There’s a quote making its way around the Internet that’s wrongly attributed to the great historian Alexis De Tocqueville:
A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.
According to Wikipedia, the quote was actually first attributed to a Scottish historian named Alexander Tytler. Snopes also has an entry on a version of the quote that was passed around via email after the elections in the year 2000. They point to research done by a Georgia attorney which concludes that the quote probably originated in the mid-20th century.
But regardless of where it comes from, it seems especially relevant in our times, when the greatest threat to our economy is not war or famine or lack of innovation, but rather the fact that we cannot keep up with the cost of our own entitlements. Along with the above quote, there is usually also a list that’s attributed to either Tocqueville or Tytler, but actually comes from a businessman named H.W. Prentis. In a 1943 speech, he described the cycle that nations go through like this:
- 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 dependence;
- From dependence back into bondage
If the entire quote did come from the 1940s, that means it was probably written in response to the New Deal programs, which included the first entitlements in the United States.