Alexander Tyler was a historian, lawyer, writer, and professor at the University of Edinburg in Scotland at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
Alexander Tyler was a historian, lawyer, writer, and professor at the University of Edinburg in Scotland at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He had a somewhat cynical view of democracy (a republic). He viewed such governments as having a natural evolution from virtue to decline. In recent years, a statement attributed to Tyler about the fall of the Athenian Republic has been widely distributed. The statement reads as follows:
"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilization from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
From bondage to spiritual faith.
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence and
From dependence back to bondage."
The statement goes on to quote James Olson, a professor from Hamlin University Law School in St. Paul, Minn. He says the United States is now between the complacency and apathy phase of Tyler's definition, with 40 percent of the nation's population already having reached the government dependency stage. The problem is that scholars can find nothing which ties such a statement to Tyler. Although a fabrication, this statement does contain elements of concern.
The political implication of this analogy is that public welfare is the culprit. Certainly there are problems here that warrant attention, but there is an unmentioned co-conspirator, corporate welfare. Excessive use of corporate power (money) and labor power (money) to entice politicians to grant concessions is equally detrimental to the Republic. It's not just the welfare state that has brought the country to the brink. The irresponsible actions of many of the nation's elite led to the banking-housing debacle. While most business leaders in America are honorable, this is not the first time the country has been let down by the greed of those who should be providing the leadership for a better life. In short, there is an ethics vacuum in too many quarters.
The concept of a Democracy (a Republic) is that an enlightened citizenry will act in the best interest of the public in general, not solely out of self-interest. Indeed, we are in a sorry state of affairs when the two political parties cannot act on the things which they agree. Everyone agrees that entitlements must be reformed, yet we continue to kick the can down the road. Everyone knows that deficit spending must be reined in, but we continue to place an ever-increasing burden on the backs of our grandchildren. Everyone agrees that the tax code is flawed, yet we perpetuate the system. We simply don't have the discipline to pay our bills. The younger generation has every reason to charge their elders with high crimes because of their callous disregard for their future.
A strong economy is essential to the future of the nation. Unless we can put our economic house in order, the scenario outlined above may come to pass. Mr. President and Congress, do you not have the backbone to come together and make the hard choices?
Roy Shaver writes a weekly column for the Daily News.