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Democracy Quotes

Quotations on the character and nature of democracy

"The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands." Oscar Wilde

"Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right." H. L. Mencken

"The greatest task of democracy, its ritual and feast - is choice." H.G. Wells

"The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open." Gunther Grass

"Democratic institutions form a system of quarantine for tyrannical desires." Friedrich Nietzsche

"When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right." Eugene V. Debs

"Only the educated are free." Epictetus

"He who allows oppression, shares the crime." Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin

"As long as the differences and diversities of mankind exist, democracy must allow for compromise, for accommodation, and for the recognition of differences." Eugene McCarthy

"Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods." H.L. Mencken

"It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember." Eugene McCarthy

"The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy; the best weapon of a democracy is openness." Edvard Teller

"A government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."  Abraham Lincoln

"These are the people we elected and if we are not satisfied we should get new candidates. It is in our hands. It is our country. It is a very simplistic view that politicians are to blame for everything."  Robert Stanfield, former Conservative Leader and Premier of Nova Scotia

"Liberty is to the collective body what health is to every individual body. Without health, no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society."  Thomas Jefferson

"A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights."  Napoleon Bonaparte
"Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues."  Napoleon Bonaparte
"Men take only their needs into consideration - never their abilities."  Napoleon Bonaparte
"Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance."  William O. Douglas

"A man younger than 30 who's not a liberal has no heart and a man older than 30 who's not a conservative has no brain." Winston Churchill

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty." Thomas Jefferson

"Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do." Rudolf Giuliani

“Compassion is the use of public funds to buy votes.” Thomas Sowell

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Thomas Jefferson

"For us democracy is a question of human dignity. And human dignity is political freedom, the right to freely express opinion and the right to be allowed to criticise and form opinions. Human dignity is the right to health, work, education and social welfare. Human dignity is the right and the practical possibility to shape the future with others. These rights, the rights of democracy, are not reserved for a select group within society, they are the rights of all the people." Olof Palme, the late Swedish Prime Minister

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." Thomas Jefferson

''You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.'' James Thurber

“Capitalism and communism stand at opposite poles. Their essential difference is this: The communist, seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: No man should have so much. The capitalist, seeing the same thing, says: All men should have as much.” Phelps Adams

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." George Jean Nathan

"Don't vote, it only encourages them." Anonymous

"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." Thomas Jefferson

"If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side."  Orson Scott Card, Novelist

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."  Thomas Jefferson

"To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society" Theodore Roosevelt
''Liberty is to the collective body what health is to every individual body. Without health, no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.'' Thomas Jefferson

"The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts."  Edmund Burke

"History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure."   U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead

"Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been." Winston Churchill

"Democracy encourages the majority to decide things about which the majority is ignorant." John Simon

"Democracy is a form of government in which it is permitted to wonder aloud what the country could do under first-class management." Senator Soaper

"Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." George Bernard Shaw

"Democracy is a government where you can say what you think even if you don't think." Anonymous

"Democracy is a process by which people are free to choose the man who will get the blame." Laurence J. Peter

"Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses." H. L. Mencken

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time." E. B. White

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." H. L. Mencken

"That government is best which governs least." Henry David Thoreau

"No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session."  Judge Gideon J. Tucker

"In America, anybody may become president, and I suppose it's just one of the risks you take.” Adlai Stevenson

"Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage." H. L. Meneken

"The ballot is stronger than the bullet." Abraham Lincoln

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing." Thomas Jefferson

"Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon." E.M. Forster

“What, after all, is the public under present conditions? What are the reasons for its eclipse? What hinders it from finding and identifying itself? By what means shall its inchoate and amorphous estate be organized into effective political action relevant to present social needs and opportunities? What has happened to the public in the century and a half since the theory of political democracy was urged with such assurance and hope?”  John Dewey

“What the public does is not to express its opinions but to align itself for or against a proposal. If that theory is accepted, we must abandon the notion that democratic government can be the direct expression of the will of the people. We must abandon the notion that the people govern. Instead, we must adopt the theory that, by their occasional mobilisations as a majority, people support or oppose the individuals who actually govern. We must say that the popular will does not direct continuously but that it intervenes occasionally.” Walter Lippman

"In democracy everyone has the right to be represented, even the jerks." Chris Patten

"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."  H.L. Mencken

“Every one is degraded, whether aware of it or not, when other people, without consulting him, take upon themselves unlimited power to regulate his destiny.”   John Stuart Mill

“No government by experts in which the masses do not have the chance to inform the experts as to their needs can be anything but an oligarchy managed in the interest of the few. And the enlightenment must proceed in ways which force the administrative specialists to take account of the needs. The world has suffered more from leaders and authorities than from the masses. The essential need ... is the improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion. That is the problem of the public.”  John Dewey

"I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform them by education." Thomas Jefferson

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all."  Thomas Jefferson

"In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place."  Mahatma Gandhi

"History is fables agreed upon." Voltaire

"When the government fears the people, that is LIBERTY. When people fear the government, that is TYRANNY."  Author Unknown
"The United States is a nation of laws, badly written and randomly enforced."  Frank Zappa

"Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than the arguments of its opposers."  William Penn

"A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space."  Gloria Steinem

"As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand." Josh Billings

"If...the machine of government...is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law."  Henry David Thoreau
"If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one - if he had the power - would be justified in silencing mankind." John Stuart Mill

"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."  Galbraith's Law

"The wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. He is in front of it."  Axel Munthe

"If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own." Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We are usually convinced more easily by reasons we have found ourselves than by those which have occurred to others." Blaise Pascal

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"  Alexander Solzhenitsyn
"It is as hard for the good to suspect evil, as it is for the bad to suspect good." Marcus Tullius Cicero
"Men will wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, die for it, anything but live for it."  Charles Caleb Cotton

"In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must, above all, be a sheep."  Albert Einstein
"If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?"  Thomas Henry Huxley
"The truly just is he who feels half guilty of your misdeeds."  Kahlil Gibran

"Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying No to any authority - literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social, and even political."  Ignazio Silone, author (1900-1978)

"It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people."  Giordano Bruno

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."  African proverb

"On each race is laid the duty to keep alight its own lamp of mind as its part in the illumination of the world. To break the lamp of any people into deprive it of its rightful place in the world festival."  Rabindranath Tagore, Indian Poet (1861-1941)

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."  Mahatma Gandhi

"Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption."  John Stuart Mill

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."  Tolstoy
"Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right." Laurens van der Post
"If there is not struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blow, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."  Frederick Douglass

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."  Alice Walker

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."  Abraham Lincoln
"They came for the communists, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a communist; They came for the socialists, and I did not speak up because I was not a socialist; They came for the union leaders, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a union leader; They came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me." Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."  Elie Wiesel

"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know."  Michel de Montaigne
"Conversation would be vastly improved by the constant use of four simple words: I do not know."  Andre Maurois
"He who allows oppression, shares the crime."  Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin

"Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."  Mark Twain

"It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do."   Moliere
"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep."  Saul Bellow
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  Margaret Mead

"The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order."  Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher (1861-1947)

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."  Aristotle

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral."   Paulo Freire
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."  George Bernard Shaw

"Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress."  Thomas A. Edison

"Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers."  Mignon McLaughlin, author

"Every civilizing step in history has been ridiculed as 'sentimental', 'impractical', or 'womanish', etc., by those whose fun, profit or convenience was at stake."  Joan Gilbert

"To feed men and not to love them is to treat them as if they were barnyard cattle. To love them and not respect them is to treat them as if they were household pets."  Mencius, philosopher (c. 380-289 BCE)

"Democracies don't prepare well for things that have never happened before." Richard A. Clarke, former White House counter- terrorism chief.

"Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty."   Samuel Adams

"Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties . . . They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty . . . that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be the fundamental principle of the American government." Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice

"Democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves they will seek it, cherish it, and view any deprivation of it with regret. But for equality their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery." Alexis de Tocqueville

"Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves." Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, British Prime Minister

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." William Pitt, "The Younger”, British Prime Minister

"We in America do not have government by the majority.  We have government by the majority who participate." Thomas Jefferson
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

"A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote in a national election." Bill Vaughan

"Democracy is too good to share with just anybody." Nigel Rees

"The best defence [for a democracy, for the public good] is aggressiveness, the aggressiveness of the involved citizen. We need to reassert that slow, time-consuming, inefficient, boring process that requires our involvement; it is called 'being a citizen.' The public good is not something that you can see. It is not static. It is a process. It is the process by which democratic civilizations build themselves." John Ralston Saul

"Strong people don't need strong leaders." Ella Baker

"The ultimate authority ... resides in the people alone." James Madison

"The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.”   Edmund Burke

"Only the educated are free.”   Epictetus

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty." James Madison

"Who's more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?" Obi Wan Kenobi

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than more than half of the people are right more than half of the time." E.B. White

"I have no respect for the passion for equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy." Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

"Complete equality isn’t compatible with democracy, but it is a agreeable to tolitarianism.  After all the only way to ensure the equality of the slothful, the inept and the immoral is to suppress everyone else." Iain Benson

"It is better that a man should tyrannize over his bank balance than over his fellow-citizens." John Mayard Keynes

"Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking." Clement Atlee

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." H. L. Mencken


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