Types of Tyranny

Tyrants come in three basic flavors. In order from least bad to worst:
First you have those who have no goal other than their own aggrandizement. They are the ones who want power and wealth for themselves and are pretty open about that being their goal. Most tyrants in history were of this variety. They conquered neighboring lands to increase the tax base so they can have more comforts and luxuries. And if the peasants starve, that’s no problem to them, so long as they get their portion.

This kind of tyrant is almost refreshing in his honesty. You know where you stand with this kind of tyrant. He’s largely predictable. And, when it comes right down to it, people other than the tyrant and his sycophants really have no problem with folk fighting back against this kind of tyrant…provided you win.

(From the mini-series “Shogun”:

Toranaga: “Tsukku-san says that the Netherlands were vassals of the Spanish king until just a few years ago. Is that true?”
Blackthorne: “Yes.”
Toranaga: “Therefore, the Netherlands – your allies – are in a state of rebellion against their lawful king?”
Blackthorne: “They’re fighting against the Spaniard, yes, but –
Toranaga: “Isn’t that rebellion? Yes or no?”
Blackthorne: “Yes. But there are mitigating circumstances. Serious miti- “
Toranaga: “There are no ‘mitigating circumstances’ when it comes to rebellion against a sovereign lord!”
Blackthorne: “Unless you win.”
Toranaga looked at him intently. Then laughed uproariously. “Yes, Mister Foreigner…you have named _the one _mitigating factor.”

The second type is a bit more subtle. This type of tyrant is adept at coming up with excuses for why his tyranny is “for the greater good”. You need to give up a little freedom here…for the greater good. You need to pay more in taxes…for the greater good. You can’t have this…for the greater good. You can’t do that…for the greater good.

And one “greater good” after another and soon you find yourself in a straitjacket so tight you can’t breath.

The problem here is that many people buy into the “greater good” arguments. And it’s always a “greater good” to come. When it doesn’t happen, as is the case most of the time, there’s always an excuse. And the excuse is usually whatever you had to give up for that “greater good” you didn’t give up enough. You have to give up more.

And the very extent that people, even those being restricted by the tyranny, believe the “greater good” argument, and if you resist the tyranny in their mind you are the “bad guy”. And, yes, even if you win, you remain the “bad guy” in their minds.

But in this type of tyranny the tyrant remains somewhat limited. He has to at least have some sort of plausible “greater good” for the tyrannies he wants to implement. It doesn’t have to be real, just plausible enough to convince people with limited information (and the tyrant always makes sure they have limited information). The tyrant doesn’t have to believe the arguments. Better, indeed, if he doesn’t (and we’ll get to that in a moment), but plenty of people will.

And so you don’t have to fight the tyrant, but all the people who willingly go along with him because they believe it’s for “the greater good.”

The third type, and the one who is truly the worst, is the true believer, the one who really does believe the tyranny is for “the greater good.” Whereas the non-believer has to concoct a plausible argument for why the tyrannies are necessary for the greater good, the true believer has no such limitation. The true believer only has to convince himself and the human capacity for self-delusion is without limits. While there are limits to how far the openly self-interested tyrant or the deceptive tyrant can go the self-deluded “world saver” seeking “the greater good” has none. He will fill the extermination camps with bodies, send millions to the gulags, “persecute to death” any number, and will feel virtuous doing so.

And his sincerity can be more convincing than the deliberate deception of the second type leading to thousands, even millions of willing accomplices in his tyranny.

6 thoughts on “Types of Tyranny”

  1. C. S. Lewis talked about a type of True-Believer Tyrant in a discussion about a “Humanistic” system of justice.

    In the system Lewis was talking about the “criminal” was seen as a patient needing to be cured not punished.

    The True Believers in this system thought that they as the Experts (they saw themselves as Medical Doctors) who be the only ones to decide “who needed help” and the only ones to decide “when the patients were to be released as cured”.

    This is where Lewis’s comment about the Most Evil Tyrants being those who “do things for your own good” comes from.

    Part of what he said was “The Greed of the Robber Baron may reach a limit but those “doing it for the good of the people in their power” have no limits to their “doing good”. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not plausible to you and me. “Plausible” to the hoi polloi. Given how much they’re willing to swallow, hook, line, sinker, bobber, and rod, that’s a highly elastic definition…just not infinitely elastic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …hook, line, sinker, bobber, and rod…

        I try not to indulge too much in schadenfreude when the boat’s propeller slices up their stomach lining.


  2. the tyranny of conscience – the ‘third’ type – is, indeed, the worst tyrant there is.

    this type tyrant KNOWS what is being DONE TO YOU is, in the end, GOOD FOR YOU so there is no reason, or limit, to what should be done.


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