American Presidential Quote: "Of all the imperfect forms of government"
April 14, 2014 12:27 AM   Subscribe

Having a little trouble finding the source for this quote. Believe it was Reagan. who said "Of all the imperfect forms of government, our is the best man has so far come up with."
posted by Nicholas Geary to Law & Government (4 answers total)
Churchill said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time," in 1947. Might be what you're thinking of?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:28 AM on April 14, 2014

Response by poster: Not the exact quote I remember. You're right it was Churchill. It came to mind during a conversation recently. Couldn't find the wording on google.

β€œIt has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
posted by Nicholas Geary at 12:36 AM on April 14, 2014

While the form of the quote most familiar is certainly Churchill, being cited to the parliamentary record, it had antecedents -- of which the well-read man must certainly have been aware.

Lord Kames wrote in Sketches of the History of Man:
Of all governments, democracy is the most turbulent: despotism, which benumbs the mental faculties, and relaxes every spring of action, is in the opposite extreme. Mixed governments, whether monarchical or republican, stand in the middle: they promote activity, but seldom any dangerous excess. Pure democracy, like that of Athens, Argos, and Carthage, is the very worst form of government, if we make not despotism an exception. The people, in whom resides the sovereign power, are insolent in prosperity, timid in adversity, cruel in anger, blind and prodigal in affection, and incapable of embracing steadily a prudent measure.

Lord Byron wrote (in a diary entry pondering Augustus):
It is still more difficult to say which form of government is the worst β€” all are so bad. As for democracy, it is the worst of the whole ; for what is, in fact, democracy ? β€” an aristocracy of blackguards.

And John Winthrop, the Puritan, said:
If we should change from a mixed aristocracy to mere democracy, first we should have no warrant in scripture for it: for there was no such government in Israel ... A democracy is, amongst civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government. [To allow it would be] a manifest breach of the 5th Commandment.

I think Churchill's view was obviously influenced by actual experience of it whereas some of the earlier sentiments are more theoretical. In any case, this "worst form of government" calumny has been tied to "democracy" a long time.
posted by dhartung at 12:55 AM on April 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Democracy has been considered the lowest form of government going back as far Plato's Republic, but Churchill's quote is being witty - it's the worst except all the rest. So, it's actually the best, although admittedly it's still terrible.
posted by mdn at 7:28 AM on April 14, 2014

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