Nineteenth-century liberals recognized that democracy comes in various forms, and dreaded the version advocated by Rousseau, in which an inspired lawgiver interprets and implements the will of the people. Nowadays such fears are dismissed as elitist. But the old-fashioned liberals grasped a vital truth: popular government has no necessary connection with the freedom of individuals or minorities. Of course, liberals today will say this can be remedied by installing the rule of constitutional rights. Such systems are fragile, however, and count for nothing when large sections of society are indifferent or actively hostile to liberal values. Where this is the case, democracy means not much more than the tyranny of the majority.
Let us analyze the paragraph in detail. 19th century liberals "dreaded" the version of democracy advocated by Rousseau. What was Rousseau's version of democracy? It was one in which an "inspired" lawgiver interprets and implements "the will of the people". That is, in this version of democracy, the government is influenced by popular opinion in implementing policies. The old-fashioned liberals dreaded this. Why? Because they realized that a “popular” or strong government backed by the majority has "no necessary connection" with minorities and the freedom of individuals. Though constitutional rights may be put in place to protect the freedom of individuals and minorities, such systems are weak in societies which are hostile to liberal values. This is because, in such illiberal democracies, the "will of the people" equates to the tyranny of the majority, who are either indifferent or opposed to minorities. A government that is influenced by the “will of the people” in such societies is unlikely to protect the minorities. Now let us look at the options given to see which one sums up the paragraph best: Option A. Inspired lawgivers in liberal democracies are better equipped to interpret and implement the will of the people than in illiberal democracies. We can rule this option out straight away, as this is not what the paragraph says. The paragraph does not talk about lawgivers in liberal democracies as better equipped to interpret the will of the people as compared to those in illiberal democracies. Option B. Nineteenth-century liberals believed that democracy means not much more than the tyranny of the majority. Again, this is not what the paragraph states. Nineteenth-century liberals only dreaded the version of democracy where the lawgiver declares himself to be the interpreter and implementer of the will of the people. They did not equate democracy to the tyranny of the majority. Option C. Constitutional rights are fragile and ineffective in ensuring protection of the freedom of individuals in any democracy. The paragraph does declare that constitutional rights are fragile and not effective in protecting freedom of individuals and minorities. But this is in the specific context where “when large sections of society are indifferent or actively hostile to liberal values”. That is, in illiberal democracies constitutional rights provide little by way of support to minorities. However, option C generalizes this to say that constitutional rights are fragile and infective in any democracy. This is not what the paragraph says. Option D. Popular governments in illiberal democracies use the power of the majority to clamp down on the freedom of minorities. This option sums up the main idea of the paragraph best. In illiberal democracies, where the majority is indifferent or actively hostile to liberal values, popular governments use the power of majority to clamp down on the freedom of minorities. Correct Answer: Choice (d)
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