Liberal democracy

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Liberal democracy is a form of government that combines the organization of a representative democracy with ideas of liberal political philosophy.

Common elements within a liberal democracy are: elections between or among multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, a market economy with private property, universal suffrage, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all citizens. The move towards identity politics in Western nations is thus a move away from liberal democracy.

To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either codified or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract. The purpose of a constitution is often seen as a limit on the authority of the government. A liberal democracy may take various and mixed constitutional forms: it may be a constitutional monarchy (such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom) or a republic (such as France, Germany, India, Ireland, and the United States). It may have a parliamentary system (such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, India, Ireland, and the United Kingdom), a presidential system (such as Indonesia and the United States), or a semi-presidential system (such as France). Liberal democracies are contrasted with illiberal democracies and with dictatorships.

Liberal democracy traces its origins—and its name—to the Age of Enlightenment. The conventional views supporting monarchies and aristocracies were challenged at first by a relatively small group of Enlightenment intellectuals, who believed that human affairs should be guided by reason and principles of liberty and equality. They argued that all people are created equal and therefore political authority cannot be justified on the basis of noble blood, a supposed privileged connection to God, or any other characteristic that is alleged to make one person superior to others.

They further argued that governments exist to serve the people—not vice versa—and that laws should apply to those who govern as well as to the governed (a concept known as rule of law). Some of these ideas began to be expressed in England in the 17th century. By the late 18th century, leading philosophers such as John Locke had published works that spread around the European continent and beyond. These ideas and beliefs influenced the American Revolution and the French Revolution. After a period of expansion in the second half of the 20th century, liberal democracy became a prevalent political system in the world.

Liberal democracy emphasizes the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a system of checks and balances between branches of government. Multi-party systems with at least two persistent, viable political parties are characteristic of liberal democracies. In Europe, liberal democracies are likely to emphasize the importance of the state being a Rechtsstaat, i.e. a state that follows the principle of rule of law. Governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure. Some liberal democracies, especially those with large populations, use federalism (also known as vertical separation of powers) in order to prevent abuse and increase public input by dividing governing powers between municipal, provincial and national governments (e.g. Germany, where the federal government assumes the main legislative responsibilities and the federated Länder assume many executive tasks). The characteristics of liberal democracies are correlated with increased political stability, lower corruption, better management of resources, and better health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality.

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