Democracy is a form of government in which power ultimately comes from the people who are governed, either through direct voting or through elected representatives. A democracy can range from a liberal direct democracy to an illiberal totalitarian democracy.
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- The manifest, the avowed difficulty is that democracy, no less than monarchy or aristocracy, sacrifices everything to maintain itself, and strives, with an energy and a plausibility that kings and nobles cannot attain, to override representation, to annul all the forces of resistance and deviation, and to secure, by Plebiscite, Referendum, or Caucus, free play for the will of the majority. The true democratic principle, that none shall have power over the people, is taken to mean that none shall be able to restrain or to elude its power. The true democratic principle, that the people shall not be made to do what it does not like, is taken to mean that it shall never be required to tolerate what it does not like. The true democratic principle, that every man‘s free will shall be as unfettered as possible, is taken to mean that the free will of the collective people shall be fettered in nothing. Religious toleration, judicial independence, dread of centralisation, jealousy of State interference, become obstacles to freedom instead of safeguards, when the centralised force of the State is wielded by the hands of the people. Democracy claims to be not only supreme, without authority above, but absolute, without independence below; to be its own master, not a trustee. The old sovereigns of the world are exchanged for a new one, who may be flattered and deceived, but whom it is impossible to corrupt or to resist, and to whom must be rendered the things that are Caesar's and also the things that are God’s. The enemy to be overcome is no longer the absolutism of the State, but the liberty of the subject.
- Lord Acton, in his review of "Sir Erskine May's Democracy in Europe" in The Quarterly Review (January 1878), p. 73
- As surely as the long reign of the rich has been employed in promoting the accumulation of wealth, the advent of the poor to power will be followed by schemes for diffusing it. Seeing how little was done by the wisdom of former times for education and public health, for insurance, association, and savings, for the protection of labour against the law of self-interest, and how much has been accomplished in this generation, there is reason in the fixed belief that a great change was needed, and that democracy has not striven in vain. Liberty, for the mass, is not happiness; and institutions are not an end but a means. The thing they seek is a force sufficient to sweep away scruples and the obstacle of rival interests, and, in some degree, to better their condition. They mean that the strong hand that heretofore has formed great States, protected religions, and defended the independence of nations, shall help them by preserving life, and endowing it for them with some, at least, of the things men live for. That is the notorious danger of modern democracy. That is also its purpose and its strength. And against this threatening power the weapons that struck down other despots do not avail. The greatest happiness principle positively confirms it. The principle of equality, besides being as easily applied to property as to power, opposes the existence of persons or groups of persons exempt from the common law, and independent of the common will; and the principle, that authority is a matter of contract, may hold good against kings, but not against the sovereign people, because a contract implies two parties.
- Lord Acton, in his review of "Sir Erskine May's Democracy in Europe" in The Quarterly Review (January 1878), p. 74
- The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections. To break off that point is to avert the danger. The common system of representation perpetuates the danger. Unequal electorates afford no security to majorities. Equal electorates give none to minorities. Thirty-five years ago it was pointed out that the remedy is proportional representation. It is profoundly democratic, for it increases the influence of thousands who would otherwise have no voice in the government; and it brings men more near an equality by so contriving that no vote shall be wasted, and that every voter shall contribute to bring into Parliament a member of his own opinions.
- Lord Acton, in his review of "Sir Erskine May's Democracy in Europe" in The Quarterly Review (January 1878), p. 75
- "It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see...."
"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"
"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."
"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."
"I did," said Ford. "It is."
"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"
"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."
"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"
"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."
"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"
"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in."
- Douglas Adams, in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (1984) Ch. 36
- I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.
- John Adams, letter to John Taylor (15 April 1814)
- Fear and destructiveness are the major emotional sources of fascism, eros belongs mainly to democracy.
- If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.
- Aristotle, Politics, Book IV, 1291.b34
- I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.
We can all be members of the intellectual elite and then, and only then, will a phrase like "America's right to know" and, indeed, any true concept of democracy, have any meaning.
- Tyrannies, when they are strong, and democracies, when they are weak, can not tolerate criticism.
- Joxe Azurmendi, Sokratesen Defentsa (Donostia: 1999), p. 57
- True democracy consists not in lowering the standard but in giving everybody, so far as possible, a chance of measuring up to the standard.
- Irving Babbitt, "English and the Discipline of Ideas" (1920), Irving Babbitt: Representative Writings (1981), p. 65
- Democracy is the menopause of Western society, the Grand Climacteric of the body social. Fascism is its middle-aged lust.
- Jean Baudrillard, in Cool Memories, ch. 1 (1987; tr. 1990)
- I believe in democracy, but in real democracy, not a phony democracy in which just powerful people can speak. For me, in a democracy everyone speaks.
- Augusto Boal, as quoted in "To Dynamize the Audience: Interview with Augusto Boal" by Robert Enight, in Canadian Theatre Review 47 (Summer 1986), pp. 41-49
- Tonight, as I see the drama of democracy unfolding around the globe, perhaps—perhaps we are closer to that new world than ever before.
- Democracy allows people to have different views, and democracy makes it also -- makes us also responsible for negotiating an answer for those views. [...] So we would like to -- it’s not just a matter of debating the case in parliament and winning Brownie points or Boy Scout points, or whatever they’re called. But it’s just a case of standing up for what we think our country needs. And we would like to talk to those who disagree with us. That, again, is what democracy is about. You talk to those who disagree with you; you don’t beat them down. You exchange views. And you come to a compromise, a settlement that would be best for the country. I’ve always said that dialogues and debates are not aimed at achieving victory for one particular party or the other, but victory for our people as a whole. We want to build up a strong foundation for national reconciliation, which means reconciliation not just between the different ethnic groups and between different religious groups, but between different ideas -- for example, between the idea of military supremacy and the idea of civilian authority over the military, which is the foundation of democracy.
- Democracy needs support and the best support for democracy comes from other democracies. Democratic nations should... come together in an association designed to help each other and promote what is a universal value — democracy.
- Benazir Bhutto, Speech at Harvard University (1989)
- Sycophancy toward those who hold power is a fact in every regime, and especially in a democracy, where, unlike tyranny, there is an accepted principle of legitimacy that breaks the inner will to resist. … Flattery of the people and incapacity to resist public opinion are the democratic vices, particularly among writers, artists, journalists and anyone else who is dependent on an audience.
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 249
- We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.
- Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice ~ quoted by Raymond Lonergan in, Mr. Justice Brandeis, Great American (1941), p. 42
- For poets (bear the word)
Half-poets even, are still whole democrats.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1856), Book 4
- When I examined my political faith I found that my strongest belief was in democracy according to my own definition. Democracy—the essential thing as distinguished from this or that democratic government—was primarily an attitude of mind, a spiritual testament, and not an economic structure or a political machine. The testament involved certain basic beliefs—that the personality was sacrosanct, which was the meaning of liberty; that policy should be settled by free discussion; that normally a minority should be ready to yield to a majority, which in turn should respect a minority's sacred things. It seemed to me that democracy had been in the past too narrowly defined and had been identified illogically with some particular economic or political system such as laissez-faire or British parliamentarism. I could imagine a democracy which economically was largely socialist and which had not our constitutional pattern.
- John Buchan, Pilgrim's Way (1940, reprinted 1979), p. 222
- A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world.
- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
- And wrinkles, the d—d democrats, won't flatter.
- Human affairs have scarcely ever been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have generally resulted in public error.
- Be it so that public error must have a place in human society, still, in the kingdom of God, we must look and listen only to his eternal truth, against which no series of years, no custom, no conspiracy, can plead prescription. Thus Isaiah formerly taught the people of God, “Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy;” i.e. do not unite with the people in an impious consent.
- The 20th century has been characterised by three developments of great political importance. The growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda against democracy.
- Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy, 1997, University of Illinois Press, ch. 2 p. 18.
- The 20th century has been characterized by four developments of great importance: the growth of political democracy, the growth of Online Democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.
- Democracy will prevail when men believe the vote of Judas as good as that of Jesus Christ.
- Attributed to Thomas Carlyle "The Scholar in a Republic", centennial anniversary address to Phi Beta Kappa of Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts (June 30, 1881). Reported in Carlos Martyn and Wendell Phillips, The Agitator (1890), p. 581. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
- Democracy, which means despair of finding any Heroes to govern you, and contented putting up with the want of them,—alas, thou too, mein Lieber, seest well how close it is of kin to Atheism, and other sad Isms: he who discovers no God whatever, how shall he discover Heroes, the visible Temples of God?
- Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (1843).
- Unlike what neo-liberals say, market and democracy clash at a fundamental level. Democracy runs on the principle of ‘one man (one person), one vote’. The market runs on the principle of ‘one dollar, one vote’. Naturally, the former gives equal weight to each person, regardless of the money she/he has. The latter give greater weight to richer people. Therefore, democratic decisions usually subvert the logic of market.
- Ha-Joon Chang, in Bad Samaritans (2008), Ch. 8: Zaire vs Indonesia, Should we turn our backs on corrupt and undemocratic countries?, Democracy and the free market, p. 157-158.
- Democracy is the power of equal votes for unequal minds.
- Charles I of England, Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1989), p. 76.
- Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
- G. K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland,” Orthodoxy (1908), p. 85.
- You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.
- G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1955), Chapter 12 Wind and the trees, p. 63.
- On n'exporte pas la démocratie dans un fourgon blindé.
- Under capitalism we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level -- there's a little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I'm opposed to economic fascism. I think that until major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy.
- Noam Chomsky, "One Man's View : Noam Chomsky interviewed by an anonymous interviewer," Business Today, May 1973.
- According to the common sense meaning, a society is democratic to the extent that people can participate in a meaningful way in managing their affairs. But the doctrinal meaning of democracy is different – it refers to a system in which decisions are made by sectors of the business community and related elites. The public are to be only ‘spectators of action,’ not ‘participants,’ as leading democratic theorists (in this case, Walter Lippmann) have explained. They are permitted to ratify the decisions of their betters and to lend their support to one or another of them, but not to interfere with matters – like public policy – that are none of their business.
If segments of the public depart from their apathy and begin to organize and enter the public arena, that’s not democracy. Rather, it’s a crisis of democracy in proper technical usage, a threat that has to be overcome in one or another way: in El Salvador, by death squads – at home, by more subtle and indirect means.
- Noam Chomsky, "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength" in What Uncle San Really Wants (1992)
- A study of the inter-American system published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London concluded that, while the US pays lip service to democracy, the real commitment is to "private, capitalist enterprise." When the rights of investors are threatened, democracy has to go; if these rights are safeguarded, killers and torturers will do just fine.
- Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
- Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (November 11, 1947); in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963 (1974), vol. 7, p. 7566.
- Democracy is spreading across the world. Democracy is only possible with easy access to information and good communications. And technology is a way of facilitating communications.
- Tom Clancy, as quoted in "Vonnegut and Clancy on Technology", by David H. Freedman and Sarah Schafer
- The ship of Democracy, which has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those aboard.
- Democracy is not a panacea. It cannot organize everything and it is unaware of its own limits. These facts must be faced squarely. Sacrilegious though this may sound, democracy is no longer well suited for the tasks ahead. The complexity and the technical nature of many of today's problems do not always allow elected representatives to make competent decisions at the right time.
- The Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution (1993).
- As during the time of kings it would have been naive to think that the king’s firstborn son would be the fittest to rule, so in our time it is naive to think that the democratically elected ruler will be the fittest. The rule of succession is not a formula for identifying the best ruler, it is a formula for conferring legitimacy on someone or other and thus forestalling civil conflict.
- J. M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year (2008), p. 14.
- A democracy unsatisfied [by support of the people] cannot long survive. We live in probably the most turbulent and tormented times in the history of this nation. Criticize... disagree, yes, but also we have as leaders an obligation to be fair and keep in perspective what we are and what we hope to be.
- John Connally, remarks at American Society of Newspaper Editors luncheon, Washington, D.C. (April 19, 1972), as reported by The Washington Post (April 20, 1972), p. C3.
- I had this sense that ideas about democracy, theories of democracy which I had learned about of course from graduate school on, from Aristotle and Plato onward, that they were inadequate. I don’t want to diminish them; I have always retained a great respect for classical and medieval and eighteenth-century theory, but meanwhile a whole new kind of political system emerged to which the term democracy became attached, and for which democracy remained an ideal, even though classical democracy as an ideal was so far removed from reality. The gap between that ideal and the actual political institutions that had developed, particularly from about the sixteenth, seventeenth century on, was just enormous. And what we didn’t have enough of, had very little of, was an adequate description of what the actual institutions of so-called democracy, modern democracy, representative democracy, were.
- Robert A. Dahl, in "A Conversation with Robert A. Dahl" by Margaret Levi, Annual Review of Political Science (2009)
- It is very significant that there has never been a war between genuine and universal democracies. There have been countless wars between totalitarian and authoritarian states. There have been wars between democracies and dictatorships - most often in defense of democratic values or in response to aggression.
- F. W. de Klerk, Nobel Peace Prize speech (10 December 1993)
- Le Césarisme, c'est la démocratie sans la liberté.
- Cæsarism is democracy without liberty.
- Taxile Delord, L'Histoire du Second Empire, as reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 188
- The world is weary of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.
- Benjamin Disraeli, Lothair, Chapter XVII
- Democracy is on trial in the world, on a more colossal scale than ever before.
- Charles Fletcher Dole, The Spirit of Democracy, as reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 188
- The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it. ~ Edward Dowling, Editor and Priest, Chicago Daily News (28 July 1941).
- Drawn to the dregs of a democracy.
- John Dryden, Absalom and Achitopel (1681), Part I, line 227
- But we owe ourselves, and the United States that we will pass off to our children, to re-learn the tools of reason, logic, clarity, dissent, civility, and debate. And those things are the non-partisan basis of democracy, and without them you can kiss this thing goodbye.
- All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government. It gave to human existence a zest and camaraderie that outweighed its pitfalls and defects. It gave to thought and science and enterprise the freedom essential to their operation and growth. It broke down the walls of privilege and class, and in each generation it raised up ability from every rank and place.
- Will Durant in his book The Lessons of History, chapter "Governement and History" p. 78
- War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.
- Ich bin zwar im täglichen Leben ein typischer Einspänner, aber das Bewusstsein, der unsichtbaren Gemeinschaft derjenigen anzugehören, die nach Wahrheit, Schönheit und Gerechtigkeit streben, hat das Gefühl der Vereinsamung nicht aufkommen lassen.
- I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state. Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
- Albert Einstein, in "My Credo", a speech to the German League of Human Rights, Berlin (Autumn 1932), as published in Einstein: A Life in Science (1994) by Michael White and John Gribbin, p. 262
- People think they have taken quite an extraordinarily bold step forward when they have rid themselves of belief in hereditary monarchy and swear by the democratic republic. In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy.
- Friedrich Engels, Introduction to 1891 edition of Karl Marx's, The Civil War in France
- Do nine tenants in a residential building have the right to place the dumpsters in front of the tenth tenant's door? Seemingly, they enjoy a clear majority. But the role of democracy is not only to assure the governance of the majority, but to protect the rights of the minority.
- Democracies that are under threat of destruction face the impossible dilemma of either yielding to that threat by insisting on preserving the democratic niceties, or violating their own principles by curtailing democratic rights.
- Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (2003), p. 452.
- The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity.
- Gustave Flaubert, Letter to George Sand (1871)
- Democracy is not a beloved Republic really, and never will be. But it is less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent it deserves our support. It does start from the assumption that the individual is important, and that all types are needed to make a civilization. It does not divide its citizens into the bossers and the bossed — as an efficiency-regime tends to do. The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power, and such people get more of a chance under a democracy than elsewhere. They found religions, great or small, or they produce literature and art, or they do disinterested scientific research, or they may be what is called "ordinary people", who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbours. All these people need to express themselves; they cannot do so unless society allows them liberty to do so, and the society which allows them most liberty is a democracy.
- Whether Parliament is either a representative body or an efficient one is questionable, but I value it because it criticizes and talks, and because its chatter gets widely reported. So two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.
- E. M. Forster, in "What I Believe", in The Nation (16 July 1938)
- "Democratic" decision making is a means for finding and implementing the will of the majority; it has no other function. It serves, not to encourage diversity, but to prevent it.
- David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom (1973), p. 88
- When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It's a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.
- The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.
- Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
- We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
- Alexander Hamilton, in debates of the Federal Convention (26 June 1787), as published in The Works of Alexander Hamilton (1904) edited by Henry Cabot Lodge, Vol. I: Speeches in the Federal Convention
- It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.
- Alexander Hamilton, speech in New York, urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution (21 June 1788)
- Well, I would say that, as long-term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. At times it is necessary for a country to have, for a time, some form or other of dictatorial power. As you will understand, it is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way. And it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism. Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism. My personal impression — and this is valid for South America — is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government. And during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement.
- Friedrich Hayek, Interview in El Mercurio (1981)
- A limited democracy might indeed be the best protector of individual liberty and be better than any other form of limited government, but an unlimited democracy is probably worse than any other form of unlimited government, because its government loses the power even to do what it thinks right if any group on which its majority depends thinks otherwise. If Mrs. Thatcher said that free choice is to be exercised more in the market place than in the ballot box, she has merely uttered the truism that the first is indispensable for individual freedom, while the second is not: free choice can at least exist under a dictatorship that can limit itself but not under the government of an unlimited democracy which cannot.
- The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed.
- It is no accident that on the whole there was more beauty and decency to be found in the life of the small peoples, and that among the large ones there was more happiness and content in proportion as they had avoided the deadly blight of centralization.
Least of all shall we preserve democracy or foster its growth if all the power and most of the important decisions rest with an organization far too big for the common man to survey or comprehend.
Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government, providing a school of political training for the people at large as much as for their future leaders.
- It is when it is contended that "in a democracy right is what the majority makes it to be" that democracy degenerates into demagoguery.
- Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (1960), p. 94
- Liberalism is a doctrine about what the law ought to be, democracy a doctrine about the manner of determining the law. Liberalism regards it as desirable that only what the majority accepts should in fact be law, but it does not believe that this is therefore necessarily good law. Its aim, indeed, is to persuade the majority to observe certain principles. It accepts majority rule as a method of deciding, but not as an authority for what the decision ought to be. To the doctrinaire democrat the fact that the majority wants something is sufficient ground for regarding it as good; for him the will of the majority determines not only what is law but what is good law.
- Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: 1960), pp. 103-104.
- If democracy is a means rather than an end, its limits must be determined in the light of the purpose we want it to serve.
- Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: 1960), p. 107
- Once wide coercive powers are given to governmental agencies for particular purposes, such powers cannot be effectively controlled by democratic assemblies.
- Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: 1960), p. 116
- It is not democracy but unlimited government that is objectionable, and I do not see why the people should not learn to limit the scope of majority rule as well as that of any other form of government. At any rate, the advantages of democracy as a method of peaceful change and of political education seem to be so great compared with those of any other system that I can have no sympathy with the antidemocratic strain of conservatism. It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem.
- Friedrich Hayek, Why I Am Not a Conservative
- Democracy, in this late stage of capitalism, has been replaced with a system of legalized bribery. All branches of government, including the courts, along with the systems of entertainment and news, are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. Electoral politics are elaborate puppet shows.
- Our democracy, as Snowden I think has revealed, has become a fiction. The state, through elaborate forms of political theater, seeks to maintain this fiction to keep us passive. And if we wake up, the state will not shy away from draconian measures. The goal is complete subjugation, the iron rule of our corporations and our power elite.
- Democracy can't work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that's all there is — so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work. Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.
"But a democratic form of government is okay, as long as it doesn't work. Any social organization does well enough if it isn't rigid. The framework doesn't matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing — except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.
- Democracy is a poor system of government at best; the only thing that can honestly be said in its favor is that it is about eight times as good as any other method the human race has ever tried. Democracy's worst fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents — a depressingly low level, but what else can you expect?
- When its existence is threatened and it has to unify its people and generate in them a spirit of utmost self-sacrifice, the democratic nation must transform itself into something akin to a militant church or a revolutionary party. ...The mastery of the art of religiofication is an essential requirement in the leader of a democratic nation... Only a goal which lends itself to continued perfection can keep a nation potentially virile even though its desires are continually fulfilled. The goal need not be sublime. The gross ideal of an ever-rising standard of living has kept this nation fairly virile.
- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951) Ch.18 : Good and Bad Mass Movements, §124
- You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.
- Abbie Hoffman, Tikkun (July-August 1989); also quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever : Why the Left is Right (2004) by William P. Martin, p. 51
- The basic ideals and concepts of rationalist metaphysics were rooted in the concept of the universally human, of mankind, and their formalization implies that they have been severed from their human content. How this dehumanization of thinking affects the very foundations of our civilization can be illustrated by analysis of the principle of the majority, which is inseparable from the principle of democracy. In the eyes of the average man, the principle of the majority is often not only a substitute for but an improvement upon objective reason: since men are after all the best judges of their own interests, the resolutions of a majority, it is thought, are certainly as valuable to a community as the intuitions of a so-called superior reason. … What does it mean to say that “a man knows his own interests best”—how does he gain this knowledge, what evidences that his knowledge is correct? In the proposition, “A man knows [his own interests] best,” there is an implicit reference to an agency that is not totally arbitrary … to some sort of reason underlying not only means but ends as well. If that agency should turn out to be again merely the majority, the whole argument would constitute a tautology. The great philosophical tradition that contributed to the founding of modern democracy was not guilty of this tautology, for it based the principles of government upon … the assumption that the same spiritual substance or moral consciousness is present in each human being. In other words, respect for the majority was based on a conviction that did not itself depend on the resolutions of the majority.
- Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (1947), p. 18
- Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else.
- Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Reflections on State and War (2006)
- The only way to practice democracy, is to practice democracy.
- An electoral choice of ten different fascists is like choosing which way one wishes to die. The holder of so-called high public office is always merely an extension of the hated ruling corporate class.
- George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971), p. 72
- The fascist arrangement tolerates the existence of no valid revolutionary activity. It has programmed into its very nature a massive, complex and automatic defense mechanism for all our old methods for raising the consciousness of a potentially revolutionary class of people. The essence of a U.S.A. totalitarian socio-political capitalism is concealed behind the illusion of a mass participatory society. We must rip away its mask. Then the debate can end, and we can enter a new phase of struggle based on the development of an armed revolutionary culture that will triumph.
- George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971), p. 138
- Democracy has always been a problem. The truly attractive features of the Western tradition that we accidentally—and it really is accidentally—get the benefit of are the rule of law, liberalism and tolerance, all of which are virtues inherited from predemocratic societies, whether they were based in eighteenth-century Anglo-American aristocratic individualism or nineteenth-century European forms of a type of developed postfeudal legal state. Democracy comes last. Democracy is simply a system of selection of people to rule over you. And it’s not accidental that everyone is now a democrat. The Chinese are for democracy. George Bush was for democracy. The Burmese believe in it; they just call it something slightly different. South African whites believed in democracy; they just thought it should be arranged differently for blacks. Democracy is a dangerously empty term, and to the extent that it has substance, and the substance consists of allowing people to select freely how they live, the chance that they will choose to live badly is very high.
- Tony Judt, quoted in "Talking With Tony Judt", The Nation (April 29, 2010) by Christine Smallwood
- Democracy is necessarily despotism, as it establishes an executive power contrary to the general will; all being able to decide against one whose opinion may differ, the will of all is therefore not that of all: which is contradictory and opposite to liberty.
- Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace, II, (1795)
- The respondents in this case insist that a difficult question of public policy must be taken from the reach of the voters, and thus removed from the realm of public discussion, dialogue, and debate in an election campaign. Quite in addition to the serious First Amendment implications of that position with respect to any particular election, it is inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy. One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. That process is impeded, not advanced, by court decrees based on the proposition that the public cannot have the requisite repose to discuss certain issues. It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.
- Anthony Kennedy , Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 572 U. S. ____, (2016), plurality opinion.
- The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people - faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but will also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment - faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor, and ultimately recognize right.
- For in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, 'hold office'; everyone of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.
- A democracy is peace-loving. It does not like to go to war. It is slow to rise to provocation. When it has once been provoked to the point where it must grasp the sword, it does not easily forgive its adversary for having produced this situation. The fact of the provocation then becomes itself the issue. Democracy fights in anger — it fights for the very reason that it was forced to go to war. It fights to punish the power that was rash enough and hostile enough to provoke it — to teach that power a lesson it will not forget, to prevent the thing from happening again. Such a war must be carried to the bitter end.
- George F. Kennan, in American Diplomacy (1951)
- If we are to be a great democracy, we must all take an active role in our democracy. We must do democracy. That goes far beyond simply casting your vote. We must all actively champion the causes that ensure the common good.
- You cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation state.
- The cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy and, while guided and controlled by virtue, the noblest attribute of man. It is the only dictator that freemen acknowledge and the only security that freemen desire.
- Mirabeau B. Lamar, 2nd President of the Republic of Texas, as quoted in Hargrave Military Academy: Catalog and Announcements for session 1944-1945 (1944), the yearbook of Hargrave Military Academy
- The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.
- Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich – that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we see everywhere, in the "petty" – supposedly petty – details of the suffrage (residential qualifications, exclusion of women, etc.), in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for "paupers"!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc., – we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, bourgeois publicists and politicians come under this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.
- Socialism without democracy is pseudo-socialism, just as democracy without socialism is pseudo-democracy.
- If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It.
- Here is Democracy's opportunity. Here is the opportunity to be of service to the people. Here is the chance for this party to have been of service to the people of the United States. Here is our chance to have been of help to the poor man. Here is our chance to have relieved him of the burdens and to have given him the benefits of a government that could have promoted the enterprises and furnished the conveniences and the facilities needed by every man, woman, and child in this country.
- Huey Long, remarks in the Senate (17 May 1932), reported in Congressional Record, vol. 75, p. 10394
- Puritanism, believing itself quick with the seed of religious liberty, laid, without knowing it, the egg of democracy.
- James Russell Lowell, Among My Books, New England Two Centuries Ago, as reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 188
- Democ'acy gives every man
A right to be his own oppressor.
- James Russell Lowell, Biglow Papers, Series 2, No. 7, as reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 188
- To one that advised him to set up a democracy in Sparta, "Pray," said Lycurgus, "do you first set up a democracy in your own house."
- Tyranny is usually tempered with assassination, and Democracy must be tempered with culture. In the absence of this, it turns into a representation of collective folly.
- John Stuart Mackenzie , in An Introduction to Social Philosophy (1895), p. 383
- A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
- James Madison, Federalist Paper #10
- Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
- James Madison, Federalist No. 10
- All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teaches us to enforce the people's democratic dictatorship, that is, to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right.
- Our democracy was from an early period the most aristocratic, and our aristocracy the most democratic.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, History, Vol. I, p. 20
- I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilisation, or both.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Henry Stephens Randall (May 23, 1857), The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay (1981) edited by Thomas Pinney, Vol. 6, p. 94
- I have not the smallest doubt that, if we had a purely democratic government here, the effect would be the same. Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilisation would perish; or order and property would be saved by a strong military government, and liberty would perish.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Henry Stephens Randall (May 23, 1857), The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay (1981) edited by Thomas Pinney, Vol. 6, p. 94
- Operational analysis … cannot raise the decisive question whether the consent itself was not the work of manipulation—a question for which the actual state of affairs provides ample justification. The analysis cannot raise it because it would transcend its terms toward transitive meaning—toward a concept of democracy which would reveal the democratic election as a rather limited democratic process.
Precisely such a non-operational concept is the one rejected by the authors as “unrealistic” because it defines democracy on too articulate a level as the clear-cut control of representation by the electorate—popular control as popular sovereignty.
- Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (1964), p. 116
- Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
- H.L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major (1916), p. 19
- Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
- H.L. Mencken, “Notes On Journalism,” Chicago Tribune (September 19, 1926)
- Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
- H.L. Mencken, In Defense of Women (1918)
- As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
- H. L. Mencken, “Bayard vs. Lionheart,” Baltimore Evening Sun (26 July 1920)
- The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy!
- H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy (1926), p. 4 and p. 73
- Men in the mass never brook the destructive discussion of their fundamental beliefs, and that impatience is naturally most evident in those societies in which men in the mass are most influential. Democracy and free speech are not facets of one gem; democracy and free speech are eternal enemies.
- H. L. Mencken, Introduction to The Antichrist
- Politics, under a democracy, reduces itself to a mere struggle for office by flatterers of the proletariat.
- H. L. Mencken, Introduction to The Antichrist
- Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
- H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949).
- No government by a democracy, … either in its political acts or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters, ever did or could rise above mediocrity, except in so far as the sovereign Many have let themselves be guided (which in their best times they always have done) by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed One or Few.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Henry Holt, New York: 1895), Chapter 3, p. 119
- "In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them, (2) Public communications are so organised that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against – if necessary – the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operations.-In a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. (2) The communications that prevail are so organised that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) The realisation of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organise and control the channels of such action. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorised institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion".
- Pareto, Georges Sorel, Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini were right in denouncing democracy as a capitalist method. Every step which leads from capitalism toward planning is necessarily a step nearer to absolutism and dictatorship.
- Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and the Total War, Mises Institute (2010) p. 53. First published in 1944 by Yale University Press.
- Here is the crisis of the times as I see it: We talk about problems, issues, policies, but we don't talk about what democracy means — what it bestows on us — the revolutionary idea that it isn't just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency.
- Bill Moyers, "The Power of Democracy", speech accepting the Public Intellectual Award of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 7 February 2007, Moyers on Democracy (2008), p. 92
- The way people in democracies think of the government as something different from themselves is a real handicap. And, of course, sometimes the government confirms their opinion.
- Lewis Mumford, as quoted in Philosophers of the Earth : Conversations with Ecologists (1972) by Anne Chisholm
- Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day.
- Democratic regimes may be described as those under which the people are, from time to time, deluded into the belief that they exercise sovereignty over their nation, while in reality the sovereignty at all times resides in and is exercised by other, sometimes irresponsible and secret forces.
- Democratic institutions are quarantine mechanisms for that old pestilence, tyrannic lust. As such they are very useful and very boring.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too Human, Section 2, Aphorism 298
- America is the world’s oldest constitutional democracy; that means we’re going to stand up for democracy -- it’s a part of who we are. And we do this not only because we think it’s right, but because it’s been proven to be the most stable and successful form of government. In recent decades, many Asian nations have shown that different nations can realize the promise of self-government in their own way; they have their own path. But we must recognize that democracies don’t stop just with elections; they also depend on strong institutions and a vibrant civil society, and open political space, and tolerance of people who are different than you. We have to create an environment where the rights of every citizen, regardless of race or gender, or religion or sexual orientation are not only protected, but respected.
- Democracy will win -- because a government’s legitimacy can only come from citizens; because in this age of information and empowerment, people want more control over their lives, not less; and because, more than any other form of government ever devised, only democracy, rooted in the sanctity of the individual, can deliver real progress.
- Our democracy is not the buildings, not the monuments. It's you being willing to work to make things better and being willing to listen to each other and argue with each other and come together and knock on doors and make phone calls and treat people with respect.
- Barack Obama, Farewell to members of his staff on January 20, 2017 at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland before departing with his family for a vacation in California. Source: Obama's post-inauguration remarks: Full text by CNN on January 20, 2017.
- When words stop meaning anything, when truth doesn’t matter, when people can just lie with abandon, democracy can’t work.
- Barack Obama, Speech at political rally on November 2, 2018. Source: Obama rips hecklers: Why are the people who won the last election ‘so mad all the time?'
- Today we are witnessing the triumph of a hyperdemocracy in which the mass acts directly, outside the law, imposing its aspirations and its desires by means of material pressure.
- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, p. 17
- In the case of a word like DEMOCRACY, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.
- Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadows about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.
- When citizens are relatively equal, politics has tended to be fairly democratic. When a few individuals hold enormous amounts of wealth, democracy suffers. The reason for this pattern is simple. Through campaign contributions, lobbying, influence over public discourse, and other means, wealth can be translated into political power. When wealth is highly concentrated—that is, when a few individuals have enormous amounts of money—political power tends to be highly concentrated, too. The wealthy few tend to rule. Average citizens lose political power. Democracy declines.
- Average Americans have little or no influence over the making of U.S. government policy. ... Wealthy Americans wield a lot of influence. By investing money in politics, they can turn economic power into political power.
- What's happened recently in Pakistan, India and Kuwait only goes to show that it's futile to imitate Western democracy. They've ended up exactly where they started.
- Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, as quoted in Alam, Asadollah (1991), The Shah and I, I. B. Tauris, page 506
- We have really put the duh in democracy, creating a perverse equality that entitles everyone to speak to every issue, regardless of how much they know about it.
- Laura Penny, More Money Than Brains, p. 13
- Many of our moral and political policies are designed to preempt what we know to be the worst features of human nature. The checks and balances in a democracy, for instance, were invented in explicit recognition of the fact that human leaders will always be tempted to arrogate power to themselves. Likewise, our sensitivity to racism comes from an awareness that groups of humans, left to their own devices, are apt to discriminate and oppress other groups, often in ugly ways. History also tells us that a desire to enforce dogma and suppress heretics is a recurring human weakness, one that has led to recurring waves of gruesome oppression and violence. A recognition that there is a bit of Torquemada in everyone should make us wary of any attempt to enforce a consensus or demonize those who challenge it.
- Steven Pinker, introduction to What is Your Dangerous Idea? (2007) ed. John Brockman, p. xxxi
- A charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.
- Plato, describing democracy, Republic (558c)
- One of the insidious facts about totalitarianism is its seeming "efficiency." …Democracy — with all of its inefficiency — is still the best system we have so far for enhancing the prospects of our mutual survival.
- Neil Postman, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969)
- It is much to be feared that the last expression of democracy may be a social state with a degenerate populace having no other aim than to indulge in the ignoble appetites of the vulgar.
- Democracy has turned out to be not majority rule but rule by well-organized and well-connected minority groups who steal from the majority.
- But Lincoln also understood that after such a decision, a democracy should seek peace through a new unity. For a democracy can keep alive only if the settlement of old difficulties clears the ground and transfers energies to face new responsibilities. Never can it have as much ability and purpose as it needs in that striving; the end of battle does not end the infinity of those needs. That is why Lincoln—commander of a people as well as of an army—asked that his battle end "with malice toward none, with charity for all."
- Citizens of a Jeffersonian democracy can be as religious or irreligious as they please as long as they are not “fanatical.” That is, they must abandon or modify opinion on matters of ultimate importance, the opinions that may hitherto have given sense and point to their lives, if these opinions entail public actions that cannot be justified to most of their fellow citizens.
- Richard Rorty, “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy,” Objectivity, Relativism and Truth (Cambridge: 1991), p. 175
- Democracy is the great love of the failures and cowards of life.
- R. J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come (1970)
- One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state, and it has worked towards reducing society to anarchy.
- R. J. Rushdoony , The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), as quoted in
The Secrets of the Kingdom: Religion and Concealment in the Bush Administration(2007) by Hugh B. Urban, p. 39
- A fanatical belief in democracy makes democratic institutions impossible.
- Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who'll get the blame.
- Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists (2007), p. 346
- There was autocracy in political life, and it was superseded by democracy. So surely will democratic power wrest from you the control of industry. The fate of you, the aristocracy of industry, will be as the fate of the aristocracy of land if you do not now show that you have some humanity still among you. Humanity abhors, above all things, a vacuum in itself, and your class will be cut off from humanity as the surgeon cuts the cancer and alien growth from the body. Be warned ere it is too late.
- George William Russell, "Open Letter to the Masters of Dublin" (1913)
- From Machiavelli to the present, thinkers have distinguished between the adept elite and the incompetent many. We may think that anyone who draws such a distinction and in such terms can be no friend to democracy; that is not true.
- Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Introduction: Thinking about Politics
- We are very attached to describing ourselves as the Greeks described themselves; try persuading a friend that the United States is not really a democracy. But it is not clear that their ideals, and ambitions, and the assumptions embodied in that vocabulary, or the views on the best way to govern ourselves of those who created that vocabulary, make much sense in a world as different as ours.
- Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 1 : Why Herodotus?
- Everything is discussed in this world, except for one thing: democracy. Democracy is not discussed. Democracy is there, as a kind of saint, from whom no miracles are expected, but that is there as a reference: "the democracy"; and we don’t notice that the democracy in which we live in is a kidnapped, conditioned and amputated one, because the power of the citizen, the power of each one of us, is limited, in the political sphere, I repeat, in the political sphere, to removing a government that we don’t like and replacing it by another one that we might come to like. Nothing else. But the important decisions are made in another sphere, and we all know which one it is. The great international financial organizations, the IMFs, the World Trade Organizations, the World Banks, the OECD, all of these... None of these institutions is democratic, so how can we continue to talk about democracy, if those who actually govern the world are not democratically elected by the people? Who chooses the countries' representatives in those institutions? Their respective peoples? No. So where is the democracy?
- Democracy has no place for the kind of justice implied in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Democracy is a system for the resolution of conflict, not for vengeance. Simple black-white notions of right and wrong do not fit into democratic politics. Political controversies result from the fact that the issues are complex, and men may properly have differences of opinion about them. The most terrible of all over-simplifications is the notion that politics is a contest between good people and bad people. Democracy is based on a profound insight into human nature, the realization that all men are sinful, all are imperfect, all are prejudiced, and none knows the whole truth. That is why we need liberty and why we have an obligation to hear all men. Liberty gives us a chance to learn from other people, to become aware of our own limitations, and to correct our bias. Even when we disagree with other people we like to think that they speak from good motives, and while we realize that all men are limited, we do not let ourselves imagine that any man is bad. Democracy is a political system for people who are not sure that they are right.
- Elmer Eric Schattschneider, Two Hundred Million Americans in Search of a Government (1969), p. 53
- Democracies have no business running secret prisons. That's what our enemies do. […] As Americans, we do believe our system offers a better way. But the only way to convince others of that is if we live by our values. Real security begins with remembering who we are. We gain nothing by adopting the methods of our enemies.
- Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.
- George Bernard Shaw, cited in The Last Word, p. 223
- If Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters?
- George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903), Epistle Dedicatory
- The will to power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the object's sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.
- Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West (1923), p. 394
- Together, the property rights and public choice schools show only that, if you start by assuming a purely individualistic model of human behavior and treat politics as if it were a pale imitation of the market, democracy will, indeed, make no sense.
- Paul Starr, "The Meaning Of Privatization" ,Yale Law and Policy Review 6 (1988)
- But now well democracy has shown us that what is evil are the grosses têtes, the big heads, all big heads are greedy for money and power, they are ambitious that is the reason they are big heads and so they are at the head of the government and the result is misery for the people. They talk about cutting off the heads of the grosses têtes but now we know that there will be other grosses têtes and the will be all the same.
- Gertrude Stein, in Paris France (1940), p. 28
- Democracies are often run by ethnically based groups prepared to do terrible things to other ethnic groups... or they can be very corrupt, dominated by elites... Capitalist, democratic states put the emphasis on the private sector, which doesn't always deliver on social goods. The free press is good on major disasters like classic famines, but it tolerates chronic hunger as much as anyone else.
- Frances Stewart, quoted in Massing, Michael (2003-03-01). "Does Democracy Avert Famine?". New York Times.
- But our perfect democracy, which neither needs nor particularly wants voters, is a rarity. It is important to remember there still exist many other forms of government in the world today, and that dozens of foreign governments still long for a democracy such as ours to be imposed on them.
- Plato would tell us, in that affectionate but non-sexual way of his, that "democracy" is a Greek word combining the roots for "people" ("demos-") and "rule" ("-kratia"). In Greek democracy, political power was concentrated not in the hands of one person, or even a small group of people, but rather evenly and fairly among all the people (free adult males), meaning every John Q. Publikopolous could play a role in Athenian government.
- It was once said that democracy is the regime that stands or falls by virtue: a democracy is a regime in which all or most adults are men of virtue, and since virtue seems to require wisdom, a regime in which all or most adults are virtuous and wise, or the society in which all or most adults have developed their reason to a high degree, or the rational society. Democracy, in a word, is meant to be an aristocracy which has broadened into a universal aristocracy. …
There exists a whole science—the science which I among thousands of others profess to teach, political science—which so to speak has no other theme than the contrast between the original conception of democracy, or what one may call the ideal of democracy, and democracy as it is. …
Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant.
- Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), pp. 4-5
- He who dreamed of democracy, far back in a world of absolutism, was indeed heroic, and we of today awaken to the wonder of his dream.
- Louis Sullivan, in "Education" an address to the Architectural League of America, Toronto (1902), later published in Kindergarten Chats (revised 1918) and Other Writings (1947)
- Even if we accept, as the basic tenet of true democracy, that one moron is equal to one genius, is it necessary to go a further step and hold that two morons are better than one genius?
- Leó Szilárd, in The Voice of the Dolphins: And Other Stories (1961)
- Variant translation: I'm all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.
- As quoted in "Some Szilardisms on War, Fame, Peace", LIFE magazine, Vol. 51, no. 9 (1 September 1961), p. 79
- This is supposed to be a participatory democracy and if we're not in there participating then the people that will manipulate and exploit the system will step in there. So I've been a political activist all my life and I think in a large measure it's because of the internment that we experienced 50 years ago.
- The conception of man as a product of economics is the essence of the philosophy of Communism. The conception of man as a biological product, his destiny entirely determined by his racial chromosomes, is the essence of Nazism. The conception of man as a child of God—that is to say, as a soul capable or reason, capable of developing and perfecting himself in the image of the ideal—is the basis of democracy.
- Dorothy Thompson, Let The Record Speak, Boston: MA, Houghton Mifflin Company (1939) p. 278
- The moral empire of the majority is founded in part of the idea that there is more enlightenment and wisdom in many men united than in one alone, in the number of legislators than in their choice. It is the theory of equality applied to intellects.
- The most opulent citizens of a democracy will not show tastes very different from those of the people, whether having come from within the people, they really share them, or whether they believe they ought to submit to them.
- The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence. In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we examine it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 2, Book 1, Chapter 2, J. Spencer, trans.
- It is not, perhaps, unreasonable to conclude, that a pure and perfect democracy is a thing not attainable by man, constituted as he is of contending elements of vice and virtue, and ever mainly influenced by the predominant principle of self-interest. It may, indeed, be confidently asserted, that there never was that government called a republic, which was not ultimately ruled by a single will, and, therefore, (however bold may seem the paradox,) virtually and substantially a monarchy.
- Alexander Fraser Tytler, Universal History: From the Creation of the World to the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century, Vol. I (1854), Book II, Chapter 6, p. 216.
- A Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of Government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that Democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a Dictatorship and a Monarchy.
- It's carrying democracy too far if you don't know the result of the vote before the meeting.
- Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.
- Gore Vidal, "Gods and Greens" (1989), in A View from the Diner's Club (1991).
- In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace -- and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
- Thunder on! Stride on! Democracy. Strike with vengeful strokes.
- Walt Whitman, Drum-Taps, Rise O Days From Your Fathomless Deep, No. 3
- If believers feel that their faith is trivialized and their true selves compromised by a society that will not give religious imperatives special weight, their problem is not that secularists are antidemocratic but that democracy is antiabsolutist.
- We rightly rejected the divine right of kings, but now too many of us believe in a divine right of majorities and pluralities. We wrongly assume that no empathy is required for minority viewpoints, provided a vote was taken.
But fundamental moral principles, like the Zero Aggression Principle, cannot be voted out of existence.
- Perry Willis and Jim Babka, "How do libertarians view democracy?," Zero Aggression Project (cited 20 July 2015)
- But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.
- Woodrow Wilson, address to Congress (2 April 1917)
- I believe in Democracy because it releases the energies of every human being.
- Woodrow Wilson, at the Workingman's Dinner, New York (4 September 1912)
- The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.
- Woodrow Wilson, address to the US Congress on war with Germany (2 April 1917)
- It is doubtful that democracy could survive in a society organized on the principle of therapy rather than judgment, error rather than sin. If men are free and equal, they must be judged rather than hospitalized.
- Francis D. Wormuth, The Origins of Modern Constitutionalism (1949), p. 212