When Government Is Just the Worst

The political term that wasn't on your AP Gov't exam.


Lookups for kakistocracy spiked on June 29, 2017, after the word was used in a tweet inviting dictionary use by Joy Reid:

Kakistocracy (pronounced \kak-uh-STAH-kruh-see\) means “government by the worst people.” It comes from the Greek root kakistos, which means “worst,” the superlative form of kakos, which means “bad.” The word seems to have been coined in English of Greek parts; the ending -cracy, familiar in English words like democracy and meritocracy, comes from the Greek ending -kratia, derived from kratos meaning “strength” or “power.”

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Photo: Willard

Forecast is....troubling.

Unsurprisingly, its use in English dates back to the 1600s, a time when many writers on political matters would have had some knowledge of Greek and Latin. This early use is also a model of a political rant:

Therefore we need not make any scruple of praying against such: against those Sanctimonious Incendiaries, who have fetched fire from heaven to set their Country in combustion, have pretended Religion to raise and maintaine a most wicked rebellion: against those Nero's, who have ripped up the wombe of the mother that bare them, and wounded the breasts that gave them sucke: against those Cannibal's who feed upon the flesh and are drunke with the bloud of their own brethren: against those Catiline's who seeke their private ends in the publicke disturbance, and have set the Kingdome on fire to rost their owne egges: against those tempests of the State, those restlesse spirits who can no longer live, then be stickling and medling; who are stung with a perpetuall itch of changing and innovating, transforming our old Hierarchy into a new Presbytery, and this againe into a newer Independency; and our well-temperd Monarchy into a mad kinde of Kakistocracy. Good Lord!—Paul Gosnold, A sermon Preached at the Publique Fast the ninth day of Aug. 1644 at St. Maries, 1644

Kakistocracy has been used by Joy Reid on Twitter before, and was also used in The New York Times by Paul Krugman in his column in January.



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