The Three Interconnected Fundamentals Of The Western System
From The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray

There are three interconnected factors which in my analysis were responsible for the rise and achievement of Western Civilisation.

  1. Limitations on the power of government, subsequent to the decline of the power of the feudal Kings,
  2. This limited government, provided an important role for individuals and private organisations, (one aspect of which is economic freedom - see further heading titled Distribution of Power.
  3. Law and custom defined the limitations on freedom on the basis of individual responsibility. (law based on individual responsibility)

The three factors are consecutively analysed.

Limitations on power of government
Liberal and representative democratic institutions were evolved over many centuries, as a consequence of the battles between King and Parliament in the United Kingdom and King and Colonies in the United States. The once all pervasive powers of the King were gradually reduced with executive, legislative and judicial powers developing in separate though over-lapping compartments. The American Revolution saw the eclipse of the power of the autocratic King and a new nation set about distributing power so that abuse of power in the hands of an all-powerful executive was made more difficult. The political history of the UK from the Magna Carta if not earlier is a battle between King and the people. A consequence of this battle was a gradual restriction of the powers of the King which passed to Parliament. Electoral reform and universal adult franchise created a link between the people and Parliament and the Cabinet. Thus the essence of liberal and representative democracy could be said to be the placing of restrictions on the powers of government, while providing government with a limited area of power to set the basic rules and act as referee.

The movement to democracy must be slow and gradual. Democracy involves far more than a system of elections, which are not rigged nor manipulated. Elections are of little consequence in the absence of free speech, expression and access to means of media communication for participants.

Democracy involving rule by the people is not fundamental to the western system (even if referred to as democratic). Democracy means "rule by the people", but in complex and populous societies the people cannot be involved in every decision of government. The western system, therefore, consists of representative democratic structures (in the Westminster tradition by MPs who are expected to represent different groups of people). It is also characterised most importantly by the wide diffusion and distribution of power (see below). The western system of law, government and politics which has been developed and nurtured over many centuries, originated in a battle to reduce the powers of an all-powerful sovereign, and the consequence was the distribution and diffusion of power.