Kinchlow’s Fake Quotes

Ben Kinchlow’s latest column at the Worldnetdaily follows a tried-and-false formula: Offer up some fake quotations, then use them as the premise of an absurd argument. In this case, it’s that absurd old idea that democracy will cease to exist when people start voting themselves largesse from the government:

A little over two centuries ago, a historian named Alexander Tyler made a chilling prediction that could easily be applied to America today. While he spoke of the ancient Athenians, the principles apply to modern-day America.

He wrote, “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.”

A most chilling observation in this “prophecy” is that civilizations rise and fall in 200-year cycles. Based upon this observation, could America already be three decades beyond the deadline? Could it be that the signs of “dependency and bondage” that Tyler spoke of have manifested and, though unnoticed, are all around us today?

America was not founded as a democracy but as a republic, yet it operates on democratic principles. Here was Tyler’s raison d’être for the decline and fall of a democracy; “A democracy,” he observed, “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.”

Except he didn’t “observe” this at all because he never said either of those things. The first quote is from a 1943 speech by H. W. Prentis. The second is from an op-ed column in an Oklahoma newspaper by Elmer T. Peterson in 1951 and has since been attributed to everyone from Jefferson to Tocqueville. He doesn’t even get the man’s name correct, it was Tytler, not Tyler.

Also note that absurd “democracy not a republic” cliche that is so popular among wingnuts. They are not opposites, for crying out loud, one is a form of the other. And Tytler, incidentally, objected to either form about equally. Kinchlow would know this if he’d actually read him rather than getting his information from forwarded emails.

About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • http://blog.nikhilkrishnaswamy.com nkrishna

    Incidentally, the Greek word for “republic” (y’know, Greeks, the much-vaunted “inventors of western civilization”) is dimokratia, which also happens to be the word for “democracy.”

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

    Except in this case, they are voting for tax breaks for the richest and corporate welfare, and gutting programs for the poor – i.e. NOT gifts to themselves (the majority of voters). People in the real world are dumber than that in the quote.

  • eric

    IIRC, Athenian democracy didn’t collapse due to apathy or dependence, it collapsed due to Alexander of Macedonia kicking everyone’s butt, including Athens’. He basically ended the era of city states of any governmental form in that region, because the citizen armies they could field could not match up to his larger, more professional force. And even after Alexander the Great, Athenian democracy continued on in name (but subject to outside rule) for a couple more centuries, until Augustus delivered the final axe-chop by putting some sort of regional governor type in charge. Total run time: 500 years or so.

    Another irony about Athenian democracy is that the state maintained its overwhelming military and economic power during the golden age because the citizens voted themselves government support. Specifcally, they voted for the government to keep supplying them with government-financed navy jobs. A majority of Athenian citizens kept voting for the Delian league to mantain a large navy of triremes long after any threat from Persia justified it. They did so because that provided them with jobs and money – Athens supplied the majority of rowers as well as building and maintaiing the ships, with the other cities in the league paying for it. Athens then used this navy to compel the other members of the league to keep paying for it. Had the working class voting citizen men of Athens not voted for their own government-supplied jobs, the league would arguably have disintegrated much earlier and Athens would have lost a lot of money and military influence.

  • Rasalhague

    A most chilling observation in this “prophecy” is that civilizations rise and fall in 200-year cycles. Based upon this observation, could America already be three decades beyond the deadline?

    Because, obviously, modern civilization started when America was founded.

  • alanb

    The fact that these quotes were misattributed to Tytler is right there on Tytler’s Wikipedia page. Do these guys to any research other than copy/paste other right wing blogs?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    The Right should stop being so coy and just campaign openly against democracy.

  • colnago80

    Gee, the former Soviet Union called itself the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although the economic system in place was state capitalism, not socialism.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

    Those “gifts” are the proper property of the propertied elite, and civilization endures only so long as the rabble get no improper ideas about re-appropriating properties!

  • busterggi

    Kinchlow is sort-of right, the US started as a partial democratic republic (only while male Christian landowning males could vote or run for office) and has become an oligarchy (predominantly run by rich white Christian property owning males).

  • Taz

    Here’s another quote: “money is power”. And yet idiots like Kinchlow always seem to feel that those with the least money have all the power, and those with the most money don’t have enough.

  • abb3w

    To put some blame where due, when Elmer T. Peterson first put it to paper in 1951, he bogusly attributed it to Tytler.

  • jameshanley

    There is a plausible concern at the heart of “voting themselves largesse” quote. But it’s really about reasonable public policy and fiscal solvency, rather than about democracy itself. Fiscal insolvency can be a pretext for a coup that stifles democracy/representative government, but it’s certainly not inevitable.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Actually, he said “The poor are no danger to us as long as we can pit half of them against the other half.” And that young man grew up to be Richard Nixon. True story.

  • anubisprime

    Wingnuts are cute when they think they are being profound…or hoping they sound profound at least.

    After-all the audience is the target and they only target certain audiences…they know their marks…and they know there is not a snowballs chance in hades on a scorching summers day that anyone of them would have the gumption, wit or will to question anything they spout.

  • DaveL

    There is a plausible concern at the heart of “voting themselves largesse” quote. But it’s really about reasonable public policy and fiscal solvency, rather than about democracy itself.

    A very good point. History certainly isn’t lacking for examples of monarchs, dictators, and aristocracies who ruined their nations’ finances helping themselves to “generous gifts from the public treasury”.

  • naturalcynic

    Ten years ago the people democratically [and arrogantly] allowed themselves the right to deny equality. However, the republican ideal of judicial overview changed that denial. Howzzat, Ben?

  • thebookofdave

    He seems to be going through an awful amount of trouble to make his point. He could have saved us all a lot of time simply by checking the back of the US Constitution for the expiration date. It’s there, Kinchlow. Just keep looking for the fine print.

  • John Pieret

    eric @ 3:

    IIRC, Athenian democracy didn’t collapse due to apathy or dependence, it collapsed due to Alexander of Macedonia kicking everyone’s butt, including Athens’.

    A bit over simplified. First the Spartans kicked the Athenians’ butts (with help from the people the Athenians had subjugated who were not accorded democratic rights) and then Philip, Alexander’s father, kicked everyone else’s butts in Greece and Pelopenesia and then Alexander kicked everybody else’s butts from Egypt to India.

    The Peloponnesian War may, or may not, have been one of the great tragedies of human history. We’ll never know.

  • sugarfrosted

    …one is a form of the other.

    Not really, no. For example a government exclusively governed by something akin to the house of lords in England is a republic that is not a democracy. This body does vote admittedly, but only representatives chosen for you voting isn’t democracy. Another example of this would be union of differing kingdoms, where the kings appoint representatives. (The Holy Roman Empire was kind of like this, with the addition of an emperor and ignoring the fact that some of the members states/cities did in fact vote for their representative.) Additionally a city or town where everyone casts votes on every issue is a democracy, but not a republic.

    Admittedly democracy and republics tend to go hand in hand. The Federal Government of the United is an example of both, in that the representatives are selected by direct election.

  • dingojack

    OK since no one else will, I’ll say it: “Did you get that information from listening to your coffeepot, Kinch?”*

    Sugar frosted. Firstly, a system of government where every citizen votes on every single government decision is called a direct democracy. Apart from some very small states this has almost never occurred due to the difficulties of this form of democracy (it certainly never occurred in Athens at any stage). Secondly, England’s House of Lords (or upper house) is democratically elected from a restricted group, so it’s a representative democracy. Other examples might be found in Ancient Roman Republic (The Plebs could, and did, walk out and could, and did, get into the Senate, even being elected Consul**) and the modern US House and Senate. Representative (and indeed direct) democracies could be called republics (from res publica, a public controlled thing).

    John Pieret – and how did the Lacedaemon (to give them proper name) divide their wealth (in this case mostly land)? Who owned the property? How did they decide policy? How does this contrast to the Athenians? Which was closer to being ‘a democracy‘?

    Dingo

    ——–

    * First a reference to Sergeant Shultz, now this guy, has the right become a mere Hogan’s Heroes fan club?

    ** Even former slaves. Which is supposed to be more democratic again?

  • lpetrich

    The idea of cycles of history is, IMO, a sensible one, even if Alexander Tytler’s alleged one is completely bogus.

    CYCLES OF AMERICAN HISTORY — Arthurs Schlesinger I and II had proposed a cycle of US history between periods of liberalism / reform / public purpose and conservatism / retrenchment / private interest.

    Most of the phases of that cycle last about 10 to 20 years, but two traumatic liberal periods have been followed by two long conservative ones. The Civil War era was followed by the Gilded Age, which lasted over 30 years, and Sixties radicalism was followed by our current one, which several commentators have been calling Gilded Age II. It’s lasted even longer than the original Gilded Age, with no clear sign of it ending anytime soon. The Occupy movement seemed like the beginning of the end of it, but it was successfully beaten up by the authorities. Let’s see what becomes of fast-food-worker labor activism.

  • lpetrich

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in Cycles of American History notes a US foreign-policy cycle pointed out by Frank L. Klingberg over half a century ago. It is an alternation between extroversion, going on big military adventures and acquiring territory, and introversion, being more inward-looking. Extroverted periods usually last about 27 years and introverted ones about 21 years. Extroverted ones typically end as a result of costly wars: the Civil War, World War I, and the Vietnam War, and introverted ones typically end as a result of unanswered challenges from abroad.

    By the timing are currently near the end of an extroverted era, and the current unwillingness to go on military adventures is very revealing.

    According to the Schlesingers, this sort of alternation also drives the liberal-conservative cycle. Liberal eras end from activists getting burned out from all the effort that they had had to expend on their activism, especially when their activism seems to have succeeded. Conservative eras end from society’s leaders being unable or unwilling to do anything about increasing social problems.

  • lpetrich

    Peter Turchin: Cliodynamics He’s a biologist turned historian, and he’s found evidence of cycles of history in several long-lived societies: the Roman Republic and Empire, medieval and early modern Britain, France, and Russia, and imperial China.

    His phases:

    – Integrative – centralized, unified elites, strong state, order, stability — wars of conquest against neighbors

    – – Expansion (Growth) – population increases

    – – Stagflation (Compression) – population levels off, elites increase

    – Disintegrative – decentralized, divided elites, weak state, disorder, instability — civil wars

    – – Crisis (State Breakdown) – population declines, elites continue, lots of strife

    – – Depression – population stays low, civil wars, elites get pruned

    – Intercycle – if it takes time to form a strong state

    It typically takes around 300 or 400 years to complete the cycle. In Europe, there is an additional cycle of violence superimposed on it, a fathers-and-sons one typically lasting 50 or 60 years. One generation rebels, and its descendant one decides that rebellion isn’t worth it. That one’s descendant generation has less experience of rebellion and more problems, and it decides to rebel.

    Turning to the US, Peter Turchin has a wealth of data, though somewhat different social dynamics. The long-term cycle seems to last about a century, with a peak in the Era of Good Feelings in the 1820’s, a trough at the end of the Gilded Age around 1900, and an Eisenhower-Kennedy peak around 1960. We are currently heading downhill again in Gilded-Age fashion.

    He also finds fathers-and-sons spikes of violence in US history: 1870, 1920, and 1970, with a missing one in 1820.

    He finds that the US is headed for a rough ride, with the next spike due by 2020. Will it mean the end of Gilded Age II?

  • laurentweppe

    A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

    Translation: “99,9% of the populace are inept morons and thugs and only über geniuses like ME should be in charge” from Plato till today’s randologists and other neo-reactionaries, this has always been the rallying cry of those who dream themselves with castles, servants and harems.

  • abb3w

    @24, lpetrich

    He also finds fathers-and-sons spikes of violence in US history: 1870, 1920, and 1970, with a missing one in 1820.

    Compare Strauss-Howe. The 50-ish year cycle roughly corresponds to the Kondratiev wave in economics, as well.

    Regardless, there’s clearly ups and downs, and we look to be headed on an upswing.