Quote of the Day: Sovereign Power



The people flatter themselves that they have the sovereign power.

Alexander Fraser Tytler, 1747-1813, Scottish jurist and historian.

I’ve recently received several emails recycling the “Why Democracies Fail” essay that is attributed to Tytler (several attributing to “Tyler” and several dated 74 years after his death). Like many things circulated in this fashion, a deeper investigation reveals that once again truth is often more interesting than fiction [see this Snopes debunking of the attribution].

I encourage you to view the Wikipedia entry for Tytler and read a more scholarly recitation of his work. The quote above is taken from a passage that is more germane to our situation in Scottsdale (and perhaps the state and country, as well), where the finger of blame points not to the citizens’ direct greed. Instead, Tytler, blames them for broader ignorance and susceptibility in making irrational choices in leadership.

The people flatter themselves that they have the sovereign power. These are, in fact, words without meaning. It is true they elected governors; but how are these elections brought about? In every instance of election by the mass of a people—through the influence of those governors themselves, and by means the most opposite to a free and disinterested choice, by the basest corruption and bribery. But those governors once selected, where is the boasted freedom of the people? They must submit to their rule and control, with the same abandonment of their natural liberty, the freedom of their will, and the command of their actions, as if they were under the rule of a monarch.

Of course, this connects directly with quotes I posted recently from Plato and from Bertrand Russell.

I’ll close this unusually lengthy Quote of the Day, with another by Tytler:

Patriotism always exists in the greatest degree in rude nations.

Now I don’t feel so bad about not being part of the “civil dialog” movement in Scottsdale!

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