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quotations about democracy

Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, speech, Nov. 11, 1947

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!


Although our interests as citizens vary, each one is an artery to the heart that pumps life through the body politic, and each is important to the health of democracy.

BILL MOYERS, The Nation, Jan. 22, 2007

The sides are being divided now. It’s very obvious. So if you’re on the other side of the fence, you’re suddenly anti-American. Its breeding fear of being on the wrong side. Democracy’s a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.

SAM SHEPARD, The Village Voice, Nov. 12, 2004

Democracy works when people claim it as their own.

BILL MOYERS, The Nation, Jan. 22, 2007

Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they've told you what you think it is you want to hear.


Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

OSCAR WILDE, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.

BARACK OBAMA, press conference, Feb. 9, 2009

There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.


A democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness sake, I will call it the idea of freedom.

THEODORE PARKER, speech, May 29, 1850

It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting.


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.


The ballot is stronger than the bullet.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, speech, May 19, 1856

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.


Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Maxims for Revolutionists

It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny.

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER, The American Democrat

Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.


In every well-governed state, wealth is a sacred thing; in democracies it is the only sacred thing.

ANATOLE FRANCE, Penguin Island

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.


We should be more modest in our belief that we can impose democracy on a country through military force. In the past, it has been movements for freedom from within tyrannical regimes that have led to flourishing democracies; movements that continue today. This doesn’t mean abandoning our values and ideals; wherever we can, it’s in our interest to help foster democracy through the diplomatic and economic resources at our disposal. But even as we provide such help, we should be clear that the institutions of democracy – free markets, a free press, a strong civil society – cannot be built overnight, and they cannot be built at the end of a barrel of a gun. And so we must realize that the freedoms FDR once spoke of – especially freedom from want and freedom from fear – do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots; they are only realized once the personal and material security of a people is ensured as well.

BARACK OBAMA, speech, Nov. 20, 2006

Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president.

JOHNNY CARSON, The Tonight Show, Sep. 11, 1991

Modern democracies will face difficult new challenges--fighting terrorism, adjusting to globalization, adapting to an aging society--and they will have to make their system work much better than it currently does. That means making democratic decision-making effective, reintegrating constitutional liberalism into the practice of democracy, rebuilding broken political institutions and civic associations. Perhaps most difficult of all, it requires that those with immense power in our societies embrace their responsibilities, lead, and set standards that are not only legal, but moral. Without this inner stuffing, democracy will become an empty shell, not simply inadequate but potentially dangerous, bringing with it the erosion of liberty, the manipulation of freedom, and the decay of a common life.

FAREED ZAKARIA, The Future of Freedom

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.


Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.


I have hinted that what people are afraid of in democracy is less the thing itself than what they conceive to be its necessary adjuncts and consequences. It is supposed to reduce all mankind to a dead level of mediocrity in character and culture, to vulgarize men's conceptions of life, and therefore their code of morals, manners, and conduct — to endanger the rights of property and possession. But I believe that the real gravamen of the charges lies in the habit it has of making itself generally disagreeable by asking the Powers that Be at the most inconvenient moment whether they are the powers that ought to be. If the powers that be are in a condition to give a satisfactory answer to this inevitable question, they need feel in no way discomfited by it.


Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.


A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined; one discovers how far one can go only by traveling in a straight line until one is stopped.

NORMAN MAILER, preface, The Presidential Papers

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.


The many are more incorruptible than the few; they are like the greater quantity of water which is less easily corrupted than a little.


God's hand, like a sign-board, is pointing toward democracy, and saying to the nations of the earth, "This is the way: walk ye in it."

HENRY WARD BEECHER, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

Let the people think they govern, and they will be govern'd.

WILLIAM PENN, Some Fruits of Solitude

Democracy, like liberty, justice and other social and political rights, is not "given", it is earned through courage, resolution and sacrifice.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, In Quest of Democracy

The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity.

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, letter to George Sand, 1871

If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men.

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right

In a democracy, every ordinary citizen is effectively a king--but a king in a constitutional democracy, a monarch who decides only formally, whose function is merely to sign off on measures proposed by an executive administration. This is why the problem with democratic rituals is homologous to the great problem of constitutional monarchy: how to protect the dignity of the king? How to maintain the appearance that the king effectively makes decisions, when we all know this not to be true?

SLAVOJ ZIZEK, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

Democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men's enlightened will.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, Third Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1941

The very essence of democracy is the absolute faith that while people must cooperate, the first function of democracy, its peculiar gift, is to develop each individual into everything that he might be.

EDWIN H. LAND, address at MIT, "Generation of Greatness: The Idea of a University in an Age of Science", May 22, 1957

Democracy is the road to socialism.


The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, "Feast of Fools", Lapham's Quarterly: Politics

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