Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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For a true and workable democracy, the voters need to be able to think for themselves instead of accepting in true-believer fashion any kind of political dogma, slogan, or philosophy. When news becomes primarily entertainment, the priority of news organization inevitably strays from honoring the true to promoting what captures the most viewers—the sensational, the most outrageous, the most entetainingly addictive. And common voters, addicted more and more to entertainment, value less and less what’s true over what gives the pleasurable fix of entertainment. Representative rule becomes mob rule, freedom becomes slavery.

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Quotes (79)

“The democratic principle, enunciated in the words of the Declaration of Independence, declared that government was secondary, that the people who established it were primary. Thus, the future of democracy depended on the people, and their growing consciousness of what was the decent way to relate to their fellow human beings all over the world.”

Themes: Democracy

“The marketplace is democratic.”

Pericles 495 – 429 BCE via Thucydides
Disprover that all power corrupts

“We are a free democracy, but we are obedient. We obey the laws, especially those which protect the oppressed. We do not allow absorption in our own affairs to interfere with participation in the city's. We differ from other states in regarding the man who holds aloof from public life as useless, yet we yield to none in independence of spirit and complete self-reliance.”

Pericles 495 – 429 BCE via Edith Hamilton
Disprover that all power corrupts
from Thucydides

Themes: Democracy

“This city is not ruled by one man, but is free. The people rule in succession year by year, allowing no preference to wealth, but the poor man shares equally with the rich.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via G. M. Cookson
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Suppliants

Themes: Democracy

“We sit around in our shops denouncing the present order but we perceive that even badly constituted democracies are responsible for fewer disasters than oligarchies. But Athens ruined itself by carrying to excess the principles of liberty and equality, by training the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and license to do what they pleased as happiness.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE via H.H. Wells, Shan Dao, et alia
from Areopagiticus

“True democracy is the renunciation of the struggle for power.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE via Edith Hamilton

Themes: Power Democracy

“The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction;… dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE via Will Durant
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Democracy Freedom

77. Stringing a Bow

“The worst of all lawful governments and the best of all lawless ones, democracy is weak and unable to do any great good or any great evil.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE via Shan Dao

Themes: Democracy

“Democracy arose from men's thinking that if they are equal in any respect, they are equal absolutely.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Politics

“The end of democracy is freedom; of oligarchy, wealth; of aristocracy, the maintenance of education and national institutions; of tyranny, the protection of the tyrant.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Nicomachean Ethics

“Only in states in which the power of the people is supreme has liberty any home.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE
from De Republica, 54-51 BCE

Themes: Democracy

“Monarchies quickly becomes Tyrannies, Aristocracies Oligarchies, Democracies degenerate into Anarchy… no precaution can prevent them from sliding into their opposites because of how closely the virtue resembles the vice.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

18. The Sick Society

“Reducing democracy to ‘government by the best orator,’ political rallies and popular assemblies are as subject to evil counsel and the seduction by orators as a monarch by flatters.”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE via Shan Dao
from Leviathan

“The best form of government? The rich will tell you an aristocracy, the people will reply a democracy; kings along prefer royalty. Why then is almost all the world governed by monarchs? Men are rarely worthy of governing themselves.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Raymond Naves, Shan Dao
from Philosophical Dictionary

“A constitution of the greatest possible human freedom must place at its foundation and for all its laws, the liberty of every individual co-existing with the liberty of every other.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE via J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Shan Dao
from Critique Of Pure Reason

Themes: Democracy Freedom

“In all our associations; in all our agreements let us never lose sight of this fundamental maxim - that all power was originally lodged in, and consequently is derived from, the people.”

George Mason 1725 – 1792 CE
First American abolitionist, founding father, and Constitutional savior

“The perfect equality of men is the point at which the extremes of democracy and despotism are confounded”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

Thomas Jefferson 1743 – 1826 CE

“There is nothing more odious than the majority. It consists of a few powerful men who lead the way; of accommodating rascals and submissive weaklings; and of a mass of men who trot after them without in the least knowing their own minds.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

“Democracy restores to man a consciousness of his value, teaches him by the removal of authority and oppression to listen to the dictates of reason, gives him confidence to treat all other men as his fellow human beings, and induces him to regard them no loner as enemies against whom to be upon his guard, but as brethren whom it comes him to assist.”

William Godwin 1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic
from Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

“Democracy stimulates literature and retards art; aristocracies impose taste but frown upon enthusiasm and originality; absolute government stifles freedom, innovation, and thought.”

Madame de Staël 1766 – 1817 CE
(Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein)
"The greatest woman of her time"

“Democracy is a game used by the strong to conceal their oligarchic rule.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE via Jules Bertaut

Themes: Democracy

“America has proved that it is practicable to elevate the mass of mankind... She holds out an example 1000 times more encouraging than ever was presented before, to those 9/10ths of the human race who are born without hereditary fortune or hereditary rank.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator

Themes: Democracy

“The continuation of authority in the same person has frequently proved the undoing of democratic governments. Repeated elections are essential to the system of popular governments, because there is nothing so dangerous as to suffer Power to be vested for a long time in one citizen. The people become accustomed to obeying him, and he becomes accustomed to commanding, hence the origin of usurpation and tyranny.”

Simon Bolivar Simón Bolívar 1783 – 1830 CE
El Libertador

Themes: Democracy Power

“What is a democracy?—an aristocracy of blackguards.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity
from Diary (1821)

Themes: Democracy

“In politics, there is no honor... The world is weary of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

from Practical Politics

“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

Alexis de Tocqueville 1805 – 1859 CE
Pioneering researcher into the conflicts between freedom and equality

“Not only a right but a duty, voting should not have any more to do with personal wishes than when making a decision on a jury. If not able to rise above self-interest, a person is unfit to vote.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE via Shan Dao

Themes: Democracy

“The ideally best form of government is that in which the sovereignty or supreme controlling power is vested in the entire aggregate of the community.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

Themes: Democracy
“We are firmly convinced that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy. In a republic, there are at least brief periods when the people, while continually exploited, is not oppressed; in the monarchies, oppression is constant.

Mikhail Bakunin 1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism
from ​ Rousseau's Theory of the State (1873)

Themes: Democracy

“A government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice... Can there not be a government in which majorities to not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

Themes: Democracy

“The battle for democracy will not be won until the working class raises the proletariat to the position of the ruling class. Otherwise, 'democracy' will permit, condone, or even promote social and economic inequalities.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE via Shan Dao

Themes: Democracy

“that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The center and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

Themes: Democracy

“Government by consent superseded government by compulsion, and the pyramid which had stood on a point was made to stand upon its base. By making every citizen the guardian of his own interest, Solon admitted the element of Democracy into the State.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician

Themes: Democracy

“Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.”

Lucy Parsons 1853 – 1942 CE
(Eldine Gonzalez)
Political activist “more dangerous than a thousand rioters”

from Chicago Tribune, 1885

Themes: Wealth Democracy

“We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Louis D. Brandeis 1856 – 1941 CE

Themes: Democracy Wealth

“Democracy substitutes selection by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from Maxims for Revolutionists

Themes: Democracy

“Perhaps our national ambition to standardize ourselves has behind it the notion that democracy means standardization. But standardization is the surest way to destroy the initiative, to de-numb the creative impulse above all else essential to the vitality and growth of democratic ideals.”

Ida Tarbell 1857 – 1944 CE

“Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

Themes: Democracy

“The enemies of freedom do not argue; they shout and they shoot.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Democracy

“The very real spirit of democracy (using the word in its modern sense) pervades the essential teaching of Islam but Mohammad left no effective form to express this and his own rule was unlimited autocracy, and autocratic Islam has remained.”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE via Shan Dao
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from Outline of History

Themes: Democracy

“The creed of democracy—spiritual and political liberty for all—and each man a willing servant of the the state, was the conception which underlay the highest reach of Greek genius. It was fatally weakened by the race for money and power, war destroyed it, and Greece lost it forever. Nevertheless, the ideal of free individuals unified by a spontaneous service to the common life was left as a possession to the world, never to be forgotten.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Greek Way, 1930

Themes: Democracy

“criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, - this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Souls of Black Folk

“Dogmatism is an enemy to peace and an insuperable barrier to democracy... the greatest of the mental obstacles to human happiness.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

“In every important war since 1700, the more democratic side has been victorious.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

Themes: Democracy War

“Democracy is a system where people are counted not weighed.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

Themes: Democracy

“The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny, however, is alleviated by their lack of consistency.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Democracy

18. The Sick Society

“A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over a long period”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE
from Land Policy Review, 1942

Themes: Democracy

“If equality of educational opportunity can be established, democracy will be real and justified.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Democracy

“Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government since it requires the widest spread of intelligence.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Democracy

“By the time of Plato's death, his hostile analysis of Athenian democracy was approaching apparent confirmation by history... the gap between rich and poor widened... the rich organized themselves for protection against the poor... debtors massacred their creditors en masse... the middle classes, as well as the rich began to distrust democracy as empowered envy and the poor distrusted it as a sham... the class war left Greece internally as well as internationally divided”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Democracy

“Since inequality grows in an expanding economy... internal barbarization by the majority is part of the price that the minority pays for its control”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

Themes: Democracy Justice

13. Honor and Disgrace

“when we speak of democracy as a way of life and talk of the spirit of democracy, we can talk about 'Chinese democracy'—the idea of government for the people and by the consent of the people, but not government by the people and of the people. While parliamentary government is based on distrust of the ruler, Confucian ideals emphasized moral harmony as the basis of political harmony, laissez faire as the key policy and only one that has ever worked; the Great Chinese empire was always ruled without police depending—not on government or soldiers—but on the self-government of the people.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE via Shan Dao
from Wisdom of China and India

Themes: Democracy

“As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.”

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 – 1995 CE

Themes: Democracy

“The democratic ideal is equal opportunity for full human development, and, since the liberal arts are the basic means of such development, devotion to democracy naturally results from devotion to them.”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)
from The Great Conversation

Themes: Democracy

“I think the true discovery of America is before us, the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come; the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us... not only our living hope, but our dream to be accomplished.”

Thomas Wolfe 1900 – 1938 CE
(Thomas Clayton Wolfe)
Father of autobiographical fiction
from You Can't Go Home Again, 1940

Themes: Democracy

“I swear to the Lord I still can't see
Why Democracy means Everybody but me.

Oh, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!”

Langston Hughes 1901 – 1967 CE
Pioneering elevator of Black culture
from The Black Man Speaks

Themes: Democracy

“Men have always found it easy to be governed. What is hard for them is to govern themselves.”

Max Lerner 1902 – 1992 CE
(Maxwell Alan)

Themes: Democracy

“The great thesis of democracy is that anybody from any quarter can speak truth.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

Themes: Democracy

“The very wonders of American democracy, which aimed to bring everything to everybody, brought new complications and confusions. The vast majority had more things, ate better, had an opportunity for more education, the chance for a better life. But were these benefits less enjoyed? Less appreciated?”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Hidden History, 1987

Themes: Democracy

“The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people—faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but will also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment—faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor, and ultimately recognize right.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

from Profiles in Courage, 1956

Themes: Democracy

“histories of this country... suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us... teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors by going into a voting booth every 4 years to choose between two white and well-off males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

from A People's History of the United States​

Themes: Democracy

“In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than just ideals to be valued - they may be essential to survival.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

Themes: Democracy

“Lao Tzu sees rightful power as earned and wrongful power as usurped. He does not see power as virtue, but as the result of virtue. The democracies are founded on that view.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

13. Honor and Disgrace

“If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933 CE –
Fierce and influential voice for justice, equality, and women's rights

Themes: Democracy

“The reality of American democracy became government by the people but not as much for the people. Traditional Chinese democracy manifested as government for the people but not by the people.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Democracy

“The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth - and so destroys democracy.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Democracy is built on the attitude that I speak out for myself, the invincible me… but that approach doesn’t work.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Judith Lief, editor
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

“The best approach is a long-term approach,,, trying to develop some trend of continuity in a different direction rather than believing there will be tremendous good news if the right person is elected. It takes the work of centuries.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from A Buddhist Approach to Politics

“In the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, democracy proved its superiority to dictatorships in producing leaders worthy of the challenge, leaders that were but a reflection of the robust love of freedom held by their fellow citizens… can we find in the lessons of history the wisdom to choose such leaders today?”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE

Themes: Democracy

“Democracy is the best revenge.”

Benazir Bhutto بينظير ڀُٽو‎; 1953 – 2007 CE
from Daughter of Destiny: An Autobiography

Themes: Democracy

“Despotism has persisted through history because the alternative was often worse... democracy is a form of government that threads the needle—a course between the violence of anarchy and the violence of tyranny—exerting just enough force to prevent people from preying on each other without preying on the people themselves.”

Steven Pinker 1954 CE – via Shan Dao
Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror
from Enlightenment Now

“Two centuries ago a handful of countries, embracing 1% of the world’s people, were democratic; today, more than half of the world’s countries, embracing 55% of its people, are… Secular liberal democracies are the happiest and healthiest places on earth, and the favorite destinations of people who vote with their feet.”

Steven Pinker 1954 CE –
Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror
from Enlightenment Now

“the promise of democracy, America's constant ability to remake itself, to perfect this Union”

Barack Obama 1961 CE –

Themes: Democracy

“In a functioning democracy, the chief job of a politician is to be a teacher.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from Twitter

“I lived in countries that had no democracy... so I don't find myself in the same luxury as you do. You grew up in freedom, and you can spit on freedom because you don't know what it is not to have freedom.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1969 CE –
Powerful voice for Islamic reform

Themes: Democracy

“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined ordered such as Christianity, democracy, or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens

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