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A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.

JAMES MADISON, attributed, Quote Junkie Presidents Edition

I honor the passion for power and rule as little in the people as in a king. It is a vicious principle, exist where it may. If by democracy be meant the exercise of sovereignty by the people under all those provisions and self-imposed restraints which tend most to secure equal laws, and the rights of each and all, then I shall be proud to bear its name. But the unfettered multitude is not dearer to me than the unfettered king.


The future is best decided by ballots, not bullets.

RONALD REAGAN, State of the Union address, Jan. 25, 1984

Democracy's worst fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents.

ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, Stranger in a Strange Land

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.

JOHN ADAMS, letter to John Taylor, 1814

A marvel that has nothing to offer, democracy is at once a nation's paradise and its tomb.

EMIL CIORAN, History & Utopia

Though it is disguised by the illusion that a bureaucracy accountable to a majority of voters, and susceptible to the pressure of organized minorities, is not exercising compulsion, it is evident that the more varied and comprehensive the regulation becomes, the more the state becomes a despotic power as against the individual. For the fragment of control over the government which he exercises through his vote is in no effective sense proportionate to the authority exercised over him by the government.


A government held together by the bands of reason only, requires much compromise of opinion; that things even salutary should not be crammed down the throats of dissenting brethren, especially when they may be put into a form to be willingly swallowed, and that a great deal of indulgence is necessary to strengthen habits of harmony and fraternity.

THOMAS JEFFERSON, letter to Edward Livingston, Apr. 4, 1824

When threatened, the first thing a democracy gives up is democracy.

MIGNON MCLAUGHLIN, The Complete Neurotic's Notebook

Democracy depends on citizens being informed, and since our media, especially television (which is the most important source of news for most Americans) reports mostly what the people in power do, and repeats what the people in power say, the public is badly informed, and it means we cannot really say we have a functioning democracy.

HOWARD ZINN, Huffington Post, Jan. 28, 2010

Democracy is timelessly human, and timelessness always implies a certain amount of potential youthfulness.

THOMAS MANN, The Coming Victory of Democracy

The idea of representative democracy will change. Today, we claim we don't use direct democracy because it would be impractical to poll everybody on every issue. The truth is that we use representative democracy because we want to get an above-average group to think through problems and make choices that, in the short term, might not be obvious--even if they are to everybody's benefit over the long term.

BILL GATES, Playboy, Jul. 1994

What we call a democratic society might be defined for certain purposes as one in which the majority is always prepared to put down a revolutionary minority.


Democracy has become, unless I mistake, a kind of test or shibboleth, by which we try men and measures; and this is the same as to say that it is merely a word which is powerful with us, and not the wide and true notion of what the word means. But we must define the true import of words, and not be slaves to syllables; for democracy in form is not necessarily people-power in fact, but power perhaps of a few, who cajole the many and so lead and use the people for their own ends.


The only distinction that democracies reward is a high degree of conformity.

AMBROSE BIERCE, "Epigrams of a Cynic"

A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.

BILL CLINTON, speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 2013

If in a democratic country nothing can be permanently achieved save through the masses of the people, it will be impossible to establish a higher political life than the people themselves crave.

JANE ADDAMS, Twenty Years at Hull-House

The best cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.

EDWARD ABBEY, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

It is the life of democracy to favor equality.

CHRISTIAN NESTELL BOVEE, Intuitions and Summaries of Thought

The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history.

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

In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and never will exist. It is against natural order that the great number should govern and that the few should be governed.

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

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

LORD ACTON, The History of Freedom in Antiquity

The identification with the common lot which is the essential idea of Democracy becomes the source and expression of social ethics. It is as though we thirsted to drink at the great wells of human experience, because we knew that a daintier or less potent draught would not carry us to the end of the journey, going forward as we must in the heat and jostle of the crowd.

JANE ADDAMS, Democracy and Social Ethics

Democracy is alive, and like any other living thing it either flourishes and grows or withers and dies. There is no in-between. It is freedom and life or dictatorship and death.

SAUL ALINSKY, Reveille for Radicals

All those hints and glimpses of a larger and more satisfying democracy, which literature and our own hopes supply, have a tendency to slip away from us and to leave us sadly unguided and perplexed when we attempt to act upon them.

JANE ADDAMS, Democracy and Social Ethics

Does this mean that I am an opponent of democracy? Not at all. Fiction for fiction, it is the least harmful. But it is well not to confound its promises with realities. The fiction consists in the postulate of all democratic government, that the great majority of the electors in a state are enlightened, free, honest, and patriotic--whereas such a postulate is a mere chimera. The majority in any state is necessarily composed of the most ignorant, the poorest, and the least capable; the state is therefore at the mercy of accident and passion, and it always ends by succumbing at one time or another to the rash conditions which have been made for its existence. A man who condemns himself to live upon the tight-rope must inevitably fall; one has no need to be a prophet to foresee such a result.


Democracy is also a single ideology, and, like all such templates, it has its limits. what works in a legislature might not work in a corporation.

FAREED ZAKARIA, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad

Education in democracy must be carried on within the Party so that members can understand the meaning of democratic life, the meaning of the relationship between democracy and centralism, and the way in which democratic centralism should be put into practice. Only in this way can we really extend democracy within the Party and at the same time avoid ultra-democracy and the laissez-faire that destroys discipline.

MAO ZEDONG, "The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War", Oct. 1938

To view the opposition as dangerous is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. To oppress the opposition is to assault the very foundation of democracy.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, Letters From Burma

I submit to you that when in each man the dream of personal greatness dies, democracy loses the real source of its future strength.

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

Democracy is a form of the state, it represents, on the one hand, the organized, systematic use of force against persons; but, on the other hand, it signifies the formal recognition of equality of citizens, the equal right of all to determine the structure of, and to administer, the state.

VLADIMIR LENIN, The State and Revolution

Democracy is a difficult art of government, demanding of its citizens high ratios of courage and literacy, and at the moment we lack both the necessary habits of mind and a sphere of common reference.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Lights, Camera, Democracy!

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, "Definition of Democracy", August 1, 1858

Ironic, isn't it Smithers. This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you!

MR. BURNS, "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish", The Simpsons

The generation you consult will be more democratic and better instructed than our own; for the progress of democracy, though not constant, is certain, and the progress of knowledge is both constant and certain.

LORD ACTON, letter to Mary Gladstone, December 14, 1880

Democracy is a system that gives people a chance to elect rascals of their own choice.

DOUG LARSON, attributed, Great Sayings and Quotations

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