Liberal: the adjective that married Democracy
Speakers: Beáta Bakó (EUI - LAW), Daniel Banks (EUI - HEC), Conor Casey (EUI - LAW) and Andrés Vicent (EUI - HEC)
In 1997, Fareed Zakaria declared that illiberal Democracy was a growth industry. Since then, the phrase Zakaria coined has moved from academic punditry to become ubiquitous in popular discourse. An interesting implication of this semantic development is the strong tie between the noun democracy and the adjective liberal that exists in the public consciousness. Illiberalism is just non-liberalism . In fact, the marriage between these two words is so solid that they are usually considered one flesh. In May 2011, for example, the conservative Spanish politician Esperanza Aguirre reacted to the Indignados’ demonstrations demanding direct democracy by saying that when democracy is completed by an adjective – organic or popular or direct – in fact we are talking about dictatorship . Her statement neatly captured the assumption that the adjective liberal is not necessary as it is included in the concept of democracy. Such an assumption has a complicated history, but it remains just that, an assumption. At the same time, it has peculiar and profound constitutional consequences. In this session we explore possible ways to approach this question from our personal interests, expertise and background. First, we will reflect on a period when democracy and liberalism were regarded by thinkers as being in serious tension – the nineteenth century. We will recall the opinions that republicans and democrats had about liberalism as well as the bad reputation of democracy as a form of government among many political actors and thinkers. Second, we will talk about what liberal means in current democracies. Liberalism’ commitments to individual autonomy and restraining state power have come to orient and give concrete purpose to abstract constitutional principles like checks-and-balances, separation of powers and constitutional rights. We will examine constitutional theories which propose to buck the trend and decouple liberalism from constitutionalism, and how these would differ in their approach to checks-and-balances, separation of powers, the scope of state power and constitutional rights. Finally, we will present a short case study about a country which has been declared an "illiberal democracy" by its own Prime Minister. Although Hungary's Viktor Orbán recently prefers the adjective "Christian" instead of "illiberal" for his system, he has deliberately preserved all the trappings of liberal democracy, if not its content.