Do you find Zakaria's distinction between "democracy" and "liberty" in The Future of Freedom to be useful?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I definitely believe that the distinction that Zakaria makes between democracy and liberty is important and useful.  It helps us understand what we truly value in a governmental and legal system.  It also helps us to understand what we need to try to promote at home and abroad.

To understand this, we first need to look at the distinction that Zakaria is making.  It can be found in a section of the Introduction that is entitled “Democracy and Liberty.”  This starts on p. 17 of the hardcover edition.  Zakaria uses the term “democracy” to refer simply to a system of government in which the people get to vote for their leaders in a meaningful way.  As Zakaria says (on p. 19),

If a country holds competitive, multiparty elections, we call it “democratic.”

He goes on to say that a country becomes more democratic when more people are able to vote.  He also says the elections have to be free and fair.

But this is different from liberty.  Liberty is a set of personal, individual rights that (we believe) all people have.  These are rights like freedom of religion and speech and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  A country can be democratic without giving its citizens liberty.  It can give its citizens liberty without being democratic. 

This is an important distinction because we have to determine how much democracy we want and how much liberty.  The two can really come in opposition to one another.  For example, if a majority votes to take away freedom of religion, do we favor democracy or do we favor liberty.  Because we need to understand this tension, Zakaria’s distinction is important.