THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Three Types of Liberal Democracy

       In the previous posting on this subject, we promised (or threatened, depending on your point of view) on the meaning of “liberal democracy.”  It turns out that there are three (at least) different meanings of the term, depending on whether you’re a collectivist, an individualist, or a personalist.


To the collectivist, liberal democracy means that humanity, an abstraction or idea created by human beings, is sovereign.  Consequently, whoever speaks for the collective (or has the power to assert the claim) is sovereign on behalf of the People.  Individual human beings are only persons with rights if those in charge of the collective permit it.

What that means in practice is that government decides who has rights and what those rights mean.  There are no inalienable (or unalienable) rights inherent in every human person.  Human beings become “mere creatures of the state,” can only exist in the manner determined by the government, if at all.  If the government denies someone’s humanity, then that individual or group is no longer recognized as a human person and has no rights.

Msgr. Ronald A. Knox


Interestingly, this is the same thing that Msgr. Ronald Knox noted about what he called “enthusiasm” or “ultrasupernaturalism” (what some call “modernism”) in religious society.  Ultrasupernaturalists attempt to impose their interpretation or understanding of the supernatural order on the natural order, basing the natural law not on the natural virtue of justice, but on the supernatural virtues of faith and charity (whichever works better under a particular circumstance).

What this means is that anyone who doesn’t fit into the proper mold, accept a specific set of beliefs, or whom you dislike intensely is deemed “ungodly” (or some equivalent thereof) and is deemed to be without rights.  To the ultrasupernaturalist, only those who follow the ultrasupernaturalist’s beliefs are deemed life worthy of life.  All others may be destroyed, enslaved, or tolerated until they annoy you.

Collectivism is the basis of socialism.

Hilaire Belloc


To the individualist, liberal democracy means that certain individuals, an elite, are more human, or fully human, and thus have effective rights.  Most individualists will agree that all human beings have rights, but only an elite (also an abstraction created by human beings) has the capacity or ability to exercise them.  Some extreme forms of individualism claim that the elite are the only ones with rights.

What this means in practice is that those who control the private sector through concentrated ownership of capital also control the government.  Individualism generally leads to capitalism.

Usually, the collectivist state and the individualist state begin to merge into what Hilaire Belloc called “the Servile State,” with no essential difference between capitalism and socialism.  It comes as no surprise that the first socialists were also capitalists.

Abp. Fulton J. Sheen


To the personalist, liberal democracy means that every individual human being is sovereign with the natural rights of life, liberty and private property, and their related natural rights of participation, distribution and feedback or correction.  As Fulton Sheen explained,

[Liberalism] can be used in three senses: (a) As a philosophy which believes in the progressive achievement of civil social, political, economic and religious liberties within the framework of a moral law.  (b)  As an attitude which denies all standards extrinsic to man himself, measures freedom as a physical power rather than moral power and identifies progress by the height of the pile of discarded moral and religious traditions.  (c)  As an ideology generally identified with the doctrine of laissez faire. (Fulton J. Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West.  New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948, 7-8.)

Sheen’s sense (a) is the personalist type of liberalism, (b) is collectivist, while (c) is individualist.  As can be seen, collectivism and individualism both put sovereignty into an abstraction, that is, into an idea created by human beings for human beings, not by God.  God creates human beings, not ideas that have no existence apart from the human mind.

Thomas Aquinas


There is a long and complicated philosophical argument Aquinas used to explain why God by His very Nature only deals in concrete actualities, not abstractions. (I, a. 14.)  For our purposes, however, we only need to know that God is concerned with people, not society in any form. (Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will.” Divini Redemptoris, § 29.) God only cares about human creations when human beings use them for good or evil.  Their creation, structuring and use are human concerns.

That is, God made man to live in society, but did not dictate any particulars.  The natural law, the general code of human behavior, gives general norms only.  It is up to us to apply them to create and maintain structures of virtue to assist people in becoming more fully human. (Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy.  Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 14, 209, 227, 235.)

That is the problem of human sovereignty.  How do we structure our institutions and laws to allow maximum freedom to pursue virtue without interfering with others’ pursuit of virtue?

Given human nature, some form of personalist liberal democracy that respects the dignity of each and every human being would appear to be optimal — which raises another question.  If personalism is so obviously consistent with human nature and thus the natural law (Wojtyła, “Human Nature as the Basis of Ethical Formation,” Person and Community, op. cit., 181-185.), while collectivism and individualism are not, how did the Great Reset and similar proposals ever develop, much less become so popular?