top of page

Democracy Quotes




Acton, Lord [English historian (1834-1902)]

Throughout the ages, many people have commented on the meaning of democracy. Below are a few quotes, which are not representative of the world but do give a flavor of some of the hopes, desires, concerns and images of the concept. Although these quotes could be organized in a number of ways, given the broad historical, multicultural, and inter-disciplinary nature of those cited, I have chosen to simply list them in alphabetical order. It should be noted that it is not always easy,nor appropriate, to place a label on those cited below but I have chosen to do so in order contextualize the quotes, understanding that these historic figures represent more than the moniker I have placed beside their names.The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the party that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

Adams, John [President of the U.S. (1735-1826)]

Democracy... while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

Addams, Jane [American sociologist (1860-1935)]

We have learned to say that the good must be extended to all of society before it can be held secure by any one person or any one class. But we have not yet learned to add to that statement, that unless all [people] and all classes contribute to a good, we cannot even be sure that it is worth having.

Alinsky, Saul [American scholar and community organizer (1909-1972)]

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.

Aristotle [Greek philosopher (284BC-322BC)]

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.

Auer, Jane [American novelist and playwright (1917-1973)]

Voting is one of the few things where boycotting in protest clearly makes the problem worse rather than better.

Aung San Suu Kyi [Myanmar politician (b. 1945)]

Fear is not the natural state of civilized people.


Bongo, Omar [President of Gabon (1935-2009)]

There is an idea of democracy produced by one-sided thinking.


(de) Cervantes, Miguel [Spanish novelist (1547-1616)]

There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say, the Haves and the Have-nots.

Chase, Stuart [American economist (1888-1985)]

Democracy, as has been said of Christianity, has never really been tried.

Chesterton, G. K. [English author (1874-1936)]

The unconscious democracy of America is a very fine thing. It is a true and deep and instinctive assumption of the equality of citizens, which even voting and elections have not destroyed.

Chomsky, Noam [American scholar and activist (b. 1928)]

Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.

Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are, in principle, under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist, that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level... Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I am opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy.

The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations.

Churchill, Winston [(British Prime Minister (1874-1965)]

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

Cocteau, Jean [French poet (1889-1963)]

I'm not willing to be tolerated. That wounds my love of love and liberty.

Coles, Robert [Child psychiatrist (b. 1929)]

Abraham Lincoln did not go to Gettysburg having commissioned a poll to find out what would sell in Gettysburg. There were no people with percentages for him, cautioning him about this group or that group or what they found in exit polls a year earlier. When will we have the courage of Lincoln?

Confucius [Philosopher (551-479 BC)]

He who merely knows right principles is not equal to him who loves them.

Crazy Horse [Native American (1838-1877)]

One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.


Debs, Eugene V. [Union leader and politician (1855-1926)]

When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right.

Dewey, John [American philosopher (1859-1952)]

The aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education ... (and) the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth. Now this idea cannot be applied to all the members of a society except where intercourse of man with man is mutual, and except where there is adequate provision for the reconstruction of social habits and institutions by means of wide stimulation arising from equitably distributed interests. And this means a democratic society.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor [Russian novelist (1821-1881)]

Originality and the feeling of one’s own dignity are achieved only through work and struggle.

Douglas, Frederick [American abolitionist (1818-1895)]

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

Du Bois, W. E. B. [American civil rights activist (1868-1963)]

The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.

Dowling, Edward [Anglican priest and historian (1838-1920)]

The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.

Dylan, Bob [(American folksinger (b.1941)]

Democracy don't rule the world, You'd better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, But I guess that's better left unsaid.


Ehrenreich, Barbara [American author and feminist (b. 1941)]

That's free enterprise, friends: freedom to gamble, freedom to lose. And the great thing -- the truly democratic thing about it -- is that you don't even have to be a player to lose.

Einstein, Albert [Physicist (1879-1955)]

A country cannot simultaneously prepare and prevent war.

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

The distinctions separating the social classes are false; in the last analysis they rest on force.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo [American essayist (1803-1882)]

Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind; and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.


France, Anatole [French poet and journalist (1844-1924)]

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

Freire, Paulo [Brazilian educator (1921-1997)]

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

Fulbright, J. William [U.S. Senator from Arkansas (1905-1995)]

In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith.


Gandhi, Mohandas [Leader of India (1869-1948)]

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?

Garlin Spencer, Anna [American minister (1851-1931)]

The essence of democracy is its assurance that every human being should so respect himself and should be so respected in his own personality that he should have opportunity equal to that of every other human being to show what he was meant to become.

Goering, Hermann [German politician and Nazi official (1893-1946)]

Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Greenfield, Meg [American columnist (1930-1999)]

Everybody's for democracy in principle. It's only in practice that the thing gives rise to stiff objections.


Hemingway, Ernest [American writer (1899-1961)]

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

Hugo, Victor [French writer (1802-1885)]

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.

Humphrey, Hubert H. [Vice President of the U.S. (1830-1902)]

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.

Hutchins, Robert M. [American educator (1899-1977)]

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.

Huxley, Aldous [English writer (1894-1963)]

A democracy which makes or even effectively prepares for modern, scientific war must necessarily cease to be democratic. No country can be really well prepared for modern war unless it is governed by a tyrant, at the head of a highly trained and perfectly obedient bureaucracy.


Ivins, Molly [American columnist (1944-2007)]

The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.


Jefferson, Thomas [President of U.S. (1743-1825)]

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.



Kennedy, John F. [President of United States (1917-1963)]

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

King Jr., Martin Luther [American minister and activist (1929-1968)]

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.

Kristol, Irving [American columnist (1920-2009)]

Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions - it only guarantees equality of opportunity.

The function of freedom is to free somebody else.


Lenin, Vladimir [Russian leader and revolutionary (1970-1924)] 

Democracy is indispensable to socialism.

Luxemburg, Rosa [Polish (Jewish) revolutionary (1871-1919)]

Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.



Mailer, Norman [American writer (1923-2008)]

A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined; one discovers how far one can go only by traveling in a straight line until one is stopped.

Marti, Jose [Cuban writer (1853-1895)]

Habit creates the appearance of justice; progress has no greater enemy than habit.

Marx, Karl [German philosopher and revolutionary (1818-1883)]

Democracy is the road to socialism.

Catch a man a fish, and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.

Mencken, H. L. [American journalist (1880-1956)]

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.


Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.


A good politician under democracy is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

Morrison, Toni [American author [(b. 1931)]

Liberation means you don't have to be silenced.


If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.



Orwell, George [English novelist (1903-1950)]

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.



Peter, Laurence J. [American writer (1919-1990)]

Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame.

Phillips, Wendell [American abolitionist (1811-1884)]

Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection: they have many friends and few enemies.


Picasso, Pablo [Spanish artist (1881-1973)]

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.

Plato [Greek philosopher (427BC- 367BC)]

Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy.


An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.


The life that is unexamined is not worth living.



Robeson, Paul [American actor and activist (1898-1976)]

The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic but to end the injustice.

Robespierre, Maximilien [French revolutionary (1758-1794)]

Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country.

Rogers, Will [American actor (1879-1935)]

Elections are a good deal like marriages. There's no accounting for anyone's taste. Every time we see a bridegroom we wonder why she ever picked him, and it's the same with public officials.


(de) Saint-Exupery, Antoine [French writer (1900-1944)]

Pure logic is the ruin of the spirit.

Sartre, Jean-Paul [French philosopher (1905-1980)]

Everything has been figured out, except how to live.

Shaw, George Bernard [American playwright (1856-1950)]

Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

Simon, John [American theater critic (b. 1925)]

Democracy encourages the majority to decide things about which the majority is ignorant.

Staples Lewis, Clive [English author (1898-1963)]

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.



de) Tocqueville, Alexis [French author (1805-1859)]

The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through.

Thompson, Dorothy [American journalist (1894-1961)]

It is not the fact of liberty but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives.

Tutu, Desmond [South African minister and activist (b. 1931)]

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Twain, Mark [American writer (1835-1910)]

Citizenship is what makes a republic -- monarchies can get along without it.

We adore titles and heredities in our hearts and ridicule them with our mouths. This is our democratic privilege.



Valery, Paul [French philosopher (1871-1945)]

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

Vidal, Gore [American novelist (b. 1925)]

Democracy is supposed to give you the feeling of choice, like Painkiller X and Painkiller Y. But they're both just aspirin.

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) [French writer (1694-1778)]

So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.



Walker, Alice [American writer and activist (b. 1944)]

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.

Washington, George [President of United States (1732-1799)]

As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.


Weil, Simone [French philosopher and activist (1909-1943)]

In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!

Wiesel, Elie [(b. 1928)]

I have learned the guilt of indifference. The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.

White, E. B. [American Writer (1899-1985)]

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.

Whitman, Walt [American poet (1819-1892)]

Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between [people], and their beliefs -- in religion, literature, colleges and schools -- democracy in all public and private life....


The purpose of democracy -- supplanting old belief in the necessary absoluteness of establish'd dynastic rulership, temporal, ecclesiastical, and scholastic, as furnishing the only security against chaos, crime, and ignorance -- is, through many transmigrations, and amid endless ridicules, arguments, and ostensible failures.

bottom of page