Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bread and circuses

Kevin has been asking some insightful questions lately, and in general making everything sound all gloomy, so I thought I would... continue the trend with a great Heinlein quote (from To Sail Beyond the Sunset, a truly terrible book):

The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies, what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a 'warm body' democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as 'Bread and Circuses.'

'Bread and Circuses' is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.


Kevin said...

That's going to be my Quote of the Day for...

Tuesday, I think.

Tam said...

You don't like To Sail Beyond The Sunset?

I'll admit that on re-reads, I pretty much stop at WWII or shortly thereafter.

William said...

I liked how it tied things together, and Heinlein's idea of immutable history (the polar opposite of Back to the Future), but I really felt like his purpose in writing the book was something completely different. Something along the lines of proving that "Maureen is an amoral wench." Just didn't resonate with me—he reveals his views on liberty and sexuality elsewhere, in much better stories.