Nearly 2,400 years ago, Aristotle wrote one of the defining works of political philosophy in a book entitled Politics.
It’s still incredibly relevant today, particularly what he writes about tyranny.
The ancient Greeks used the word ‘turannos’, which referred to an illegitimate ruler who governs without regard for the law or interests of the people, often through violent and coercive means.
Aristotle attacks tyrants mercilessly in his book, and clearly spells out the criteria which make a leader tyrannical. You may recognize a few of them:
- Artistotle suggests that a tyrant rises to power by first demonstrating that he is a man of the people:
“He ought to show himself to his subjects in the light, not of a tyrant, but of a steward and a king.”
“He should be moderate, not extravagant in his way of life; he should win the notables by companionship, and the multitude by flattery.”
- But once in power, a tyrant uses all available means to hold on to power, including spying on his people:
“A tyrant should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says or does, and should employ spies . . . and . . . eavesdroppers . . . [T]he fear of informers prevents people from speaking their minds, and if they do, they are more easily found out.”
- Furthermore, Aristotle tells us that a tyrant thrives by creating division and conflict– “to sow quarrels among the citizens; friends should be embroiled with friends, the people with the notables [the rich]. . .”
- Controlling the economy and stealing the citizens’ wealth is also another mark of a tyrant:
“Another practice of tyrants is to multiply taxes. . . [and] impoverish his subjects; he thus provides against the maintenance of a guard by the citizen and the people, having to keep hard at work, are prevented from conspiring.”
- And as Aristotle points out, a tyrant also attempts to disarm the people such that “his subjects shall be incapable of action” because “they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny, if they are powerless.”