The Tyranny of Democracy

Winston Churchill’s backhanded praise of democracy as “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried” is usually cited as the last word on the subject.  It is a good way of closing off a dangerous topic of discussion, and it works quite well with that vast majority of people who are ignorant of the history of democratic states, both ancient and modern.

Ancient democracies, like Athens, Syracuse, and Argos, present an instructive albeit terrifying spectacle of tyrannical and violent mob rule at home and imperial aggression abroad.  In the latter phase of the Peloponnesian War, Athens acted more like a band of robbers than like a legitimate city-state, killing and enslaving the inhabitants of Melos simply because the Melians would not abandon their traditional alliance with Sparta, executing victorious generals who failed to rescue shipwrecked Athenian sailors.  Only Socrates tried to stop the illegal and unjust proceeding, and his reward came seven years later when a restored democracy sentenced him to death.

The antics of ancient democrats were repeated in the French Revolution, whose leaders, in the name of the people’s rights, stole property, demolished the institutions of Christianity, and murdered a vast number of men, women, and children.  The U.S. Founding Fathers viewed the whole idea of democracy with horror.  As Madison put it in Federalist 10,...

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