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Cambridge University Press Essay

In literature, the notions of a sovereign and a tyrant were always mixed. Philosophical and theological works have not delineated any clear boundaries between a sovereign and a tyrant. However, several professors have attempted to determine, whether it was permissible to resist a tyrant, and how easily a sovereign could turn into a tyrant. In order to decide whether it is possible to resist a tyrant, we should determine who a tyrant is, and what resistance is meant by the question.

Bodin (1992) refers to a tyrant as “someone who makes himself into a sovereign prince by his own authority – without election, or right of succession, or lot, or a just war, or a special calling from God. ” Furthermore, tyrants are identified as those who are “cruel, oppressive or excessively wicked” (Bodin, 1992). Although ancient writers discussed the possibility of resisting to tyrant, they have not evaluated the risks for such resistance. Any opposition, whether real or imagined (planned) would be equaled to treason.

Furthermore, a tyrant is also a sovereign who possesses absolute power and unlimited rights. Bodin (1992) suggests that the nation does not have the right to kill or physically eliminate the tyrant; but it can ignore the decisions that contradict to the laws of nature and God (Bodin, 1992). In this context, we should also remember that to be a sovereign does not necessarily means to be a tyrant; but being a tyrant always implies being a sovereign.

It is a matter of ethical and powerful boundaries that each sovereign is able to cross. “The first prerogative of a sovereign prince is to give law to all in general and each in particular” (Bodin, 1992). This is also a prerogative of a tyrant, but a tyrant gives law without distinguishing between wickedness and virtue (Bodin, 1992). In general, Bodin (1992) concludes that “it is never permissible for a subject to attempt a thing against a sovereign price, no matter how wicked and cruel a tyrant he may be”.

The problem is in that we still lack a proper definition of what a tyrant is. We risk abusing a sovereign for high taxes, but that does not mean that this sovereign is a tyrant! A tyrant may have the right to punish conspirators, but this may also be a natural need to protect one’s right to live (Bodin, 1992). That is why we cannot make tyrants’ elimination lawful. References Bodin, J. (1992). On Sovereignty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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