Democracy means that the people rule, and, according to Aristotle (who was himself no fan of democracy), ‘liberty is the first principle of democracy’. Aristotle reasoned in The Politics that the ‘results of liberty are that the numerical majority is supreme, and that each man lives as he likes’. Democracy doesn’t necessarily promote liberty; democracies can (and often do) suppress people’s freedom, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. But liberty leads inexorably towards democracy, because there is no other way to reconcile the competing desires of free and equal individuals.

So: liberty first, democracy second. Countries conceived in liberty, like England and its offshoots in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, tend to support strong and stable democracies. Even in South Africa, where the ancient liberties of Englishmen were until very recently restricted to a small minority of the population, a solid democracy has been built on a foundation of individual liberty. Lacking that foundation, it took France five tries to build a lasting democracy – assuming that the Fifth Republic outlasts the gilets jaunes protests. Democracy without liberty is a house built on sand.

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Salvatore Babones

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