An earlier post raised the question of popular support for -- satisfaction with -- the state of democracy in many democratic nations. It was noted that levels of satisfaction are low in many democracies -- US, UK, France, and Spain, for example (link). There I defined liberal democracy in these terms: a political system in which there are strong protections for the rights and liberties of all citizens, including minority groups, and which embodies effective institutions of electoral representative democracy and equal rights of political participation. We were then led to question whether citizens in a liberal democracy would develop strong "civil loyalty" to the institutions and values of democracy.
But this is deliberately a narrow way of posing the question. It asks a question about the political institutions of a country, but is silent about the economic and social institutions. And it is possible, or likely, that dissatisfaction in the US, UK, or France is based on economic or social dissatisfaction rather than frustration with the system of individual rights and majoritarian government by itself. So, for example, Justin Gest argues in The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality that the marginalization and disaffection of white working class men and women in Youngstown, Ohio, and East London, UK, stem from social and economic causes as well as frustration with the system of electoral politics in which they find themselves.
There are at least two important schools of thought about the character of the social and economic arrangements suitable to a free society of equals. The laissez-faire philosophy -- unbridled capitalism -- entails that property rights should be subject to minimal constraint, and only for the purpose of fair taxation in support of legitimate (and limited) governmental functions. This philosophy depends upon a specific theory of liberty -- liberty to own property as a fundamental aspect of one's nature as a free human being. Freedom means pursuing one's own plans in one's own way, without unjustified interference by the state. This is an idea familiar from John Locke and Robert Nozick.
The social-democratic philosophy takes "freedom" in a broader and more comprehensive form: a person is free when he or she has both the liberty and the capacity to pursue important life objectives in an autonomous way. And having the capacity means having access to the basic essentials of a fully productive life: adequate income, effective education and training, decent housing, sufficient nutrition, access to healthcare, and security in the face of life's common sources of insecurity. On this conception of freedom, the state needs to be organized in such a way that the political liberties of individuals are respected and -- through one set of institutional arrangements or another -- individuals have the ability to develop and realize their talents through access to these essentials of life. This positive conception of human freedom -- "freedom to ... " rather than "freedom from ..." -- has its affinities with the political philosophies of Rousseau and Sen.
More specifically, the social-democracy philosophy holds that property rights can be constrained for two separate reasons: for the purpose of limiting "invidious and unjustified" economic inequalities, and for the purpose of supporting the costs of government programs that provide amenities to citizens: free public education, access to healthcare, unemployment and disability insurance, housing assistance, childcare assistance, nutrition assistance, .... There is also an underlying idea about society as well — not simply a neutral playing field where individuals compete against each other, but as a system of cooperation in which everyone gains from the cooperative actions of others.
Suppose that we are thinking of a liberal democracy as including these elements, with a choice in the "flavor" of economic arrangements:
1. Constitutional guarantees
2a. Social democracy
b. a social-economic system that succeeds in satisfying the basic human needs of all members of society -- education, healthcare, access to decent housing, ...
c. a system of law and regulation that ensures public health, wellbeing, and safety
d. a fiscal system that suffices to ensure limitations on wealth and provision of mandatory social services and benefits
Liberal laissez-faire democracy is characterized by (1) and (2b), while liberal social democracy is characterized by (1) and (2a), and the major ideological divide between progressives and conservatives involves disagreement over the choice between (2a) and (2b).