The following is a summary of an address delivered by William Brooks to the first public symposium of the St. Lawrence Institute held at the McGill University Faculty Club on Wednesday, January 28, 1981.
The history of democracy is the history of the limitation of absolute power. In the heydays of modern democracy peopled believed “that government is best which governs least.”
Liberal democracy was based on a belief in the inherent worth of individuals, a trust in people and a distrust of intrusive government. Democracy aimed to limit the coercive power of government through the “rule of law.” Adam Smith’s favorite metaphor for a good government in a liberal democratic state was that of a “night watchman.”
Political democracy grew hand in hand with free-market capitalism which in turn was developed alongside the economic principle of “laissez faire.” Leave markets alone. Political democracy combined with economic and individual freedoms became the bedrock of the classical liberal faith. By the mid-nineteenth century nations that had replaced authoritarian government and mercantilist economics with liberal principles were on their way to unprecedented productivity and prosperity.