"Our constitution is called a democracy because it is in the hands not of the few but of the many. But the laws secure equal justice for all in their private disputes. As for social standing, our practice is that a citizen who has recognized ability in some field gets public preferment-it is a question of his abilities, not of his rank. As for poverty, our practice is that if a man can do good work for the community, humbleness of condition is no bar.....Open and friendly in our private intercourse, in our public conduct we keep strictly within the control of law.....we are obedient to those in authority and to the laws, more especially to those which offer protection to the oppressed."



"I painfully reflect that in almost every political controversy of the last fifty years the leisured classes, the educated classes, the wealthy classes, the titled classes, have been in the wrong, The common people-the toilers, the men of uncommon sense-these have been responsible for nearly all of the social reform measures which the world accepts today-"



"It may be true....that "you can't fool all the people all the time", but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country."

Will Durant



"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

-Winston Churchill


"Democracy is the worship of jackals by jackasses."

-H.L. Mencken


"The masses, the majority, this damned, compact majority (are) what poison our spiritual sources and pollute the earth underfoot."

Henrik Ibsen


"It is one of the strangest of vulgar ideas that a very wide suffrage could or would promote progress, new ideas, new discoveries, new inventions, new arts of life. The chances are that it will produce a mischievous form of conservatism."

Sir Henry Maine


"We must get rid of our arrogant assumption that it is the masses who can be led by the nose. As far as I can make out, the shoe is on the other foot. The only people who are really the dupes of their favorite newspapers are the intelligentsia. It is they who read leading articles: the poor read the sporting news, which is mostly true."

C.S. Lewis


"Direct election and universal suffrage, I consider to be greater guarantees of conservative action than any artificial electoral law."



"The people are that part of the state which does not know what it wants."

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)


"The taste of democracy becomes a bitter taste when the fullness of democracy is denied."

Max Lerner


"Nowhere do citizens appear so insignificant as in a democratic nation."

Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America



"How many Americans realize that their country is not a democracy but an oligarchy, and owes a good deal of its stability to that fact?

Ernest Dimnet

The Art of Thinking



"Of all tyrannies a country can suffer, the worst is the tyranny of the majority."

William R. Inge (1860-1954)


"Envy is the basis of democracy."

Bertrand Russell


"We talk sometimes as if democracy were the natural human condition, as if any deviation from it is a crime to be punished or a disease to be cured. That is not true. Democracy, or what we call democracy nowadays, is the parochial custom of the English-speaking peoples for the conduct of their public affairs, which may or may not be suitable for others."

-Bernard Lewis


"The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom among us-is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact liberal majority…..

The majority has might-unfortunately-but right it is not. Right-are I and a few others. The minority is always right…..

I have a mind to make a revolution against the lie that the majority is in the possession of truth. What kind of truths are those around which the majority usually gathers? They are truths that have become so old that they are on the way toward becoming shaky. But once a truth has become that old, it is also on the way toward becoming a lie…..A normally constituted truth lives, let us say, as a rule seventeen or eighteen years; at most twenty, rarely more. But such aged truths are always exceedingly thin. Nevertheless it is only at that stage that the majority makes their acquaintance….All these majority truths….are rather like rancid, spoiled….hams. And that is the source of the moral scurvy that rages all around us."


An Enemy of the People


"It is no bad thing that our politicians are fools. We mortals all famously are. And the theory of democracy is that we can rule ourselves. If exceptionally wise and able men were required to run our democratic system, we'd have a lot of explaining to do to the other fools around the world, from Zimbabwe to North Korea, upon whom we are always urging democratic institutions. Anyway, the history of kingdoms, oligarchies, and dictatorships indicate that ordinary fools do a pretty good job in politics, comparatively."

P.J. O'Rourke    Atlantic Monthly Nov 2002


"Democracy passes into despotism."

Plato (429-347 B.C.)


STOCKHOLM,Sweden-Some of the world’s poorest and most chaotic countries, such as Albania and Angola, have voter turnout rates that far exceed many developed democracies like the United States."

Jim Heintz (associated Press)


"Let us show ourselves Americans by showing that we do not want to go off in separate camps or grounds by ourselves, but that we want to co-operate with all other classes and all other groups in a common enterprise which is to release the spirits of the world from bondage-that is the meaning of democracy."

-Woodrow Wilson


"When all prerogatives of birth and fortune have been abolished, when ever profession is open to ambitious man may think it is easy to launch himself on a great career and feel that he has been called to no common destiny. But this is a delusion which experience quickly corrects. When inequality is the general rule in society, the greatest inequalities attract no attention. But when everything is more or less level, the slightest variation is noticed.....That is the reason for the strange melancholy often haunting inhabitants of democracies in the midst of abundance and of that disgust with life sometimes gripping them even in calm and easy circumstances. In France, we are worried about increasing rate of suicides. In America, suicide is rare, but I am told that madness is commoner than anywhere else."

Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America (1835)


Article: "America’s Ignorant Voters" by Michael Shudson….WQ Spring 2000

‘This year’s election is sure to bring more lamentations about voter apathy. No less striking is the appalling political ignorance of the American electorate."

Article: "Democracy Without Farmers" by Victor Davis Hanson..WQ Spring 2000


"The intellectual tyranny of the majority may be as harassing as the political tyranny of monarchs; already, in some American states, more than a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This democratic suspicion of individuality is a result of the theory of equality; since all men are equal a count of noses must establish any truth, and sanctify any custom. Not only is democracy a result of the machine age, and not only does it rule through "machines"; it holds in itself the potentiality of the most terrible machine of all, a vast weight of ignorant compulsion ostracizing difference, crushing the exceptional mind, and discouraging untraditional excellence."

Will Durant

The Mansions of philosophy


"In a democracy, a majority can only turn against the government by first admitting to themselves that they were mistaken in formerly thinking well of their chosen leaders, which is difficult and unpleasant."

Bertrand Russell



"The demand for equality has two sources; one of them is among the noblest, the other is the basest, of human emotions. The noble source is the desire for fair play. But the other source is the hatred of superiority."

C.S. Lewis



"A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands...will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished."

John Stuart Mill



"A government founded upon anything but liberty and justice cannot stand. All the wrecks on either side of the stream of time, all the wrecks of the great cities, and all the nations that have passed away-all are a warning that no nation founded upon injustice can stand. From the sand-enshrouded Egypt, from the marble wilderness of Athens, and From every fallen crumbling stone of the once mighty Rome, comes a wail as it were, the cry that no nation founded upon injustice can permanently stand."

Robert G. Ingersoll


"Let the people think they govern and they will be governed."

-William Penn


"When the people rule, they must be rendered happy, or they will overturn the state."

-Alexis De Tocqueville


"Democracy without education means hypocrisy without limitation; it means the degradation of statesmanship into politics; it means the expensive maintenance, in addition to the real ruling class, of a large parasitic class of politicians whose function it is to serve the rulers and deceive the ruled; it has made all public life a server of corruption which poisons the breath of heaven.

Will Durant 1929



"The true supporters of government are the weak and the uninformed and not the wise."

William Godwin

Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its influence on Morals and Happiness



"A successful U.S. presidency campaign requires a minimum of 50 million dollars, senator ships 20 million, representatives 2 million. Through big business advertising-placement control of the most powerful media, money can buy and now has bought control of the U.S.A. political system once designed for democracy."


Buckminister  Fuller  (aren't these figures quaint.?.ed)




"Apparently it is not democracy alone that is a failure; it is ourselves. We forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. We thought there was power in numbers, and we found only mediocrity. The larger the number of voters, the more ordinary must be the man or the qualities that will appeal to them. We do not demand greatness or foresight in our elected officials, but only bare-toothed oratory and something this side of starvation. According to Bacon, "the ancient politicians said of democracies that 'the people were like the sea, and the orators like the wind. ' " Indeed we do not much care who governs us; we hardly realize that we are being governed, just as we think we pay no Taxes because we pay them through the landlord of the tariff. To the poor all things are weather."

Voltaire preferred monarchy to democracy, on the ground that in a monarchy it was only necessary to educate one man; in a democracy you must educate millions, and the grave-digger gets them all before you can educate ten per cent of them. We realize what pranks the birth-rate plays with our theories and our arguments. The minority acquire education, and have small families, the majority have no time for education, and have large families; nearly all of each generation are brought up in homes where the income is too small to provide the luxury of knowledge. Hence the perennial futility of political liberalism"

Will Durant

The Mansions of philosophy 1929



"Only by the growth and exercise of individual conscience does the man earn or deserve his rights". Democracy is the opposite of Totalitarianism, communism, fascism, or Mobocracy. but democracy is constantly in danger from mobocracy-the rising tide of as yet unqualified herd instinct. mechanized mediocrity. The conditioned mind instead of the enlightened mind."

Taliesin Mag 26,1953



"The minority is always right."

Henrik Ibsen


"WE’d all like to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate."

Kin Hubbard


"Democracy is still upon its trial. The civic genius of our people is its only bulwark, and neither laws nor monuments, neither battleships nor public libraries, nor great newspapers nor booming stock; neither mechanical invention nor political adroitness, nor churches nor universities nor civil service examinations can save us from degeneration if the inner mystery be lost. That mystery…consists in nothing but two common habits, two inveterate habits carried into public life-habits more precious, perhaps, than any that the human expression, yet habits more precious, perhaps, than any that the human race has gained…One of them is the habit of trained and disciplined good temper toward the opposite party when it fairly wins its innings….The other is that of fierce and merciless resentment toward everyman or set of men who break the public peace."

William James


"The difference between a slave and a citizen is that a slave is subject to his master and a citizen to the laws. It may happen that the master is very gentle and the laws very harsh; that changes nothing. Everything lies in the distance between caprice and rule."

Simone ‘Weil


"A democracy is a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property, and vulgar employments."



"I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."

Thomas Carlyle


"Democracy…is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike."



"There never was democracy that did not commit suicide."

John Adams


"Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated."

G.K. Chesterton


"Democracy is also a form of religion; it is the worship of jackals by jackasses."

H.L. Mencken


""Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, 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 that 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…

John Quincy Adams


"Real democracy will exist only when every man is, in his own proper self, a King – when the ordinary has become extraordinary, the humdrum been dissolved in glamour, when mortals step into the enchanted glass or its visions step down to join us."

Tom Nairn

The Enchanted Glass

Radius Books


"Democracy has never been and never can be so desirable as aristocracy or monarchy, but while it lasts, is more bloody than either. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide."

John Adams 1815


"We are a republic. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy."

Alexander Hamilton


"Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the right to property; and have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

James Madison



"Whatever may be truly said about the good sense of a democracy during a great crisis, at ordinary times it does not bring the best men to the top."

William R. Inge


"There is no rational stopping place, once the logic of democracy is accepted, short of the Unites States of the World."

Lewis Mumford


"Who forms the majority in any country? I think we’d all have to agree that the fools are in a terrifying, overwhelming majority all over the world! But in the name of God it can’t be right that the fools should rule the wise!


An Enemy of the People (1882)


"The theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

H.L. Mencken


"Democracy is not about being a damn spectator against the backdrop of tap-dancing politicians swinging in the winds of expediency."

Ron Dellums Congressman


"Give me a break! The primary! That ridiculous exercise in democracy? Democracy is a sham now, Max. Why don’t we start by admitting that. You want to know what democracy is here, that state of the art? Being allowed which brand of razor blade it’s best to cut your heart with – that’s democracy."

W.D. Wetherell

The Wisest Man in America


"…For their happiness, such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness, it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains but to spare them al the care of thinking and the trouble of living thus it every day renders the free exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent, it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself."

Alexis de Tocqueville


A citizen may have an original, valid, and true political idea, one which might even have had every chance of success with his fellow citizens. But if he does not have the millions necessary to elaborate it the length and breadth of the country, it counts for nothing. The American democracy is no longer in its youth, when propaganda consisted of one man speaking directly to other men."

Jacques Ellis


"Nowhere do citizens appear so insignificant as in a democratic nation."

Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America


"Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people, by the people, for the people."

Oscar Wilde


"Envy is the basis of democracy."

Bertrand Russell


"What are leaders for? Why do we need leaders in a free country? I would answer that the leader’s function is to help determine, in any crisis, which of our possible selves will act."

Lyman Bryson


"Democracy was instituted or strengthened in substantial degree by the need for a large navy of relatively poor but free citizens, who were paid for their shop duty by the state. The democratic reforms of Periclean Athens…shifted the domestic political and military balance of power toward the poor and the navy…(At) the height of democratic government trireme rowers were full citizens. With 170 rowers in each of at least 200 ships, no fewer than 30,000 supporters of democracy (were present), generally from the lower classes."

Bruce Russett


"In a section of Democracy in America entitled "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear," Tocqueville envisioned a "species of oppression" that would be "unlike anything that ever before existed in the world," a rule by "guardians" rather than tyrants. Although Tocqueville wrote chiefly of the changing powers of state governments, his comments are equally relevant to expansion of the U.S. central government. he foresaw citizens submitting to "an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon it-self alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. "Anticipating the nature of such power more than a hundred years before it became evident in American law, Tocqueville painted a now familiar picture:

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. it would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood....For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what  remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

   Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

Tocqueville clearly foresaw the diminution of the human sprit that would attend such expansion of government. Government would first bind people up in rules:

It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nations is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

   I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people." (Tocqueville)

Charlotte A. Twight

Dependent on D.C.

Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War


"The best of constitutions and preventive laws will be powerless against the steadily increasing pressures of overpopulation and of the over organization imposed by growing numbers and advancing technology. The constitutions will not be abrogated and the good laws will remain on the statute book; but these liberal forms will merely serve to mask and adorn a profoundly illiberal substance. Given unchecked overpopulation and over-organization, we may expect to see in the democratic countries a reversal of the process which transformed England into a democracy, while retaining all the outward forms of a monarchy. under the relentless thrust of accelerating overpopulation and increasing over organization, and by means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms--elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest--will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days, Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial--but democracy and freedom in a strictly Pickwickian sense. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit."

Aldous Huxley

Brave New World Revisited (1958)


"Left to itself or led by its tribunes, the multitude never founded anything. The multitude looks over its shoulder; it forms no traditions, achieves no continuity of ideas, has no thought which could acquire the force of law....To the multitude politics means only intrigue; government empty promises and brute force, justice vindictiveness, and liberty the freedom to set up idols which, on the morrow, it overthrows. The advent of the Democracy ushers in a period of retrogression which would bring the nation and the state to ruin, if it did not avoid that fate by putting the revolution into reverse."

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon


"The people, by the very reason of their inferiority and distress, will always compose the army of liberty and progress....But by reason of their ignorance, the primitiveness of their instincts, the urgency of their needs and the impatience of their wishes, they incline to summary forms of authority. What the people seek is not legal guarantees of which they have no conception and no opinion of their power; not a careful balance of forces or combination of civil devices....They seek a leader whose word they trust, whose intentions are known to them, and whom they believe devoted to their interests; to him they give unlimited authority and irresistible power. The people, esteeming right what the leader deems expedient, care nothing for forms, see no use in imposing limitations and conditions on the tenants of power. Suspicious, prompt to calumniate, incapable of methodical discussion, all they have faith in is the will of a man, their hope is in him, their trust in his creatures....They expect nothing and hope for nothing from the only principles which could save them; they do not have the religion of ideas."

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Book: "Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind & Works" by Edward Hyams


  "For all I know, democracy may be a self-limiting disease, as civilization itself seems to be. There are thumping paradoxes in its philosophy, and some of them have a suicidal smack. It offers John Doe a means to rise above his place beside Richard Roe, and then, by making Roe his equal, it takes away the chief usufructs of the rising. I here attempt no pretty logical gymnastics: the history of democratic states is a history of disingenuous efforts to get rid of the second half of that dilemma. There is not only the natural yearning of Doe to use and enjoy the superiority that he has won; there is also the natural tendency of Roe, as an inferior man, to acknowledge it. Democracy, in fact, is always inventing class distinctions, despite its theoretical abhorrence of them. The baron has departed, but in his place stand the grand goblin, the supreme worthy archon, the sovereign grand commander. Democratic man is quite unable to think of himself as a free individual; he must belong to a group, or shake with fear and loneliness-and the group, of course, must have its leaders. It would be hard to find a country in which such brummagem serene highnesses are revered with more passionate devotion than they get in the United States..."

H.L. Mencken

A Glance Ahead from Notes on Democracy,1926)


Book: Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Kevin Phillips

Book: "Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy" by Lewis H. Lapham

Book: "What Would Jefferson Do? A return to Democracy" by Thom Harmann

Book: "The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying Our Democracy" by David Lebedoff

Book: "The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States" by Alexander Keysssar

Book: "Dependent on D.C." by Charlotte A. Twight

Book: "The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy" by Noreena Hertz

Book: "The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty" by Thomas E. Patterson

Book: "The Unfinished Journey, 508 BC to AD 1993" ed by John Dunn

Book: "What Life Was Like At The Dawn Of Democracy: Classical Athens, 525-322 B.C." by the eds of Time-Life Book


© 2001



Back to Chrestomathy              Next Page