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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Misquoting Churchill on Democracy

One of Winston Churchill's famous quotes is that democracy is the worst form of government except for all others. I've used this quote in past blog posts to express a world-weary, second-best opinion of elected officials, political campaigns, or voter ignorance. It's hardly inspirational.

In research an article that I'm writing about Churchill, though, I've come to see that his quote was very different. Here is what he actually said (in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947):

[I]t has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, and that public opinion expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.

This conveys a completely different. Churchill was not saying that he thought democracy is the worst form of government except all others. Indeed, he was rejecting that notion in favor of popular rule. And if you look at his speeches over many decades, you find a consistent theme in support of democracy as an ideal that he cherished. 


Posted by Gerard Magliocca on January 31, 2019 at 02:00 PM | Permalink


Democracy IS that form of gov't that believes that the people should rule and that public opinion "expressed by all constitutional means" is exactly what we're fighting for, and against, these days.

Posted by: frances | Jul 18, 2021 3:51:45 PM

I don't see the difference. Among the available options, democracy is the best, and the quoted statement does not say anything different.

Posted by: Jr | Feb 1, 2019 9:32:36 AM

Technically, all he is saying bere that it has been said that A, and that there is a broad feeling that B. He isn't necessarily endorsing either position/sentiment. In other words, noting that (it's purportedly been said that) democracy is the least bad system by process of elimination, but there is a broad feeling amongst hoi polloi of some democratic sentiment and how it ought to structure government neither constitutes an endorsement of that sentiment nor affirms that the feeling accurately reflects the nature of the British constitution.

Keep calm and Tory on.

Posted by: Deo gratias Anglia redde pro Brexitoria | Jan 31, 2019 8:00:33 PM

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