The classical teaching on tyranny

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2020-12-03

Authors

Williams, Avery Allen

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Abstract

Understanding tyranny is essential to political life. Yet, recent attempts to analyze the phenomenon have overlooked the importance of understanding the tyrant as an individual—they neglect to study the psychology of tyranny. The political science of the ancients, on the other hand, makes the soul of the tyrant the core of its treatment of tyranny. By turning to two key works, Plato’s Republic and Xenophon’s Hiero, one sees that from the ancient perspective tyranny is critiqued for its failure to satisfy the deepest desires of those who pursue it. Tyranny is bad for the ruler as well as the ruled. Plato’s Republic reveals the standard by which tyranny is judged by the ancients but does not provide a complete analysis of political tyranny as lived by the tyrant. The Hiero fills in this picture, allowing us to see that the tyrannical man is motivated above all by a Sisyphean desire for love. Thus, if liberal democracy wishes to defend itself against the threat of tyranny, we must learn from the ancients how to redirect this desire in a way conducive to the common good.

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