Jose Ortega y Gasset, The difference between Liberalism and Democracy

Liberalism and Democracy happen to be two things which begin by having nothing to do with each other, and end by having, so far as tendencies are concerned, meanings that are mutually antagonistic. Democracy and Liberalism are two answers to two completely different questions.

Democracy answers this question—‘Who ought to exercise the public power?’ The answer it gives is—the exercise of public power belongs to the citizens as a body.

But this question does not touch on what should be the realm of the public power. It is solely concerned with determining to whom such power belongs. Democracy proposes that we all rule; that is, that we are sovereign in all social acts.

Liberalism, on the other hand, answers this other question,—‘regardless of who exercises the public power, what should its limits be?’ The answer it gives—‘Whether the public power is exercised by an autocrat or by the people, it cannot be absolute: the individual has rights which are over and above any interference by the state.’”


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