Can our Democracy Last?


John Adams, one of our founders feared that it could not when he said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Of course, that was a long time ago and they were just in the process of building America, our great shining city on the hill.

We are not a true democracy but a representational democracy. If we were a true or pure democracy, all laws would be made by direct, popular vote. Some of our laws are made like this. Most are not with a good example being the electoral college.

Our founders actually seemed to prefer a republic to a democracy. They are identical in every aspect except one. In a democracy, power is held by the group. In a republic, power is held by every individual. Most think the United States is a mixture of the two forms of government.

The ancient Greeks, in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, formed an amazing democracy for a time. Ancient Athens gave its citizens equal political rights regardless of descent, social standing, wealth, and other factors, though women could not be involved. The democracy devolved into an oligarchy after a defeat in war. An oligarchy is a government ruled by a small group of people, sometimes private citizens, who exert an inordinate influence on the government. Sound familiar? Athens did influence forms of government for two millennia.

Athens is just one example of a democracy devolving into a more tyrannical type of government. The Roman Empire was a republic upon which the U.S. government was partially based. It, too, ended due to a number of factors. The Roman Empire found itself in a severe financial crisis. The causes were years of war and overspending and high taxes along with inflation caused a widening gap between the rich and poor. The economy started to decline. The Roman Empire lasted much longer than the average of 200 years.

Other examples of the failure of democracies and republics exist. The characteristics of the demise all seem to be similar. Greed, power, money, and a concentration of power at the top lead to the fall of such forms of government. What about the United States of America? Is it too late for us to reverse the course of history?

What do you think?


  1. From where I stand, it doesn’t seem as if our democracy will last. Your example of the ancient Greek democracy devolving into oligarchy certainly does ring a bell. We may already be living in an oligarchy. I have often thought of the fall of the Roman empire and before that the shift from elected officials to autocratic emperors on Rome as something that our country could repeat. It’s really a mistake not to pay attention to history!


    1. I worry about it. We’ll be lucky if it does stand. We may be standing on the verge of an authoritarian government right now, which is what happens when democracy fails. Great comment!


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