another misattributed quote

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 20 20:50:40 UTC 2012

Victor: Thanks for pointing out this recent instance of a quotation
attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler. The Yale Book of Quotations has
an entry for the quote. Loren Collins has a webpage (that you linked)
with a cite in 1951 for "Why Democracies Fail".

Back in August 2010 I posted a version of the Tytler attributed saying
that had been published in a Brainerd, Minnesota newspaper on June 1,
1946. Here is a long link and short link into the archives:;vAmbxg;201008181414390400C

[Begin excerpt]
Cite: 1946 June 1, The Brainerd Daily Dispatch, Washington Letter by
Congressman Harold Knutson, Interesting Statistics by Sam Pettengill
(sp?), Page 3 (NA Page 2), Column 8, Brainerd, Minnesota.

More than two centuries ago, a Professor Tytler, of the Edinburgh
University, made the following observation.

"A true democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It
can only exist until the electorate discovers it can vote itself
largess out of the public treasury. From then on the majority always
votes for the representative who promises most out of the public
treasury, and soon the democracy collapses because of its loose fiscal
policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship."
[End excerpt]

Barry Popik has an entry on the topic: "Democracy cannot exist as a
permanent form of government". He lists the same 1946 citation, and he
may have found it first. I am not sure of the chronology back in 2010:


On Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 3:41 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      another misattributed  quote
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Allen West put this supposed de Tocqueville in his OpEd today:
>> "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can
>> only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves
>> largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority
>> always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the
>> public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over
>> loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."
> Of course, it's not an actual deT quote, but it seems to be a fairly
> popular sentiment in certain circles. The quote has been circulating at
> least since the 2000 elections, when it was also misattributed to
> Alexander Tyler. Snopes does a complete reconstruction and catches what
> it believes is the real author, but there are other misdirections as well.
>> The "Alexander Tyler" quoted at the head of the article is actually
>> Lord Woodhouselee, Alexander Fraser Tytler, a Scottish
>> historian/professor who wrote several books in the late 1700s and
>> early 1800s. However, there is no record of a Tytler's having authored
>> a work entitled /The Fall of the Athenian Republic/ (or /The Decline
>> and Fall of the Athenian Republic/), and the quoted material
>> attributed to him above is likely apocryphal.
> More links and comments at the Snopes site. West's silly OpEd is here
> . He gets taken behind the woodshed by Steve Benen
> here
>      VS-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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