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A kakistocracy (/kækɪˈstɒkrəsi/, /kækɪsˈtɒ-/) is a government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.[1]: 54 [2][3] The word was coined as early as the seventeenth century.[4] Peter Bowler has noted in his book that there is no word for the government run by the best citizens,[a] and that the aristarchy may be the right term, but still, it could conceivably be a kakistocracy disguised as an aristocracy.[a]


The word is derived from two Greek words, kakistos (κάκιστος; worst) and kratos (κράτος; rule), with a literal meaning of government by the worst people.[5]


The earliest use of the word dates to the 17th century, in Paul Gosnold's A sermon Preached at the Publique Fast the ninth day of Aug. 1644 at St. Maries:[4]

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![6]

English author Thomas Love Peacock later used the term in his 1829 novel The Misfortunes of Elphin, in which he explains kakistocracy represents the opposite of aristocracy, as aristos (ἄριστος) means "excellent" in Greek.[7] In his 1838 Memoir on Slavery (which he supported), U.S. Senator William Harper compared kakistocracy to anarchy, and said it had seldom occurred:[8]

Anarchy is not so much the absence of government as the government of the worst—not aristocracy but kakistocracy—a state of things, which to the honor of our nature, has seldom obtained amongst men, and which perhaps was only fully exemplified during the worst times of the French revolution, when that horrid hell burnt with its most horrid flame. In such a state of things, to be accused is to be condemned—to protect the innocent is to be guilty; and what perhaps is the worst effect, even men of better nature, to whom their own deeds are abhorrent, are goaded by terror to be forward and emulous in deeds of guilt and violence.

American poet James Russell Lowell used the term in 1876, in a letter to Joel Benton, writing, "What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone. Is it or is it not a result of Democracy? Is ours a 'government of the people by the people for the people,' or a Kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?"[9]


The term is generally used by critics of a country's government. It has been variously used in the past to describe the Russian government under Boris Yeltsin and later Vladimir Putin,[10] the government of Egypt under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi,[11] governments in sub-Saharan Africa,[12] the government of the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte,[13] and several United States presidential administrations.[14] The term saw increased usage during the presidency of Donald Trump, going viral[4] when MSNBC host Joy Reid and former CIA Director John Brennan used it to insult Trump in 2017 and 2018 respectively.[15] The word was used by commentators in numerous newspapers,[16][17][18] political publications,[19][20] and books[21][22] to describe the Trump administration.

See also



  1. ^ Bowler, Peter (1985). The superior person's book of words (1 ed.). Boston: David R. Godine. ISBN 0-87923-556-X. OCLC 11757334.
  2. ^ Fiske, Robert Hartwell (2011). The Best Words. Marion Street Press. ISBN 9781933338828. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b Bowler, Peter (2017). The Completely Superior Person's Book of Words. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. ISBN 978-1-4088-8595-6. OCLC 1021803310.
  4. ^ a b c "Trending: When Government Is Just The Worst". Merriam Webster. 29 June 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  5. ^ Evans, Rod L (2011). Thingamajigs and Whatchamacallits: Unfamiliar Terms for Familiar Things. Penguin. p. 87. ISBN 9781101515921. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  6. ^ Gosnold, Paul (1644). "A sermon preached at the publique fast the ninth day of Aug. 1644 at St. Maries, Oxford, before the honorable members of the two Houses of Parliament there assembled by Paul Gosnold ... ; and published by authority". University of Oxford Text Archive. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  7. ^ "Kakistocracy". Dictionary.com.
  8. ^ Harper, William (1838). Memoir on Slavery: Read Before the Society for the Advancement of Learning, of South Carolina, at its annual meeting at Columbia, 1837. J. S. Burges. p. 49. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  9. ^ Scudder, Horace (1901). James Russell Lowell, A Biography. Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass. pp. 193–196. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  10. ^ Abadjian, Vahram (July 2010). "Kakistocracy or the true story of what happened in the post-Soviet area". Journal of Eurasian Studies. 1 (2): 153–163. doi:10.1016/j.euras.2010.04.009. S2CID 153850742 – via Science Direct.
  11. ^ Ali, Amro (12 November 2016). "Kakistocracy: a word we need to revive". openDemocracy.
  12. ^ Okafor, Collins; Smith, L. Murphy; Ujah, Nacasius U. (29 July 2014). "Kleptocracy, nepotism, kakistocracy: impact of corruption in Sub-Saharan African countries". International Journal of Economics and Accounting. 5 (2): 97. doi:10.1504/IJEA.2014.063736 – via Inderscience Publishers.
  13. ^ "We're no longer a democracy. Are we now a kakistocracy?". manilatimes.net. 2016-12-21. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  14. ^ Spicer, André (18 April 2018). "Donald Trump's 'kakistocracy' is not the first, but it's revived an old word". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Selk, Avi (13 April 2018). "Kakistocracy, a 374-year-old word that means 'government by the worst,' just broke the dictionary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-11-21.
  16. ^ Lizza, Ryan (2016-11-16). "Donald Trump's First, Alarming Week as President-Elect". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  17. ^ Krugman, Paul (2017-01-16). "With All Due Disrespect". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  18. ^ Marsden, Harriet (2016-11-17). "Kakistocracy may just be the perfect word to describe the Trump government". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  19. ^ Ornstein, Norm (2017-10-09). "There's a Word for the State of American Democracy: Kakistocracy". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  20. ^ McClennen, Sophia A. (2016-12-17). "Degeneration nation: It takes a village of idiots to raise a kakistocracy like Donald Trump's". Salon. Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  21. ^ Gessen, Masha (2020). Surviving Autocracy. New York: Riverhead Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-0593188934.
  22. ^ Moore, Marshall (2019). "An end to monstrosity: horror, queer representation, and the Trump kakistocracy". In McCollum, Victoria (ed.). Make America Hate Again: Trump-Era Horror and the Politics of Fear. Routledge. ISBN 978-1138498280.

External links