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Tyranny as a Necessary Evil Essay

For the ancients, tyranny is a perversion of moral authority, of the right of legitimate rule, of the right to political representation. Aristotle once said that ‘tyranny is the perversion of kingship’ (Curtis, 1981:81). St. Augustine, in his book, The City of God forcefully argued that the only consequence of tyranny is unjust laws. Medieval philosophers and theologians rejected tyranny as a legitimate form of government. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his treatise, On Kingship, noted the relative dangers of tyranny.

He said: Moreover, a government becomes unjust by the fact that the ruler, paying no heed to the common good, seeks his own private good. Wherefore the further he departs from the common good the more unjust will his government be … (Curtis, 1981:209). St. Thomas Aquinas elaborated options in eliminating tyranny. He argued that if a king abused his royal authority, then his subjects must act to remove him. The people can either declare a new king or destroy the government through bloodshed. Aquinas said:

If to provide itself with a king belongs to the right of a given multitude, it is not unjust that the king be deposed or have his power restricted by that same multitude… because he himself has deserved that the covenant with his subjects should not be kept, since, in ruling the multitude, he did not act faithfully as the office of a king demands (Curtis, 1981:210). It is clear that both ancient and medieval philosopher rejected tyranny as a legitimate form of government. These philosophers never even considered tyranny as a necessary evil. St.

Augustine stated that the government is a necessary evil, but never tyranny. Aquinas expounded Augustine’s concept of government by arguing that the any perversion of kingship is never a true government (Curtis, 1981:212). Plato argued, in his book, The Republic, that tyranny is not a necessary evil (The Republic of Plato, 1991:182). For Aristotle, the functionality of rational governments lies in the perpetuation of the common good in the assemblies of men; tyranny holds no consideration of public opinion or even acknowledges the creative spirit of men (Lord, 1984:21).

Hence, tyranny is never a necessary evil. For Niccolo Machiavelli, tyranny is a necessary evil. Tyranny can be functional if the preservation of the state is at stake. According to him, tyranny is the most effective way of preserving the power of the state. He stated: And many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation…

without which it would be difficult to save the state, for if one considers well… (Curtis, 1981:221). Machiavelli here argued that the salvation of the state lies entirely in the establishment of a powerful tyranny (The Prince, 1998). If the state is in danger either internally or externally, it is the duty of the prince or ruler to become a tyrant. To become a tyrant is desirable if and only if it pertains to the security of the state (The Prince, 1998). To become a tyrant is artificially good for the state. But why should tyranny becomes a necessary evil, according to Machiavelli?

The answer lies in the nature of politics and man. Politics, according to Machiavelli, is a contest of will and power. Individuals who love power always seek to destroy the dignity of other individuals. If the power-aspiring individuals threaten to destroy the power of kingship, then the king must act swiftly. He must act, as though he were naturally a tyrant. Machiavelli argued: From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved more than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, the one ought to be both feared and loved … it is much safer to be feared than loved…

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger, and covetous of gain … And the prince who relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined (Curtis, 1981:222). For Machiavelli, tyranny is a necessary evil. The vagrancy and vices of the common people and the nobility often endanger the existence of the state. If a good prince appears, he is either subjected to intense criticism or force to act against the preservation of the state. Here, the good prince becomes the destroyer of the commonwealth.

The state must take the ‘bitter pill’ and appoint a tyrant who will restore peace and order; a person who will act against the pervert nature of men (The Prince, 1998). For Machiavelli, a good government is a desirable form of government. However, in most cases, good governments never last. The state descends into anarchy. The people act against the will of the commonwealth. If a person becomes a tyrant, then it is necessary for him to subdue the inner passions of men either by law or by force. If necessary, the tyrant should exterminate the enemies of the state.

The end justifies the means, only if it pertains to the preservation of the state. Nietzsche attacked the old notion of government according to the suggestions of past philosophers. According to Nietzsche, the concept of “living according to nature” is itself a problematic ideal. Nature is something uncontrollable and unpredictable. It is the philosopher who interprets nature according to his own vices and beliefs. There is no single characteristic of nature that can be discerned by the human mind. In political theory, Nietzsche rejected the concept of representative government.

According to him, a government that begs its existence from the people is not a true government. If an individual promotes the idea of power, then such individual experiences self-redemption; that is, the ability to understand power is measured by its degree of self-attainment. Hence, the will to power of an individual is greater than the sum of all artificial truths created by self-proclaimed philosophers. “The prejudice of philosophers,” according to Nietzsche “lies in creating limitations on the fields of morality and politics” (Beyond Good and Evil, 2000).

Nietzsche never favored democracy or its variants. He believed that the power of the state lies in the hands of a superman: an individual who will save the state from the bonds of pseudo-truths created by philosophers. In a sense, Nietzsche favored the establishment of a tyrannical form of government that will glorify the existence of the state. However, one should note that Nietzsche here favored tyranny over all other forms of government because of its methodological importance. According to Nietzsche, only in tyrannies where people began to understand the concept of will to power.

Only in states where tyrannies prosper that men rise from the ashes of philosophical correctness. Works Cited Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1966. Curtis, Michael. The Great Political Theories. New York: Avon Books, 1981. Lord, Carnes. Introduction to The Politics, by Aristotle. Translated by Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. The Prince. Translated by Harvey Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. The Republic of Plato. Translated by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1


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