“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 about 200 years. These nations have progressed through this 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 apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”
Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813)
We are at 221 years now…and on to selfishness, with apathy and dependence already showing themselves.
After doing a little internet research it seems that there is no definitive answer as to who wrote this quote. It has been attributed to a number of people over the years and is likely several different quotes stuck together, see http://www.lorencollins.net/tytler.html for a good essay on the quote.
The fact that the origin of this quote is not known does not detract from the implied ideas behind it, which are fundamentally sound, if not slightly skewed. We are seeing the effect of the realization that people can vote themselves money by voting for someone who promises the most benefits from the treasury. Obama’s idea of the redistribution of wealth is nothing new, however the fact that 56-58% of the US population voted for him indicates that people are less willing to work for what they want/need and want it given to them.
As for the times given for the life of Democracies, it varies more than the 200 year mark, some have said that this is the time frame of the Athenian Democracy, but the Athenian Democracy was not a continuous period, rather it was interrupted on several occasions by the rise of tyrants, who often initially had popular backing. So really it might be best to disregard the time frame.
However it is easy to see that we are working our way through the cycle, and that if we are not careful we will go on to become a nation bound up by our government, and dependent on them for the littlest things.
However let us not forget that:
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
Sir Winston Churchill
So I don’t really have any answers but I have seen the symptoms, and they frighten me.