Let’s learn from Alexander Tyler

I am continually amazed at the parallels between the Athenian Empire and America. Some say that Rome was closest in nature to the US. I say it was Athens. We’re making the same mistakes. We’ve elected a demagogue–but I don’t blame him. I blame our own lack of civic virtue. 

Alexander Tyler was a Scottish historian who made the following statement in 1787: 


“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 that 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 from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.” 

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations 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;
From dependence back into bondage.


2 Responses to “Let’s learn from Alexander Tyler”

  1. November 13, 2008 at 2:39 am

    Which step would you say we’re at? One could make a decent case for any of the last 4. Depending on my mood I’d say we’re between 6-7 if I was in a pessimistic frame of mind, 5-6 if I was feeling more optimistic. I can’t see how I could ever argue (or anyone else who’s being serious for that matter) that we’re not past #4 which means we’re on the decline. If memory serves right, I believe that within the steps was a notion on time – the further along you go, the shorter the time to get to the next step (although I may have it confused with another similar analysis I read).

    Anyway, just curious – where would you say we are on that spectrum and how far away from the end of the road do you think we are?

    The really disheartening part of the notion of America’s demise is that unlike any other democracy before us, we have nuclear weapons. Additionally, although there were certainly Empires that were global in their economic span, there wasn’t a time where the economies of disparate nations were so interconnected and interdependent. In prior ages, if a great civilization fell it would be bad for the places that belonged to it and some other countries that had business dealings, but it wasn’t as though the collapse of one would necessitate the failure of almost everything else (Even if you think Dark Ages, there was so much more to it than economic collapse). If the US collapsed, friends and foes alike would suffer greatly even in the most optimistic scenarios.. the most pessimistic ones are truly horrifying.

  2. December 20, 2008 at 10:23 am


    Sorry but i just saw this comment by you. For some reason this article skyrocketed over the last few days and got a ton of hits, so I was looking at it and saw your comment.

    I’d say we’re on number 5; not yet apathetic, but our senses are dulled.

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