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ItsAHabit's avatar

Does Democracy Always Collapse?

Asked by ItsAHabit (2297points) July 10th, 2010

chris6137 said ” A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse 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, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

Do you agree or disagree and why?

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31 Answers

CaptainHarley's avatar

The reasons why civilizations fall are many and varied. One of the primary reasons is disease or epidemic. Sometimes they fall because they become unmanagable due to sheer size. Sometimes theiy fail because of draught. To say that civilizations, of whatever structure, fall because of a single characteristic is too simplistic.

jaytkay's avatar

I was crafting my thoughts into words, but CaptainHarley already took care if it.

CaptainHarley's avatar

LOL! Sorry. Hope I didn’t steal your thunder!

I’ve sometimes thought that the fall of civilizations is necessary to “stir the pot,” so to speak. Perhaps any civilization that lives too long becomes stultifying or corrupt and cannot be reformed. I think that, of all the forms of government, democracy is one of the best at self-renewal. That’s what we are seeing now, with new movements trying to reform or replace the older, more stultifying political parties.

mammal's avatar

Any system that no longer serves the people in general, is living on borrowed time…..tick tock…tick tock.

AstroChuck's avatar

All things collapse. Entropy is the second law of thermodynamics. No government is forever. The Egyptians and the Romans had a pretty good rule but look at them now.

BoBo1946's avatar

@CaptainHarley i vote for your answer! well said…....

Mamradpivo's avatar

I think most states eventually collapse, whether from external pressures, long-festering internal problems or both. It will happen to democracies, dictatorships, and the combinations of these that make up most states.

CMaz's avatar

Absolute power, corrupts absolutely.

When a governing body ends up with total control over its people, it will eventually fall.

BoBo1946's avatar

@ChazMaz The Roman Empire is the best example of a nation falling because of corrupt leaders, too many wars, and a failing economy. ummm…sounds familiar unfortunately in the USA!

CaptainHarley's avatar


Life itself is counter-entropic, as a matter of fact, it’s the only thing we know of that is. Applying the second law of theromodynamics to living systems can be problematic.

Ron_C's avatar

Apparently so. The current fight seems to be that the corporatist wants to hold that privilege to themselves. The don’t like the common people getting any money from the treasury.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@CaptainHarley – Life is not counter-entropic; the self-organisation that is a characteristic of life requires that somehere eles become more disordered: energy. Be it in the conversion of sunlight (energy) with simple molecules like CHON into plant life, to more basic carbohydrates and proteins, or the conversion of proetien and fats from an animal into simpler proteins, carbs, amino acids, etc… in the digestive tract of the predator.

Entropy always wins

We can make the generalisation that any specific instance of organisation always collapses, but that certain patterns of organisation seem to be more prevalent under certain conditions.

The_Idler's avatar

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.”

And what, exactly, can? No examples from history spring to mind.

ETpro's avatar

I do not accept the premise of the question. Voters are just as able to discover the consequences of voting to get something for nothing as they are to discover they can do it.

Of course, everything collapses eventually. Entropy rules. But a Democratic Republic composed of well educated voters could last longer than any other form of government. Churchill had it quite right. “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@CaptainHarley has it right. Ordinary people are pretty good at detecting and voting out demagogues. There will always be a few politicians that are very good at “bringing home the bacon” for their constituencies, but they are a small minority.

josie's avatar

@CaptainHarley Nails it again. All human civilizations are a reflection of the species talent for developing systems. But all human systems slowly become corrupted by the species tendency to “stylize” until they are so damaged that they collapse and have to be redesigned. Some of the Founders thought the US revolution would have to be repeated every generation or so.

CaptainHarley's avatar

LOL! @josie

At the end of the movie, Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery’s character says, “A little revolution, now and then, is a good thing, don’t you think?” : D

I use to agree with that sentiment, but internal conflicts are so terrible that even Robert E. Lee once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, else we should too soon grow fond of it.”

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Democracy needs to be refreshed and renewed by a reframing of the terms under which it has been operating. Groups that have concentrated an inordinate amount of power through their amassing of economic or military power need to be reintegrated into the entirety of the populace by some kind of revolution, peaceful or otherwise.

Nullo's avatar

Everything always collapses. It is one of the more amusing examples of the principles of physics making themselves felt in the social world.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

That’s the beauty of our system. We have a scheduled revolution every two years. If people are angry enough, they can use that process.

ItsAHabit's avatar

“We have a scheduled revolution every two years. If people are angry enough, they can use that process.” How right you are!

And when people get angry and want to vote out of office politicians (Democrat or Republican) they think are not acting in the best interests of us and our children and grandchildren, they are excoriated as ignorant, hateful and DANGEROUS tea baggers!

ETpro's avatar

@ItsAHabit There may be some pundits handing out that epithet too loosely, but there are also some tea baggers doing more than enough to earn it. “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” “Py off the National Debt, but don’t touch Medicare, Social Security or Defense!” Since Reagan’s massive tax cut for the rich, you could shut down the entire discretionary side of the US Government—just have no government at all except of the social programs and defense, and we would still be running a deficit. Yet they want big tax cuts for the rich.

ItsAHabit's avatar

My point is that as the number of people who demand more from government (i.e., other taxpayers) increases, the pressures on the system increase to the point that it collapses. Government in this case refers not only to federal but state and local governments as well. This appears to be happening around the world. Right now it’s Greece and Spain and Portugal are on the near horizon. And this isn’t a partisan issue.

UScitizen's avatar

Of course it will collapse. The representatives become politicians, willing to deplete the national treasury to buy votes and maintain their own power. They sell themselves to the highest bidder. And, we end up with the United States Government of today.

ItsAHabit's avatar

UScitizen- I’m afraid that you may be entirely correct. And it’s not just a problem in the U.S. It seems to be occurring around the world.

ETpro's avatar

@ItsAHabit I think that’s a false fear. More citizens placing demands on government also equates to more taxpayers paying to meet those demands. Certainly we have to debate what we do and don’t want government to do. But the notion that privatizing an activity makes it free, or even cheap, is not borne out by fact. Look at the cost per man for the US Military versus the cost if you hire Blackwater mercenaries (Oh excuse me, Ze pronounced She) to protect us.

From the pain of the Depression through the 60s, lots of citizens voted to have government do more and more for them. Democrats ran as Santa, promising that this, that and the other could all be ours with no cost. We’d do it through eliminating waste and increasing efficiency in government.

With Reagan, Republicans, who used to claim it was hard to run against Santa Claus, hit on a better Santa. Just give money! We can slash your taxes and keep giving you everything you’re getting now. Arthur Laffer even came up with The Laffer Curve (which is laughable enough to deserve the name). It is a crudely drawn bell curve not representative of real data distributions. And even it shows that Revenue Peaks at some particular tax rate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show what that rate is, and proponents of it have made the absurd claim that tax reductions always increase revenue.

Of course, if that were true, we could enact a tax rate of negative 1,000,000% and cut a check in the high millions to every tax filer, which would pay off the National Debt and put the government revenues through the stratosphere. It’s laughable. But until recently, it won votes. It’s not clear we aren’t in for yet another lesson for the something-for-nothing crowd.

But I have confidence they will eventually learn. As Abraham Lincoln said,
“It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time;
you can even fool some of the people all of the time;
but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

ItsAHabit's avatar

You’re correct that the Republicans caught on to the fact that they, too, have to buy votes with money. That’s what makes it so depressing; both party have to do so or lose elections. And no third party can arise without promising to give away even more than the Democrats and Republicans do.

Basically, they give away other peoples’ money to buy power for themselves. I suppose we could correctly refer to most politicians as whores but we’re the ones getting screwed.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I love the way you think! LOL! Right you are!

josie's avatar

@ItsAHabit It’s so simple. And yet consider all the poor folks who imagine that it is not that way.

ETpro's avatar

@ItsAHabit I certainly share your concern, but I do think the public is slowly catching on. At the end of WWII, the National Debt hit 120% of GDP and the greatest generation rolled up their sleeves and slowly paid it down. Now, with it closing in on 100% of the GDP, more and more people are realizing we have to bring it under control. Most haven’t yet gotten beyond simplistic, unworkable solutions like doing it with massive additional tax custs for the rich, or trimming a tiny bit here and there, or “eliminating waste and fraud” but they will eventually get it.

CaptainHarley's avatar


It’s not the poor, uneducated folks we need to worry about, it’s those who want to mislead the “poor, uneducated folks” for their own selfish political reasons.

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