Lord Woodhouselee

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.” 

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee FRSE (15 October 1747 – 5 January 1813) was a Scottish advocate, judge, writer and historian who served as Professor of Universal History, and Greek and Roman Antiquities, in the University of Edinburgh.

I read this remarkable quotation many years ago, and have been looking for it in the recent times when the dissolution of our Democratic Republic suddenly seems possible. Thanks go to my mom (!) for turning it up. If you read about the quotation usually called “why democracies fail”, you will discover that while it has been attributed to Tytler since at less 1951 there is no hard record of it’s source. It has also been wrongly attributed to other sources.

Without regard to the source, the statement is at the minimum portentous.

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