Quotations about   autocracy

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When after the destruction of Brutus and Cassius there was no longer any army of the Commonwealth, when Pompeius was crushed in Sicily, and when, with Lepidus pushed aside and Antonius slain, even the Julian faction had only Cæsar left to lead it, then, dropping the title of triumvir, and giving out that he was a Consul, and was satisfied with a tribune’s authority for the protection of the people, Augustus won over the soldiers with gifts, the populace with cheap corn, and all men with the sweets of repose, and so grew greater by degrees, while he concentrated in himself the functions of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws.

He was wholly unopposed, for the boldest spirits had fallen in battle, or in the proscription, while the remaining nobles, the readier they were to be slaves, were raised the higher by wealth and promotion, so that, aggrandised by revolution, they preferred the safety of the present to the dangerous past.

Nor did the provinces dislike that condition of affairs, for they distrusted the government of the Senate and the people, because of the rivalries between the leading men and the rapacity of the officials, while the protection of the laws was unavailing, as they were continually deranged by violence, intrigue, and finally by corruption.

[Postquam Bruto et Cassio caesis nulla iam publica arma, Pompeius apud Siciliam oppressus, exutoque Lepido, interfecto Antonio, ne Iulianis quidem partibus nisi Caesar dux reliquus, posito triumviri nomine, consulem se ferens et ad tuendam plebem tribunicio iure contentum, ubi militem donis, populum annona, cunctos dulcedine otii pellexit, insurgere paulatim, munia senatus, magistratuum, legum in se trahere, nullo adversante, cum ferocissimi per acies aut proscriptione cecidissent, ceteri nobilium, quanto quis servitio promptior, opibus et honoribus extollerentur ac novis ex rebus aucti, tuta et praesentia quam vetera et periculosa mallent. Neque provinciae illum rerum statum abnuebant, suspecto senatus populique imperio ob certamina potentium et avaritiam magistratuum, invalido legum auxilio, quae vi, ambitu, postremo pecunia turbabantur.]

Tacitus (c.56-c.120) Roman historian, orator, politician [Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus]
Annals Book 1, ch. 2 [tr. Church & Brodribb (1876)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
After the deaths of Brutus and Cassius had disarmed the people, with Sextus Pompeius crushed off Sicily (in the naval defeat off Pelorum, 36BC), with Lepidus discarded and Antony’s life ended, the Julian faction itself would have been leaderless but for Octavian. Relinquishing his title of triumvir, he professed himself a plain consul, content to wield only a tribune’s authority in safeguarding the commons.

Seducing the military with gifts, the people with cheap grain, the world with the delights of peace, he gradually gained power, taking to himself the duties of the senate, the magistracy and the law, unopposed. The boldest had fallen in the field or been proscribed, the remaining nobility, raised to wealth and high office by their propensity for servitude, profiting from the turn of events, preferred security and their present situation to the dangers of the old order.

Nor did the provinces oppose this state of affairs, the power of the senate and people having been discredited by the quarrels among the great and the magistrates’ avarice, there being no help from a legal system skewed by force, favouritism and in the end bribery.

[tr. Kline (2017)]

When the killing of Brutus and Cassius had disarmed the Republic; when Pompey had been crushed in Sicily, and, with Lepidus thrown aside and Antony slain, even the Julian party was leaderless but for the Caesar; after laying down his triumviral title and proclaiming himself a simple consul content with tribunician authority to safeguard the commons, he first conciliated the army by gratuities, the populace by cheapened corn, the world by the amenities of peace, then step by step began to make his ascent and to unite in his own person the functions of the senate, the magistracy, and the legislature.

Opposition there was none: the boldest spirits had succumbed on stricken fields or by proscription-lists; while the rest of the nobility found a cheerful acceptance of slavery the smoothest road to wealth and office, and, as they had thriven on revolution, stood now for the new order and safety in preference to the old order and adventure.

Nor was the state of affairs unpopular in the provinces, where administration by the Senate and People had been discredited by the feuds of the magnates and the greed of the officials, against which there was but frail protection in a legal system for ever deranged by force, by favouritism, or (in the last resort) by gold.

[tr. Jackson [Loeb (1931)]]

After the public was disarmed by the murders of Brutus and Cassius, when Pompey had been defeated in Sicily, Lepidus discarded, and Antony had been killed, even the Julian party had Caesar as the remaining leader. Once he gave up the name of triumvir and was declaring himself a consul, happy to safeguard the common people with tribunal powers, he won over the army with payments, the people with food grants, and everyone else with pleasing peace.

Then, bit by bit, he began to arrogate to himself the duties of the senate, the executive offices, and the law because there was no one opposing him since the boldest men had died either in battle or by proscription. The remaining nobles discovered themselves increased by honors and wealth as soon as they accepted servitude: they preferred the present safety to ancient dangers.

The provinces too were not opposed to this state of affairs because the rule of the Senate and People there had been undermined by the struggles of the powerful and avarice of the officers against which there was the weak defense of laws which were corrupted by force, by nepotism and, finally, bribery.

[tr. @sententiq (2020)]
Added on 16-Oct-20 | Last updated 16-Oct-20
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Monarchy is like a sleek craft, it sails along well until some bumbling captain runs it into the rocks. Democracy, on the other hand, is like a raft. It never goes down but, dammit, your feet are always wet.

Ames - feet are always wet - wist_info quote

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) American politician, orator
(Attributed)

This is the earliest reference I can find to this metaphor. Variants:
  • "A monarchy is a merchantman which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock and go to the bottom; a republic is a raft which will never sink, but then your feet are always in the water." This variant is often attributed to a speech in the House of Representatives in 1795, but is not found in records of Ames' speeches.
  • "A monarchy is like a man-of-war -- bad shots between wind and water hurt it exceedingly; there is danger of capsizing. But democracy is a raft. You cannot easily overturn it. It is a wet place, but it is a pretty safe one." -- Joseph Cook (1860-1947) Anglo-Australian politician
  • "Dictatorship is like a big proud ship -- steaming away across the ocean with a great hulk and powerful engines driving it. It’s going fast and strong and looks like nothing could stop it. What happens? Your fine ship strikes something -- under the surface. Maybe it’s a mine or a reef, maybe it’s a torpedo or an iceberg. And your wonderful ship sinks. Now take democracy. It’s like riding on a raft, a rickety raft that was put together in a hurry. We get tossed about on the waves, it’s bad going and our feet are always wet. But that raft doesn’t sink … It’s the raft that will get to the shore at last." --- Roaldus Richmond (fl. 1940) American writer. In, ed., "A Yankee Businessman in New Hampshire," American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940
  • "Democracy is like a raft: It won't sink, but you will always have your feet wet." -- Russell B. Long (1918-2003) American politician
  • "But you have to understand, American democracy is not like the system you have. We're not an ocean liner that sails across the ocean from point A to point B at 30 knots. That's not American democracy. American democracy is kind of like a life raft that bobs around the ocean all the time. Your feet are always wet. Winds are always blowing. You're cold. You're wet. You're uncomfortable -- but you never sink." -- Colin Powell (b. 1937) American politician, diplomat, soldier
Added on 1-Apr-16 | Last updated 7-Aug-20
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A well run tyranny is almost as scarce as an efficient democracy.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Friday [Dr. Baldwin] (1982)
Added on 17-Nov-15 | Last updated 17-Nov-15
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If an autocracy does not rest on the army, which leads to the chaos of praetorianism, it must rely on ‘panem et circenses.’ Hence it has some of the worst faults of democracy, without its advantages.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
Added on 2-Nov-15 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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History gives no countenance to the theory that popular governments are either more moral or more pacific than strong monarchies.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
Added on 26-Oct-15 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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If I had to choose, I should detest the tyranny of one man less than that of many. A despot always has his good moments; an assembly of despots never.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Tyranny” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
    (Source)
Added on 4-Nov-14 | Last updated 4-Nov-14
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More quotes by Voltaire

Mr. Forster feels anxious because he dreads Theocracy. Now if he expects to see a Theocracy set up in modern England, I myself believe his expectation to be wholly chimerical. But I wish to make it very clear that, if I thought the thing in the least probable, I should feel about it exactly as he does. I fully embrace the maxim (which he borrows from a Christian) that ‘all power corrupts.’ I would go further. The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman, and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives. Anything transcendental or spiritual, or even anything very strongly ethical, in its pretensions is dangerous and encourages it to meddle with our private lives. Let the shoemaker stick to his last. Thus the Renaissance doctrine of Divine Right is for me a corruption of monarchy; Rousseau’s General Will, of democracy; racial mysticisms, of nationality. And Theocracy, I admit and even insist, is the worst corruption of all.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
“Lilies that Fester,” The Twentieth Century (Apr 1955)
Added on 30-Dec-11 | Last updated 31-Mar-14
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Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Man and Superman, “Maxims for Revolutionists,” “Democracy” (1903)
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Added on 19-Sep-07 | Last updated 26-Feb-15
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I shall be an autocrat: that’s my trade. And the good Lord will forgive me: that’s his.

[Moi, je serai autocrate: c’est mon metier. Et le bon Dieu me pardonnnera: c’est son metier.]

Catherine II (1762-1796) Russian empress [Catherine the Great]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-Feb-14
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