Liberalism - Democracy = Anarchy

A response to Ben Thompson on liberalism and democracy

Marcus Smith
7 min readJan 11, 2021


- Liberalism without democracy is anarchy
-Democracy without liberalism is socialism
-A priority stack where one supersedes the other is broken

Photo by visuals on Unsplash


In listening to the latest episode of Exponent and reading Ben’s latest post on Stratechery I realized that I actually disagreed with him and even James for once. I decided to share my thoughts and opinions here because #FreeSpeech… and maybe also to strike up some good conversation about the especially relevant topic of democracy and liberalism. Seriously, these are pivotal times in how US Citizens and the World think about these fundamental topics and we should not shy away from CIVIL discourse and THOUGHTFUL dialogue. (Excuse the emphases, I am quite tired of the preponderance of uncivil and thoughtless words being thrown around in the “public square”). I hope at the least that this causes one individual to think deeper about these concepts we take for granted. That said, I am not a political scientist, lawyer, historian, or sociologist so take my thoughts with a large grain of salt and graciously let me know if I misrepresent a concept. I will also disclose that I am most closely ideologically identified as a libertarian but generally don’t ascribe to any specific political platform. < I will also be linking (like I just did) exclusively to Wikipedia for context reference merely for the sake of consistency and people’s familiarity. Also know that these are my personal opinions and do not represent any partners or clients I am affiliated with nor businesses I have ownership in.

Liberalism - Democracy = Anarchy

That is to say that IF there is no rule of law upheld by the public which restricts the actions of some… liberalism allows for everyone to make the choice that they consider right or, more nefariously, what they consider most self serving. By prioritizing liberalism over democracy we are pointing the way towards anarchy. By putting democracy over liberalism we are guiding ourselves towards the deconstruction of self and the path of socialism. I use all of these terms in their truest form, devoid of colloquial connotations. But still I don’t want to live in a society that is not a liberal democracy.

Modern liberal democracy, as represented by the United States of America, has been a centuries long experiment precisely formulated in Independence Hall and field tested in the streets of a broken America… A truly stringent field test. Just like in music, the most lasting of compositions are those that can still be played beautifully when the instruments change. And I’m sure the founding fathers would say the presenting conditions of their original government structure have changed.

However, as a stable composition must have balance so our system of self-governance requires both the restrictions of democracy and the freedoms of liberalism. This Yin & Yang of freedom under governance is, without a doubt, a complicated system that is both highly resilient and meticulously calculated (by much better men than myself). However, it stems from the reality that we MUST put liberty and governance on equal ground, otherwise it becomes quite unstable indeed.

Now, Ben is clearly promoting the importance of BOTH liberty and democracy. I do not decry him for that (or anything really). My concern stands in the consideration that in the face of “failed democracy” an individual or organization with the means to do so should of their own accord supplant the rule of law. That is, to utilize their own liberty against others to preserve what they consider democracy. The reality is that liberty is ONLY safely executed under the purview of democracy where democracy handles our liberties with regards to others.

In other terms, control over individual actors (or groups of actors) in the system should only be done under the supervision and decision of the greater populous. Any other extension of protection of liberties is why the second amendment exists… so that, by organization of the greater populous with the combative means to defend liberty, a failed political system could be overruled. As I see it, the goal was to give citizens the means to protect their own civil liberties individually as well as congregationally protect the liberties of the whole. I don’t imagine the founding fathers considered that tools could exist which would put such power over the greater majority of the population in the hands of an individual or a group of individuals. Or even that one could devastate the liberties of another without the use of force.

So, there is the right to protect one’s own liberties, and for the greater populous to protect their collective liberty. In contrast the seeking of justice, or protection of liberty, by an individual against others outside of both the law and our right to self-defense is vigilantism; The acts of which are still an affront to the collective population. Though vigilantism makes for great hero stories and action movies, in a well governed democracy the promotion of such action is a slippery slope. If everyone, in their eyes seeing a failing democracy, were to protect their own form of liberty at the expense of others we would be in no better state than if we had no law. This would be, almost by definition, anarchy. You might even say that the individuals who stormed our capital were acting in their own eyes for the protection of liberty and democracy.

Beyond that, such actions can obstruct justice. Where-in a company might think they are protecting the general good by removing an individual’s account, they may be stopping that individual from making the final incriminating remark which can be legally used to not only remove that individual from public discourse but also from acting in any power at all. And further, by taking action outside of the law they remove the right of the citizenry to make the judgement themselves. This is, of all the crimes of vigilantism, potentially the worst because it not only infringes on the liberties of one individual but also that of the general populous to make an informed decision on an individual’s guilt (or lack there of). Instead, by acting outside of the democratic system the vigilante who acts as executioner may, in their own oversight, place in infamy someone who with a fair trial could be proven innocent… the congregation being none-the-wiser.

This is not a judgement on the merit of anyone’s actions as I, trying to keep a moderate view, have chosen to refrain from such judgement calls. I would hate to stand in the shoes of decision makers during our current events, why then would I force myself to make a public choice if I’m NOT required to?! This is instead a considerate critique of the opinions which state liberalism is more important than democracy or vice versa. And do know that these are individuals whom I highly respect and love learning from (I encourage everyone to check out their content). Ironically, though I usually side with Ben on things, as I was listening to the related Exponent episode I found myself falling on James Allworth’ side of the argument stating the preeminence of democracy. But as I started to think through my concerns for the former opinion, it dawned on me the true interdependence of these concepts and the juxtapose faults of the later.

Democracy - Liberalism = Socialism

Just as raw liberalism is a dangerous path without the balancing democracy, so democracy without a continuous regard for individual liberties is a descent into dangerous territory. However, in this situation it leads to a socialist system where individuals lack the autonomy to act without the concern of the collectivistic system infringing on their life value. It may even be said that democracy is a direct result of liberalism though not any less valuable as it is the expression of liberty in community. I will refrain from a longer critique of socialism for public governance (though I may write in the future on it so please do subscribe).

And I don’t want you to walk away thinking I hate socialism, I am actually constructing forms of private organizational governance that look much like socialism. That said, I would not like to live in a socialist society in which I am not completely ideologically aligned with all other members of the society. And the reality is that my favorite part of our democracy is that I get to live in (relative) harmony with people that are ideologically divergent from myself. Given this (albeit briefly delineated) concern, I am wary of any argument for the strength of democracy without the equivalent protection and promotion of individual liberty.

And So…

It may be that there was no relative comparison of importance, nor intent that these two flagships be sent out separately. However, it speaks the same by prioritizing one or saying that we can disregard B for the protection of A. I would instead equate liberalism & democracy to the wings of a dove. The creature will not survive with only one wing, in-fact it was not intended to survive with one. Nor does it favor one over the other as it knows it would not be able to operate without the full use of both… it would be a broken system. So also, we will not be able to live in a peaceful state without full recognition of the vitality of both democracy and liberty… equally for ourselves and without doubt others.


The reality is that I ascribe (for the most part) to the “doctrine” of Frédéric Bastiat in his essay “The Law”. This states that democracy, or communal governance, is a direct extension of liberty (which is a natural law). This argues, among other things, that democracy is a necessary extension of personal liberty when we live in community with others. Thus, unless you live alone, you must have democracy to have personal liberty, and you must have personal liberty to have equitable democracy. You can not protect one without the other. Bastiat’s primary argument in this book is against socialism. I highly recommend this short read to better understand some of my concerns against a public socialistic governance.


I may also write my analysis of the implications of the actual actions of the big-tech companies if I have enough time and support. I do have opinions about the individual/corporate liberties provided to these entities and the value of leveraging these liberties. However, I didn’t want to overextend this piece, diluting it and making it unfollowable (which I am concerned it is already). Please let me know if you have interest in hearing those thoughts.



Marcus Smith

— Entrepreneur | Engineer | Ecosystem Curator | (Ed)venturer — Owner: The Smith Team, LLC—