Democracy is Bloodier than Monarchy or Aristocracy

John Adams (1735 -1826) was an American Founding Father, and the second president of the United States (1797 -1801). Read the wiki page on Adams.

One marvels at all the natural wealth that the US has — immense land area, minerals, rivers, forests. You name it, the US has it all. But all that natural wealth pales in comparison to the wealth it had in the character of its founders. They were extraordinarily learned, wise, thoughtful and prudent. Given this sort of advantage, it is not at all surprising that the US became the richest and the most successful nation in the world.

The leaders that a nation gets is ultimately a random draw. The US was extraordinarily lucky. It would have drawn a Stalin, or a Lenin, or a Mao, or a Gandhi, or a Nehru. Had the US been unlucky like Russia, China or India, no amount of natural wealth would have saved the US from perdition. The US was born lucky.

One of the defining characteristics of the Founding Fathers was their distrust of democracy. They were very fearful of the evils of mob rule. Not just democracy,  they were distrustful of government itself. They debated long and hard about mechanisms to put constraints on government. The US Constitution does precisely that. Freedom cannot be guaranteed without restraints on government.

India has had many visionary people. Given the hundreds of millions of Indians, how could it not? But sadly for us, none of them rose to the rank of a national leader. The random draw of leaders threw up — how shall I put it nicely — retards like Gandhi and reprobates like Nehru. Modern India was born unlucky.

Anyhow, here’s a couple of quotes that I like. The first is from Benjamin Franklin (1706 -1790). He is known as “the First American.” About him wiki says:

Benjamin Franklin was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He founded many civic organizations, including the Library Company, Philadelphia’s first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania.

And now the Franklin quote.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

The second quote is from John Adams.

“I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”

C’est la vie. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

 

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

4 thoughts on “Democracy is Bloodier than Monarchy or Aristocracy”

  1. I will logically link this to your previous blog-post about fighting monsters.

    If you stare into abyss for too long it stares back into you, similarly when you fight monsters you learn a lot about them and you internalize their true nature.

    What separates American founding fathers from nincompoops like Gandhi or Nehru is that these were badass people who truly hated the colonial masters. They fought a war, risked their life (unlike Gandhi and Nehru) and struggled to keep that freedom from the Colonial masters.

    I believe in the process they developed a deeper hatred for authority, notion that if you are born in a noble family you get the right to decide fate of peasants, that to be honorable you have to be born some Lord of Earl. I think in their process of fighting the monster of British King, I think they ended up understanding the true fault lines of authoritarian rule, big government and welfare state.

    It is very important to note that only people who get their hands dirty can understand and internalize many of these concepts. A baker or a car mechanic truly understands the evils of government regulation. Where as a prof. does not.

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  2. The proposition that democracy is bloodier than aristocracy or monarchy is to be seen through experience. Its not something that can be established via logic.

    Its interesting to read the quote of Benjamin Franklin because he didn’t believe in the kind of liberty that you hold. He qualified only virtuous men deserving of freedom.
    In England, Edmund Burke said similar thing:
    “But what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty is, cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of their having high-sounding words in their mouths.”

    Contrast this with what Hayek said:
    “A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom.”[No qualification for values to be virtuous]

    “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”[Denying the possibility of using virtue as an object to curtail freedom]

    Or for that matter, contrast this with the view that Mises held, that the judgements of value are ultimate, there are no eternal or absolute values, and that there’s no standard to evaluate ultimate judgements of value.

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  3. OH MAN Atanu, by claiming its just about luck you are creating a different problem here, now indians can simply brush it off as bad luck. .but its not that simply, its the culture in india which wont allow indians themselves to pick good leaders and a culture which will mostly never appreciate individuals like the western tradition of monotheistic christianity came to do.

    Add in hinduism’s resistance to material wealth like its some cancer, a capitalist system where individuals are at the center of society wont come up.

    Now i have not read sabhlok’s articles about hinduism being a truly capitalistic religion, however it doesn’t seem like its a philosophy which puts emphasis on the individual directly but only on the individuals worth to the society as a sacrificial animal.

    Now its upto liberals to convince hindus that a elon musk starting companies and making billions in a society and reaching his full potential is a net benefit to mankind and society. Brushing it off as luck wont do us any good.

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    1. almostaristotle,

      Actually it is bad luck. One’s inheritance — genetic, material, etc. — is a matter of chance. It’s your tough luck if you are born in Somalia and not in Switzerland; or if you are the son of a cobbler in Kolkata and not the son of a millionaire in Manhattan.

      You are wrong about Hinduism. Hinduism is not against material wealth. I’m too lazy to give you a primer on that subject. Just do the hard work and learn.

      I would not claim that it’s all luck and effort has no role in the creation of wealth. Effort does matter but you have to be lucky to have the opportunity to expend effort.

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