Bread and Circuses Are Fun – While They Last

Roman "entertainment"

“A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally has no internal feedback for self correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and and self-restraint of citizens . . . which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it . . . which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’

“Bread and Circuses is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader — the barbarians enter Rome.”

– From To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert Heinlein

The phrase “bread and circuses” originated in ancient Rome, and referred to the practice of Roman politicians who won the votes of the poor, and thus rose to power, by giving out cheap food and entertainment. In his Satire X, the Roman poet Juvenal displays his contempt for the declining heroism of and sense of civic duty in his contemporaries:

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Although published the year prior to Heinlein’s death in 1988, the bread and circuses quote from To Sail Beyond the Sunset, a book in Heinlein’s Future History Series, is a chilling description of the current state of our nation. In the America of the present, every adult may vote and all votes count equally, regardless of the fact that roughly half of the population pays no federal income tax.

We see on the evening news lines of people queuing up to get what they consider their fair share of “Obama’s stash.”

We see reports in the local newspapers that almost 50 percent of the births in the State of Nebraska are paid for by Medicaid.  We see teachers in New Jersey demanding a pay increase despite a budget shortfall and rising unemployment in the private economy. We see a Congress, unconcerned about whether the bills they pass also pass constitutional muster, extending “entitlements” to all, regardless of true need. Finally, we see people rioting on the streets of the cities and towns of Greece because the European welfare state America increasingly resembles is unable to support a people, who have been rendered devoid of any individual work ethic, in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed.

It’s patently clear, when you look at our burgeoning national debt, that the plebs know, of a certainty, that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the American body politic cannot stop them. The American state is bleeding to death. The only question that remains is whether the ticks will suck the cow dry before or after Congress gives away the farm.

Additional resources:

Intellectual Take-Out “Rome: Bread and Circuses” section

For further elaboration of how certain classes of people and their sense of entitlement is a burden on taxpayers, click here.

The following is a video version of the Robert Heinlein quote from To Sail Beyond the Sunset
It’s interesting to note there was actually an episode of the original Star Trek series entitled “Breads and Circuses”. It’s quite an interesting plot line and even more interesting “punch line”. If you wish to watch the entire episode, it is available on YouTube, just click the word “YouTube” on the screen. Once on the site, you should see the remaining parts listed to the right.

About SCrosnoe

I serve as a watchmen on the wall. In that effort, I have been a grassroots activist for over forty years (first in Texas and now in Oklahoma). I am a conservative, limited government freedom lover. I live in Bartlesville Oklahoma.
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