No institution of modern life commands as much veneration as democracy. It comes closer than anything else to being the supreme object of adoration in a global religion. Anyone who denies its righteousness and desirability soon finds himself a pariah. One may get away with denouncing motherhood and apple pie, but not with speaking ill of democracy, which is now the principal icon of political and social life throughout the world. Many people are atheists, but few are antidemocrats.
Worship of this particular political arrangement has emerged relatively recently, however, and in earlier ages political philosophers were more apt to condemn democracy than to praise it. Aristotle, whose views received great weight for millennia, did not recommend democracy highly. Along with many other criticisms of this type of government, he wrote in his Politics:
1313b: 32-41: The final form of democracy has characteristics of tyranny: women dominate in the household so that they can denounce their husbands, slaves lack discipline, and flatterers — demagogues — are held in honor. The people wish to be a monarch.
1295b: 39-1296a5: It is best for citizens in a city-state to possess a moderate amount of wealth because where some have a lot and some have none the result is the ultimate democracy or unmixed oligarchy. Tyranny can result from both these extremes. It is much less likely to spring from moderate systems of government.
1276a: 12-14: Some democracies, like tyrannies, rest on force and are not directed toward the common advantage.
1312b: 35-38: Ultimate democracy, like unmixed and final oligarchy, is really a tyranny divided [among a multitude of persons].
The founders of the United States of America had mixed views about democracy. Nearly all of them seem to have feared it more than they respected it. They recognized that concessions to fairly wide participation in politics might have to be made to placate the masses — who, after all, had served as cannon fodder in the recently concluded war of secession from the British Empire — but they designed a system in which voting would be hobbled and circumscribed, so that the common people would be kept from giving direct vent to their passions by seizing control of the government and using it to plunder the rich.
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