Alexander Fraser Tytler Quote

Jeffrey Beach sent the following quotation this morning — which I find rather to the point in these New Dark Ages. It has in fact circulated on the net for some years, and the attribution to Tytler has not been verified, as the Wikipedia entry points out (what is certain is that Tytler also happens to be an important early theoretician of translation — vide his Essay on the Principles of Translation [London, 1790]. Again, according to the Wiki,”it has been argued in a 1975 book by Gan Kechao that Yan Fu‘s famous translator’s dictum of fidelity, clarity and elegance came from Tytler”) . Still, urban legend or not, the quotation is worth thinking about:

These are the words of a man born in 1747, the Scottish historian Alexander Fraser Tytler — 29 years before America was born:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence. From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back into bondage.”

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  1. P.F.S. Post says:

    Painful to read. Thanks for posting this.

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