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Alexander Tytler wrote:

A democracy … can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse out of 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 Democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship.

I am one of the out-voted taxpayers. I don’t pay my taxes, I go to jail. No questions asked. It doesn’t matter how much I disapprove of the use of tax dollars. It doesn’t matter that the elite political class votes itself elaborate benefits at my expense. it doesn’t matter that the entrenched corporate and agricultural and manufacturing and union class interests vote themselves special privileges unavailable to the rest of us. And it certainly does not seem to matter that we are running at the state and federal levels a degree of spending that is completely unsustainable. This cannot happen in a marketplace. I may wish to charge each of my students $1,000 per class. But I am limited by competition and choice to not be able to support such desires.

This should, of course, give myth to the notion that democracy and majority rule are means in and of themselves to be desired. They are not. Majorities often cannot rule. And even if they did, the very concept of innovation, change and dynamism stands in opposition to the existence of a “majority.” No doubt that collective action is necessary in some areas of our lives – but also no doubt that we have extended its reach beyond anything reasonable people could tolerate. Were it not for our magnificent wealth today, the Revolution would have started long ago.

In fact, one of the proper roles of government, in my view, is to promote in a society a flexibility and an insensitivity to technological and societal changes. Yes, there might be some losers in the short term when institutions evolve, but in the long run, “we” all win from it. How the government can do this is quite another story – I think Plato would have had more confidence than I do on that one.

2 Responses to “The Collapse of the Athenian Republic”

  1. Al Barrs says:

    Professor Tyler wrote about the Athenian Republic, but was it a “Republic” or a “Democracy”? They are markedly different forms of government.

    The people in a “Republic” elects representatives to “represent” their interests in the central government and to make decisions and cast votes in the place of the people.

    The people in a “Democracy” are responsible for representing themselves and casting votes on legislation. The larger a nation becomes the more difficult it is for all the people to keep abreast of legislation and take the time to vote.

    The United States is a Constitutional Republic. We, the States, are guaranteed a republican form of government in the U.S. Constitution. The People elect representatives to serve in the individual’s place by debating and voting on legislation.
    Al Barrs
    albarrs@wfeca.net

  2. Mike Williams says:

    While the statement is very thought provoking, according to Snopes and Truth or Fiction there is no evidence that “Professor Tyler” wrote this.
    Relevant Warning from an 18th Century Professor About Democracy-Fiction!

    From Truth or Fiction:
    Summary of the eRumor
    The erumor does not name but quotes what it says is a professor who says that democracies eventually vote themselves out of existence.
    The Truth
    This quote has been circulating on the Internet for quite a while.
    We have not found any documentation of it beyond the past ten years.
    Some versions say its author is a man named Tyler, but It is most often attributed to Sir Alex Fraser Tytler.
    Tytler is real. He was a Scottish jurist, historian, and Edinburgh University professor.
    We can find evidence that he wrote only one book titled “Universal history, from the creation of the world to the beginning of the eighteenth century” published in 1837 by Hilliard, Gray and Company in Boston.

    TruthOrFiction.com has searched a digital version of the book and has not found anything resembling the alleged quote.

    We have not found a book titled “The Decline and the Fall of the Athenian Republic” as is described in some versions of the eRumor or a book titled “The Fall of the Athenian Republic.”

    Does anyone out there have any proof?

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