The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness… This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector–Plato (~427 – ~347 BCE)
The quote I’ve selected for this week’s WQW is deeply troubling to me. It stopped me cold as I was scrolling through a quotes list; and I immediately shared it with my wife to get her perspective. She thought it over and couldn’t come up with any counterexamples. I wonder: Can this really be true? I’ve never before thought about tyranny in this way.
I remember learning, way back in seventh grade English class, that absolute power corrupts absolutely:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.–John Dalberg-Acton (1834 – 1902)
This quote of Lord Acton’s has always made intuitive sense to me, and I’ve seen it manifest in many a leader in my lifetime. Ultimately, it is what underlies my suspicion towards all political leaders, regardless of their original intentions.
But the idea that the tyrant, the ultimate political monster, is necessarily a corrupted protector… That’s new to me, and I’m still mulling it now, as I write these words.
Tyranny terrifies me. Its shadow hangs over many countries today, while others are already engulfed in its darkness. In fact, one of the scariest aspects of tyranny for me is its gradual, subtle creep across even some of the most democratic polities.
If I am to become convinced that Plato was correct, my distrust of leaders then deepens even further. How terrible a thought that those whom peoples turn to for protection are the very same ones who come to repress them!