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Noted in Passing: ‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy,

“The America of my timeline 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.”

― Robert A. Heinlein

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • gwbnyc May 23, 2021, 12:01 PM

    -when they learn their vote is for sale.

    a republic.

  • James ONeil May 23, 2021, 12:15 PM

    Democracy is, and has always been, simply mob rule.

    It’s reasonably benign when enforced simply by public opinion, coventry and shunning, but as soon as you give the mob clubs, pitchforks and torches, guns, tanks and TV, they turn them over to their better so they can just get on with their lives and then…

    things only get better for our betters, while we toil for their daily cake.

    2021? A grand time to be 82 and not 28.

  • BillH May 23, 2021, 12:44 PM

    Sixty or seventy years ago I would have laughed at the essay. When I read it just now I shuddered.

  • jo May 23, 2021, 1:27 PM

    In America the circus is football on tv

  • ghostsniper May 23, 2021, 2:05 PM

    Too many weak men.
    A hard storm’s a comin’.
    It’ll blow most of them away.
    4th turning ahead

  • Mike Austin May 23, 2021, 2:54 PM

    The Founders were well versed in Ancient History. They understood quite well where democracies end up: mob rule, as Heinlein wrote. Even a cursory study of Athenian democracy after 500 BC or so points this out. Or as Aristotle wrote (I paraphrase): Aristocracy leads to Oligarchy which leads to Democracy which leads to Anarchy which leads to Tyranny. America is in the Anarchy phrase, or as Sam Francis said, “anarcho-tyranny”.

    Anarchy is always a temporary state, a political vacuum. The people will one day cry out for a Caesar, and a Caesar will come. Some will like it; some will not. The Caesars ruled a Rome whose people could no longer govern themselves. But men will be governed one way or another.

  • Randall R Bridges May 23, 2021, 3:47 PM

    “There is a Season…
    Turn, Turn, Turn…” The Byrds
    The next one is the Fourth Turning.

  • Chris Mallory May 23, 2021, 5:24 PM

    We could have survived the bread and circuses. What will kill us is the idiotic acceptance of immigrants. All immigration, starting with the Irish and Germans in the 1830/40’s, has been bad for America and Americans. Allowing open immigration and dual citizenship was suicidal.

  • PA Cat May 23, 2021, 9:03 PM

    Juvenal was wrong on at least one notable occasion: the Nika riots of 532 in Constantinople. Often described as a cross between political factions and soccer hooligans, fans of Byzantine chariot racing often took the opportunity to shout their demands to the emperor between races. In early 532, the general population of Constantinople was angry at Justinian because of the slowness of his legal reforms and his increasing the tax rate. On January 13, the stirred-up crowd at the Hippodrome went beyond shouting insults at Justinian to breaking out of the arena and attacking the imperial palace, which was next to the Hippodrome. For the next five days the mob roamed the city, burning public buildings and declaring a man called Hypatius to be the new emperor. Justinian initially considered fleeing, but collected himself and ordered two generals, Belisarius and Mundus, to go into the Hippodrome and kill any rioters who had remained there. It is estimated that the Nika riots led to the death of at least 30,000 rioters. A video (about 16 minutes) about the Nika riots can be found here:

  • Mike Austin May 24, 2021, 3:28 AM

    Dear PA Cat: True. And there is some historical symmetry here as well. We do indeed have our own Hypatius. Antifa and BLM serve as the Byzantine mob, killing, looting and rampaging. Finally—though after severe prodding by Theodora—Justinian ordered the slaughter of the rioters. And here is the cure for the anarchy in our streets. Once the order is given—by someone, somewhere, sometime—our own mobs will be annihilated in a few weeks. And recall the fate of Hypatius.

    Incidently—and oddly—Theodora and Eva Peron, though separated in time by 1500 years, share much in common. Both arose from the slums. Both were actresses and prostitutes. Both attached themselves to men who would one day rule their respective civilizations. Both rose to the pinnacle of power. Both were as admired as they were hated, called both saint and whore. Both kept their husbands in power during an extreme crisis. Both died of cancer.

    History is funny at times.

  • gwbnyc. May 24, 2021, 6:52 AM

    “Pete Seeger”

  • Anonymous May 24, 2021, 7:38 AM

    pete seegar??
    wikipedia says: the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes…
    Ecclesiastes is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon who would have written it in the 10th century BC.

  • Jack May 24, 2021, 7:52 AM

    I’ve always been annoyed at the idea that anyone beyond a certain age can vote and that idea is so moronic that it flies in the face of any contemplation of the idea.

    Like MLK, I have a damned dream, one in which only those who are at a minimum, natural born citizens of the US, possess a high school diploma (no GED, etc.), who own real estate, who pay State and Federal taxes, who have no felony convictions and who have reached the age of 25 before being permitted to vote.

    Free loading whites, blacks, all immigrants of any kind, felons and morons who did not graduate from high school should never be permitted to make any decision that affects any local, state or federal issue that is decided by vote. Ever.

  • gwbnyc May 24, 2021, 8:39 AM

    Seeger wrote the tune the Byrds sang.

    I note America’s favorite commie went to the Old Testament to undermine the Vietnam conflict.

    They’ll do anything.

    I spoke with him now and again, one-on-one he was a pleasant man.
    And horribly misguided.

  • Willy Ruffian May 24, 2021, 4:14 PM

    Womens sufferage….worst decision ever.
    You could manage democracy with a few parasites but then you get half the population sympathizing with them.