"The State of The World" Number 14
Complete Index Of All Issues
What Did A Father Of Democracy Predict About It?
The English-language word "democracy" originated from an ancient compound Greek word, "demos," meaning people, and "kratos," meaning power. Democracy was intended to mean power to the people.
As obvious from the Greek word, democracy is regarded by many to have originated in Greece - as it happened, ancient Greece of about 400 BC, centered on Athens, the capital of the Athenian Empire.
There were, without doubt, many others around the world who lived by the principles of democracy at that time - and all time. In a way, "democracy" is inescapable.
Kings are "elected" by a people's choice to have them as their leader. At the other extreme, even the most oppressive dictators depend on the "democracy" of the military that elects to keep them in power - or to remove them from office.
It seems strange, and prophetic, then that one of those Greek "fathers of democracy," Plato (428-348 BC) made this startling statement at the very time and place that "democracy" was being born:
"Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty."
What could Plato have meant by that?
Democracy is ideally meant to prevent tyranny, but minorities in a democracy can still experience severe "legal" (i.e. legislated) oppression and abuse, usually based upon religion or race, if the majority votes for it. As stated by U.S. author James Bovard:
"Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
Keep in mind that one of the most heinous tyrants of all human history, Adolf Hitler, was democratically elected.
Democracy has many great advantages. It has been a gift of freedom for those who were favored by it (keep in mind that some of the most well-known proponents of democracy in history were at the same time slave owners, who also refused women the right to vote). However, as even Plato warned 2,400 years ago, it also has its dangers.
"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?"
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), leader of Indian nationalism, assassinated
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1940-1945, 1951-1955