We have for many years discussed the principle that ‘democracies endure until the people discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.” Snopes came up with some hoohaw about how this was a false quote, but since I can’t remember who was supposedly quoted, or for that matter who is now supposed to have said it, I have forgotten the hoohaw. The question is, is it true?
The notion has been discussed among political philosophers from the time of Aristotle. A major concern of the Framers at the Convention of 1787 was how to form a constitutional republic which would prevent democracy, because a pure democracy would always opt to use government to ‘equalize’ the wealth. The sentiment that “there never was a democracy that did not commit suicide” was pretty well prevalent in Philadelphia during that hot summer when the Constitution was agreed to.
In those days everyone who thought much about the subject agreed that freedom is not free, free men are not equal, and equal men are not free; that establishing a democracy would be to set foot on a path to disaster.
Disraeli had this to say during the Parliamentary Reform debates in England:
If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of the public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of the public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to peace ignominiously sought and ignominiously obtained, which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your independence.
You will in due season find your property is less valuable, and your freedom less complete.
I have published that observation from Disraeli before. Doubtless I will do so again. I have no great fondness for democracy and neither should the United States, nor, until recently, have we had.