CRF Blog

Different Day, Same Old Democratic Crisis

by Bill Hayes

In Different Day, Same Old Democratic Crisis for New America Weekly, Hana Passen argues that active support for civic education, an independent media, a strong judiciary will preserve our democracy “despite fears to the contrary.”

Both Aristotle and Polybius identify three virtuous forms of government — monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy — and their three “perverted” forms — dictatorship, oligarchy, and mob rule – and lay out the ways that each form arises and cycles through the others (Aristotle Politics 3.7, Polybius Histories 6.6–6.9). Both see the cycle of government beginning with a just monarchy, falling into dictatorship, morphing into a virtuous aristocracy, which decays into an oligarchy, before the people rise up and establish a constitutional government — or democracy — which in turn is perverted. Here, Aristotle and Polybius differ. Aristotle sees democracies declining into rule by the masses over the rule of law (Politics 4.4), while Polybius claims that “this is the regular cycle of constitutional revolutions, and the natural order in which constitutions change, are transformed, and return again to their original state (6.9). Both, however, see democracy as a stop on the road before it slides into a perversion of itself. [more]