Liberal democracy and the zeitgeists

Autocratic progress, populist political institutionalisation have made scholars believe liberal democracy is declining

The writer is a UET graduate and holds Master’s degrees from Sargodha University and Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad. He can be contacted at


In Pakistan, liberalism is a misunderstood but widely discussed phenomenon. Liberalism has broad implications, but this column will only discuss two facets: political and economic. These two fundamentals form the basis of all life in the 21st century: capitalism in its economic origins and democracy in its political discourse. The intent and nature of the entire argument are based on two cardinal virtues of human struggle throughout history: freedom and equality. Democracy and capitalism reinforce and interchange each other by ensuring equality and freedom to make political choices and economic decision utility. In pursuit of Hegelian dialectical of freedom and Marxian materialistic changes in our lives, these zeitgeists of consciousness enable humanity and civilisation to grow.

The first section is about liberal democracy. Autocratic progress and populist political institutionalisation have caused scholars to believe liberal democracy is declining. It is valid to some extent that liberal democracy is at its lowest ebb in the post-Trump era. However, the loop of liberal democracy is still relevant. The world without American power will be a pariah state. From hunter-gatherer societies to post-industrial societies of the 21st century, human history has faced different political and economic systems in phases. At the end of the 20th century, all competing ideologies declined. These ideologies can be classified as Fascism, Totalitarianism and Theocratic Monarchies in different parts of the world in various spaces and times. All these ideologies were defeated by liberal democracy. The main reason behind this defeat was humanistic need of freedom and equality. In the entire history of humanity, humans have struggled to maximise two pursuits of life: freedom to create and express; and equality to feel dignity and grace.

All the efforts of humans in history are summed up in one philosophy that emerged as a competing force post-WWII. Liberal democracy enables humans to be free and equal through capitalism and democracy. Both systems complement human nature. How? Human nature wants freedom to assert its powers and equality to surface its feelings of being cherished equally with dignity and grace. In previous political and economic structures, these systems either supported one or no virtue. For example, in communist philosophy, it is being considered to ensure classless equality. But this system lacks the freedom it provides humans with because of controlled nature of governance. On the other hand, the other competitor of liberal democracy was fascism. This system lacked both elements. Neither equality nor freedom was responded to by Nazism or Mussolini’s political philosophy.

The following section is about economic structure. Capitalism is the brainchild of liberalism in the financial niche. Capitalism ensures the natural quest of humans for ownership. Ownership is a human in-built capacity. In all the previous systems of economies, general public ownership was missing. For instance, feudalism could never delegate ownership powers to serfs despite their efforts and struggles. In capitalism, giving the right to ownership based on competence and specialisation is an inherent beauty. For illustration, anyone can buy a property if they do hard work. A commoner without cognitive skills can also own something if they do dedicated efforts as per their capacities. In previous centuries, no matter how much you struggled, you couldn’t own properties and real estate until and unless you were favourable by some monarchs or state patronage. Capitalism facilitated human beings to own resources without any patronage. This is how it complements human nature of ownership instinct.

All these are the zeitgeists of change. Change in consciousness and the progress of human civilisation. Liberal democracy will be relevant in the coming centuries because it believes in the human instincts of freedom, equality and ownership. The other systems will only compete because of flaws in capitalism and the unethical nature of profit-driven ventures.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2024.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.



Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ