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A kakistocracy (/kækɪˈstɒkrəsi/, /kækɪsˈtɒkrəsi/) is a government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.[1][2] The word was coined as early as the seventeenth century.[3]


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.[4]


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:[3]

"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!"[5]

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.[6] In his 1838 Memoir on Slavery (which he supported), U.S. Senator William Harper compared kakistocracy to anarchy, and said it had seldom occurred:[7]

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 1877, 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?"[2]


The term has been used to describe:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewitt, Michael (13 October 2016). "Investing In A Kakistocracy". Forbes. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b Fiske, Robert Hartwell (2011). The Best Words. Marion Street Press. ISBN 9781933338828. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Trending: When Government Is Just The Worst". Merriam Webster. 29 June 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  4. ^ Evans, Rod L (2011). Thingamajigs and Whatchamacallits: Unfamiliar Terms for Familiar Things. Penguin. p. 87. ISBN 9781101515921. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  5. ^ 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. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Kakistocracy". Dictionary.com.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Lizza, Ryan (2016-11-16). "Donald Trump's First, Alarming Week as President-Elect". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  10. ^ Krugman, Paul (2017-01-16). "With All Due Disrespect". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  11. ^ Marsden, Harriet (2016-11-17). "Kakistocracy may just be the perfect word to describe the Trump government". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  12. ^ Ornstein, Norm (2017-10-09). "There's a Word for the State of American Democracy: Kakistocracy". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Hasan, Mehdi (2017-01-20). "Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people". New Statesman. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  15. ^ Bouie, Jamelle (2016-11-18). "Government by the Worst Men". Slate. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  16. ^ Gessen, Masha (2020). Surviving Autocracy. New York: Riverhead Books. p. 28. ISBN 978-0593188934.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ John Brennan [@johnbrennan] (2018-04-13). "Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey. As the greatest Nation history has known, we have the opportunity to emerge from this nightmare stronger & more committed to ensuring a better life for all Americans, including those you have so tragically deceived" (Tweet). Retrieved 2018-04-13 – via Twitter.
  19. ^ https://www.ft.com/content/7fa8b934-2a6b-11e9-88a4-c32129756dd8
  20. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/11/david-cameron-leads-mps-in-a-charade-of-smoke-and-mirrors
  21. ^ https://www.ft.com/content/7fa8b934-2a6b-11e9-88a4-c32129756dd8
  22. ^ https://www.newsroom.co.nz/ideasroom/a-new-dawn-of-the-worst-and-most-injurious
  23. ^ https://www.europenowjournal.org/2020/11/20/the-great-british-kakistocracy/
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Ali, Amro (12 November 2016). "Kakistocracy: a word we need to revive". openDemocracy.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Lebanese Corruption Facts". www.instagram.com. Retrieved 2021-05-19.