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Alexander Fraser Tytler

Alexander Fraser Tytler

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee FRSE (15 October 1747 5 January 1813) was a Scottish advocate, judge, writer and historian who served as Professor of Universal History, and Greek and Roman Antiquities, in the University of Edinburgh.[1] Tytler's other positions included Senator of the College of Justice and George Commissioner of Justiciary in Scotland.[] Tytler was a friend of Robert Burns, and prevailed upon him to remove lines from his poem "Tam o' Shanter" which were insulting to the legal and clerical professions.[2] His son was Patrick Fraser Tytler, traveller and historian.

Tytler wrote a treatise that is important in the history of translation theory, the Essay on the Principles of Translation (London, 1790). 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. Tytler said that translation should fully represent the 1) ideas and 2) style of the original and should 3) possess the ease of original composition.

Quotations on democracy
In his Lectures, Tytler displayed a cynical view of democracy in general and representative democracies such as republics in particular. He believed that "a pure democracy is a chimera," and that "All government is essentially of the nature of a monarchy."[3] In discussing the Athenian democracy, after noting that a great number of the population were actually enslaved, he went on to say, "Nor were the superior classes in the actual enjoyment of a rational liberty and independence. They were perpetually divided into factions, which servilely ranked themselves under the banners of the contending demagogues; and these maintained their influence over their partisans by the most shameful corruption and bribery, of which the means were supplied alone by the plunder of the public money."[4] Speaking about the measure of freedom enjoyed by the people in a republic or democracy, Tytler wrote, "The people flatter themselves that they have the sovereign power. These are, in fact, words without meaning. It is true they elected governors; but how are these elections brought about? In every instance of election by the mass of a peoplethrough the influence of those governors themselves, and by means the most opposite to a free and disinterested choice, by the basest corruption and bribery. But those governors once selected, where is the boasted freedom of the people? They must submit to their rule and control, with the same abandonment of their natural liberty, the freedom of their will, and the command of their actions, as if they were under the rule of a monarch."[5] Tytler dismisses the more optimistic vision of democracy by commentators such as Montesquieu as "nothing better than an Utopian theory, a splendid chimera, descriptive of a state of society that never did, and never could exist; a republic not of men, but of angels," for "While man is being instigated by the love of powera passion visible in an infant, and common to us even with the inferior animalshe will seek personal superiority in preference to every matter of a general concern".[6] "Or at best, he will employ himself in advancing the public good, as the means of individual distinction and elevation: he will promote the interest of the state from the selfish but most useful passion of making himself considerable in that establishment which he labors to aggrandize. Such is the true picture of man as a political agent."[7] That said however, Tytler does admit that there are individual exceptions to the rule, and that he is ready to allow "that this form of government is the best adapted to produce, though not the most frequent, yet the most striking,

Alexander Fraser Tytler examples of virtue in individuals," paradoxically because a "democratic government opposes more impediments to disinterested patriotism than any other form. To surmount these, a pitch of virtue is necessary which, in other situations, where the obstacles are less great and numerous, is not called in to exertion. The nature of a republican government gives to every member of the state an equal right to cherish views of ambition, and to aspire to the highest offices of the commonwealth; it gives to every individual of the same title with his fellows to aspire at the government of the whole."[8] Tytler believed that democratic forms of government such as those of Greece and Rome have a natural evolution from initial virtue toward eventual corruption and decline. In Greece, for example, Tytler argues that "the patriotic spirit and love of ingenious freedom ... became gradually corrupted as the nation advanced in power and splendor."[9] Tytler goes on to generalize: "Patriotism always exists in the greatest degree in rude nations, and in an early period of society. Like all other affections and passions, it operates with the greatest force where it meets with the greatest difficulties ... but in a state of ease and safety, as if wanting its appropriate nourishment, it languishes and decays." ... "It is a law of nature to which no experience has ever furnished an exception, that the rising grander and opulence of a nation must be balanced by the decline of its heroic virtues."[10]

Why democracies fail

The famous "why democracies fail" quotation is "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy." Its earliest confirmed use is on page 12A of the Daily Oklahoman on December 9, 1951, which attributed it to Tytler. Later references to the quote specify that it is from the book, The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic, by Alexander Fraser Tytler. No record of that book has been found, nor does any other work by Tytler have this passage in it.[] It seems that most of Tytler's work has been completely lost.[11]

Misquotation fatal sequence

The famous Fatal Sequence quotation, sometimes known as the Tytler cycle, is "The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more." Its earliest confirmed use is by Henning Webb Prentis, Jr., President of the Armstrong Cork Company. It was during a speech entitled "Industrial Management in a Republic," delivered in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria at New York during the 250th meeting of the National Conference Board on March 18, 1943. Prentis did not use the "fatal sequence" quotation in conjunction with the "why democracies fail" quotation. But they have later been published together and both attributed to Tytler, as in the queries column of American Notes & Queries in April 1979. Nobody can find any work by Tytler with the Fatal Sequence quotation, and it appears to be original to Prentis.[]

Alexander Fraser Tytler

[2] Letter from Robert Burns to Alexander Fraser Tytler, Esq., April 1791, The Complete Works of Robert Burns (Self-Interpreting), Volume IV, Gebbie & Co., Philadelphia (1886), pp. 250251. [3] Tytler, op. cit., Book 1, Chapter VI -- Political reflections arising from the history of Greece, p. 216. [4] Tytler, op. cit., Book 1, Chapter VI Political reflections arising from the history of Greece, p. 216. [5] Tytler, op. cit., p. 217. [6] Tytler, op. cit., p. 219. [7] Tytler, op. cit., p. 219. [8] Tytler, op. cit., p. 220. [9] Tytler, op. cit., p. 221. [10] Tytler, op. cit., p. 221.

External links
Significant Scots Alexander Fraser Tytler ( htm) Bartleby quotation ( Tytler's Essay on the principles of translation (, 1907 edition at Internet Archive Diagram of the Tytler Cycle ( and musings of America's position in the cycle More musings of America's position in the cycle ( 1216.html), as evidenced by 2008's economic turbulence

Article Sources and Contributors

Article Sources and Contributors

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