The following quote is one of the most piercing I have ever read, all the more so because it was written in 1787, almost 250 years ago (by a Scottish historian, Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler):
“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 amounts of money] 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 civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:
From Bondage to Spiritual Faith;
From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage;
From Courage to Liberty;
From Liberty to Abundance;
From Abundance to Complacency;
From Complacency to Apathy;
From Apathy to Dependence;
and From Dependence back into Bondage.”
Of course, the men who founded America did not establish a democracy; they created a republic. But the country has, more and more over its history, evolved (devolved?) into a democracy, and while absolutes are hard to find in historical analysis, Sir Tytler’s assessment is striking, especially given the date it was written. Let’s examine it a little.
1. Democracies do not last long. They only last until they destroy themselves through careless and reckless policy, usually financial. Politicians use the public treasury, not for the nation’s welfare, but to secure their positions by cajoling voters with their own money, thus gradually sinking a nation into a bottomless economic morass that is ultimately cataclysmic. The people panic and turn to a dictator. Such a process is, indeed, not unknown in history.
The problem that Sir Tytler hints at here is more clearly stated in Lord Acton’s dictum “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Power is one of the most intoxicating—and certainly dangerous—commodities in human existence. Too often, people of little character get it, love it, and don’t want to give it up. Their small minds believe they can change the world, and that they know better how to run your life than you do. Most politicians, especially in a democracy, are mediocrities who really have no business being anywhere near power. The current Democratic Party’s border policy is a perfect example. They care absolutely nothing about what is best for America; their only concern is remaining in power by importing new voters. Those who love power are the very kinds of people who should never have it, Democrat or Republican. They are con artists who, in a democracy, can hoodwink enough people of average or low intelligence (which is most people) to almost endlessly maintain their position. They have no knowledge, nor do they care, how to use power wisely, for the benefit of others. Democracy caters to mediocrity, and that is why it always fails. It takes excellence, not mediocrity, to successfully run a nation.
2. Look at Tytler’s analysis of the progress of the rise and fall of nations: a. “From bondage to spiritual faith.” All people start out under tyranny. But successful nations build a “spiritual faith,” a realization that there is a Greater Excellence than themselves, an Excellence that inspires them to strive for virtuous heights previously unattained.
b. “From spiritual faith to great courage.” Their confidence is not in themselves, they are led by that spiritual faith they possess. That faith spawns great courage.
c. “From courage to liberty.” And that courage finally produces the overthrow of tyranny. Freedom!
d. “From liberty to abundance.” In the beginning, that freedom based upon spiritual virtue produces hard work, a rise from the ashes, the creation of wealth and prosperity, a strong national character. The spiritual faith that guided them to freedom is not forgotten by the early generations, so the population remains brimming with virtue and strength, and uses that faith, courage, and liberty to overcome every obstacle.
e. “From abundance to complacency.” But then, the decline begins. They become rich and want to enjoy that wealth. Succeeding generations forget the virtues that produced success. So, they get fat, lazy, and complacent. When “they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them…and will provoke Me.” The God who led them turns against them. And hungrier mouths exist elsewhere…always exist elsewhere…
f. “From complacency to apathy.” Apathy about the virtues that made them strong in the first place. Apathy about maintaining the character necessary to overcome obstacles. Apathy about diligence in protecting their freedoms. Apathy about what God had done for them. Apathy about everything but their own selfish, hedonistic pleasure. Utterly self-absorbed, they become easy prey for unscrupulous, power-hungry politicians.
g. “From apathy to dependence.” No longer truly free, they become beholden to the political knaves who purchase their votes with the people’s own money. No longer virtuous, their selfishness and moral nihilism produces a nation of effeminate, groveling dependents who can live only by theft or government gifts. Those who remember the way to greatness become outnumbered and outcasts, and must work harder and harder to support, not only themselves, but the parasites who think they deserve to live off them. And the political class loves it because the feeble, drifting, aimless masses can be easily bought off with bread and circuses. And the parasites will indeed protect that political class with its “votes” and dying breath.
h. “From dependence back into bondage.” Freedom, for everyone, eventually is lost as those hungrier mouths invade, steal, and conquer. And the crop of politicians who let it happen will all be long dead and gone.
Tytler wrote, “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years.”
America, living on borrowed time, hasn’t got long.