Liberal Democracy and Justice in the Constitution of Walter Berns

Richard G. Stevens, The Political Science Reviewer 22 (1993).


Walter Berns admits in the preface to his book by that very title that he had all along been writing in defense of liberal democracy. This is not simply a post litem motam declaration, but it does constitute something of a refinement of his earliest writing. Berns is truly a liberal democrat. He takes the two aspects of the term with equal seriousness. “Liberal” is, after all, an adjective with an independent potency. Liberal democracy is not simply more extreme democracy as many who now call themselves liberals seem to suppose. Liberal democracy is democracy modified by—moderated by—liberalism and liberalism is not simply vacuous partisanship for change as though change itself were good. Nor is liberalism properly a lofty neutrality as between “values.” The expression “liberal democracy” might be taken as synonymous with “limited democracy” or “constitutional democracy.” The critical question is what properly moderates or limits democracy, for only complete fools or value-free social scientists believe that the majority is always right. Enlightened support of liberal democracy is dependent on the critical analysis of both liberalism and democracy.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute