois, and therefore, unworthy of any name. Competitive politics is condemned by communists for being a fraud.

They themselves claim to have no other classes because they say that all the exploiting groups were eradicated in the early days of the Russian revolution. Soviet lawyers and political apologists argue that the West’s version of democracy is a sham and fraud because of the existence of an economic system, Capitalism- which favors the rich.