The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

25 September 2004

Jammed up in the Quote-O-Mat

Wild Bill at Passionate America is vexed by a Clark Duffe commentary in the Oklahoma Gazette which quotes Alexander Fraser Tytler:

A democracy…can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by dictatorship.

The problem is that Tytler might not actually have said that, a notion supported by Snopes. When I referenced the quote myself earlier this year — in Vent #385 — I provided a link to this page, which tries to explain the quotation's origin:

[T]his has also been attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alexis de Tocqueville, R. G. LeTourneau and others. It is likely that it is actually two quotes, put together. Parts of it show up in printed record as far back as 1950, when the "Fatal Sequence" portion was cited in a speech by Eugene E. Wilson at a special United Nations Convocation at Hillyer College in Hartford, Connecticut.

The "Fatal Sequence" portion, which follows the section excerpted above, goes like this:

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence:

From Bondage to Spiritual Faith
From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage
From Courage to Liberty
From Liberty to Abundance
From Abundance to Selfishness
From Selfishness to Complacency
From Complacency to Apathy
From Apathy to Dependency
From Dependency back into Bondage

This source suggests: "We urge you not to be concerned with the authorship of this quote, but to focus upon the truth that is in the words." Well, okay, so long as it's not in a CBS memo somewhere. And remember, as Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

Except, of course, that he didn't say it.

Posted at 10:16 PM to Political Science Fiction


TrackBack: 12:14 AM, 26 September 2004
» The Next mini Rathergate? Duffegate? from Passionate America
I believe Mr. Duffe’s ‘Too much democracy?’ was intending to sway public opinion toward the belief that democracy cannot be successful; a view I strongly disagree with. Update (9/26 12:02AM): dustbury.com has linked to this post ......[read more]

I emailed the story to the Oklahoma Gazette. Maybe the will issue a correction, but I will not hold my breath. Thanks for the link.

Posted by: Wild Bill at 12:22 AM on 26 September 2004

This is much, much less than a tempest in a teapot. First, Clark's piece is an opinion piece, and the alleged misquote doesn't libel anyone, but supports widely accepted principles. So, it should be debated for its content rather than its provenance.

Finally, Bill would have us believe that the piece is anti-democratic (and strictly speaking, it is.) But really, it's just an reiteration of one of the the libertarian articles of faith: that pure democracy is dangerous and republicanism mitigates the danger. Since we use the term "democracy" to refer to our republican system of government, it gets confusing.

Posted by: Dan at 7:17 PM on 26 September 2004

Dan, the argument, "the alleged misquote doesn't libel anyone, but supports widely accepted principles. So, it should be debated for its content rather than its provenance." Sounds a lot like a Dan Rather cBS statement. How can you debate this opinion piece on its content when its conclusions were supported by widely accepted principles that are formed from possible false pretences? I’ll agree mob mentality is a problem in a democracy, but the solution is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The solution is to fortify democracy with a sense of responsibility for ones own outcome, which includes ones own educational responsibility. That is why, I believe America’s founding fathers adopted a representative form of democracy instead of a full fledged democracy.

Posted by: Wild Bill at 1:49 AM on 27 September 2004

I recieved a call from the editor of the Oklahoma Gazette today. He wanted my name. I have not decided whether I want to give it to him yet. He said the Gazette is working on a story about bloggers. I wonder if any local Oklahoma conservative blogger will be featured.

Posted by: Wild Bill at 6:29 PM on 27 September 2004

Well, it's a good bet it will focus on the locals, if only because the last time the Gazette did a piece on blogging, they focused on the Big National Names, which got them a nasty letter from, well, me.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:37 AM on 28 September 2004

Maybe they will write a story without liberal bias. We can always hop.

Posted by: Wild Bill at 1:09 AM on 30 September 2004

I hop for no man (and damned few women). :)

Posted by: CGHill at 7:28 AM on 30 September 2004

I've never been fond of quotations as a stylistic embelishment, but used sparingly...
Generally, I never quote from a book I don't own, or I use Bartlett's or Gramercy's American Quotations. Actually, some of the best quotes can be found in Britannica's Great Books of the Western World. Generally, if you can't source it, paraphrase it, even if it doesn't sound as authoritative. I used to see a lot of quotes in the original language with a translation, don't see much of that anymore.

On the substance of Mr. Duffy's article, what's so controversial about the notion that natural rights are anterior to political procedures? No rights, no votes.

Posted by: D Frank Robinson at 1:28 AM on 6 October 2004