Deep Thoughts, by Alexander Tyler

About the time our original 13 states adopted their new constitution, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years prior:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (generous gifts) from the public treasury.

From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilization has been two hundred years. These nations have
progressed through this sequence.

1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
3. From courage to liberty;
4. From liberty to abundance;
5. From abundance to complacency;
6. From complacency to apathy;
7. From apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage

Courtesy of John Shuey.

  1. “The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” – Alex de Tocqueville

  2. … and what better way to do it than through a printing press!

    The political class doesn’t have to increase the rate of taxation. Just hidden taxation via inflation. Which is happening at an alarming rate. The coming financial crises is going to be utterly hilarious to see what stupid Americans and their politicians come up with as “The Reason”. I am sure they will be creative.

  3. We are well on our way down the highway to hell. And yes there will be inflation! Why do you think the Fed no longer publishes the M3 figures?

  4. The United States of Welfare for everyone.

    The voters do it every time, vote for the candidates that offer the most in “entitlements” which is doublespeak for welfare for everyone.

    Mike, you are absolutely correct on this one. Everyone is looking for something for nothing. Now we have too many takers and not enough givers. We are doomed. It is not war that will unhinge us, but going broke trying to give everyone “benefits”. What happened to the work ethic?

  5. They wanted some and, in fact, demanded a share. But the little red hen
    said, “No, I shall eat all five loaves.”

    “Excess profits!” cried the cow.

    “Capitalist leech!” screamed the duck.

    “I demand equal rights!” yelled the goose.

    The pig just grunted in disdain.

    And they all painted “Unfair!” picket signs and marched around and
    around the little red hen, shouting obscenities.

    Then a government agent came, he said to the little red hen, “You must
    not be so greedy.”

  6. I was about to say that no truer words have ever been spoken. Well, maybe they were never spoken at all, at least not by this particular person.

  7. The quote came from Tyler’s 1778 book, ‘The Cycle of Democracy’, which the Snopes “expert” didn’t bother to investigate. I haven’t personally read it to verify, but I tend to believe mulitple, credible sources over one dude’s opinion on Snopes.

  8. Mike — do yourself a favor; edit this post to include the book, page, paragraph citation for the quote?

    Just a thought/suggestion.

  9. Ian,

    The exact location in the book is not of my concern. The content of the quote is.

  10. It’s a good quote, standing on its own. But the attribution is still in question.

    Each quote can be traced back at least as far as the 1950s, but only with anonymous attribution. Specific attributions, such as those to Tytler, only came later. And, of course, the quotes cannot be found to have appeared together until the 1970s. Each quote has been the subject of authorship inquiries in The New York Times and American Notes & Queries, both of which are notoriously good at verifying authorship of works, but neither of which could provide an author for these quotes.

  11. Good find Hampton. The general concensus is that it is Tyler’s quote. In fact many books have been written attributing the quote to him. Go to Google Book Search and see for yourself.

    Now if I could just get my hands on a copy of ‘The Cycle of Democracy’…

  12. Everyone has a general consensus because of the unverified attributions documented above. As for the book, I can’t even verify its existence. I wish you luck. :)

  13. I didn’t think more needed to be said, if one thoroughly reads the link hampton provided examining the convoluted history of this quote, in particular how the probably-false attribution to Tytler grew over the years.

    But since you brought it up again. You are not going to find a book that almost certainly does not exist.,0&SA=Woodhouselee%2C%20Alexander%20Fraser%20Tytler%2C%20Lord%2C%201747%2D1813&PID=1020&SEQ=20060414154520&SID=3
    I mean, unless I found the wrong entry in the catalog system.

    I suppose there is something in human nature that makes one feel the need to attach an authority to an idea, rather than examining it on its own merits. Inconveniently, making that authority a historian, and claiming this pattern holds in history causes the reader to avoid doing that examination on their own.

  14. I really don’t care if it was Bozo the Clown that made up the quote… I still like it.

  15. I suppose there is something in human nature that makes one feel the need to attach an authority to an idea, rather than examining it on its own merits.

    I couldn’t agree more.