The Reform Ideas
From The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray

The original values and institutions of the democratic tradition have been challenged by a set of ideas.

There is no specific ideology which may be said to underpin the reform idea though there are three identifiable conceptual strands— the political and civil liberties strand, the equality strand and the permissive liberal strand.

The political and civil liberties strand includes traditional political and civil liberties, equitable electoral distributions, fair voting systems and participatory democracy involving worker participation in industry and grass roots involvement in the decision making process of government at different levels.

The equality strand includes demands for equal opportunity, equal wealth and income and equal social status. It also focuses on redistribution of income and wealth, inequalities in the private sector of the economy and in areas such as education, health and housing. Taxation and detailed regulation are the means through which these are to be achieved.

The permissive liberal strand involves a relaxation of restrictions imposed by the traditional legal system in areas such as censorship, drug laws, family law, police powers and the prison system. This strand (along with the equality strand) involves focus on the liberation of minority groups.

The noteworthy feature of the reform process is the commitment to legal processes and piecemeal change through legislative amendment. There is a focus on an alleged area of legal regulation or absence of legal regulation which allegedly leads to exploitation, unfairness, inequality, oppression of minorities etc (falling within the above three strands).

The values in the three strands give rise to tension with the original tradition. The tension is not necessarily one of direct conflict. The tension is not necessarily about whether the three strands are in conflict with the original values and institutions of the tradition (though there are areas of conflict). The real tension arises in that the original tradition has a limited role for law and regulation. Even though the ideas within a strand may not conflict with the original values and institutions, the conflict arises when an effort is made to effect legislative change. There are wide areas which the dynamics of the original tradition will leave to public debate and education, which the reform movement desires to incorporate into law. This is not to deny that there may be areas (equality) where there is a conflict between the original tradition and the reform movement.

The tension between the original values and institutions and the reform ideas surfaces in the following analysis.