Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Triumph of Folly

"Democracy is the worst form of government. It is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical. No machinery has yet been contrived to carry out in any but the most farcical manner its principles. It reduces wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap and demagogy. The critics of democracy have the easiest of tasks in demonstrating its inefficiency. But there is something even more important than efficiency and expediency - justice. And democracy is the only social order that is admissible, because it is the only one consistent with justice. The moral consideration is supreme. Efficiency, expediency, even practical wisdom and success must go by the board; they are of no account beside the categorical imperative of justice. Justice is only possible when to every man belongs the power to resist and claim redress from wrong. That is democracy. And that is why, clumsy, inefficient, confused, weak and easily misguided as it is, it is the only form of government which is morally permissible. The ideal form of government is an enlightened and benevolent despotism; but that is an absolutely unrealizable dream much more visionary than any democratic Utopia. There can never be an adequately enlightened and justly benevolent despot. Your philosopher king is not a practical success. Put a Sir Thomas More in power, and you have a Torquemada; your ineffectual Marcus Aurelius is succeeded by a Commodus. Justice is only possible through a diffusion of power, and it is in point of fact by the progress of democratic power that the progress of justice has been brought about."

- Robert Briffault, The Making of Humanity, 1919, twenty-eight years before Churchill's famous speech before the House of Commons

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