The root from which a tyrant springs

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 โ€“ ~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 โ€“ 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!

40 thoughts on “The root from which a tyrant springs”

  1. Thank you for this ben Alexander. I saw the quote on a rumble video. I was looking it up and came across your Blog.
    It reminded me of a similar quote by C. S. Lewis.
    โ€œOf all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.โ€โ€“

  2. I was raised by my father, to know,understand, apply to every aspect of life, the Acton quote AND the cherry pickn stuff some Christians do with the new testament – i.e.,his take, was “for the LOVE of money is the root of all evil” – not ‘money is the root of all evil’ – but for him? Money was just a word for ‘power’ – –

    I, too, struggle with these things – I struggle with the human desire/need, especially in hard/bad times – to find a leader, rescuer, some higher power to ‘rescue us from our own Life/choices/mistakes/misfortunes’ and yet – and I do not know for sure, who said it first, in one way or another, but many classical works, and modern artists, say the same version, to me, over and over…

    “Humans get the leadership they deserve” –

    And, right off the top of my head, as I think back in history and what I think I know about certain local/global events my family taught me about?

    Moses wouldn’t have led the children of Israel back home, from migration/slavery times IF abundance and slavery was comfortable.

    Jesus wouldn’t have had a following if he hadn’t spoken to the disenfranchised, oppressed and judged unfit portions of society, under Roman Rule.

    The fertile ground plowed, sown and laid by many, through their own vengeance, actions, desire for retribution, is what led to many leaders, such as Hitler, coming to power – if that playing field hadn’t been formed/created by ‘victors of last war’ – The name of Hitler and others throughout history we know well, and hope to forget/never repeat, would be lost to sands of time and would never have gained any power – in the first place –

    Give me your tired, your poor, your weak – if I promise a better life, they will cling to me, if they believe I have provided them a better way/better life, they will follow me into hell – but remember, always, if I was a true leader, I have no need to try and lead those who are doing just fine – and like where they are, and if I meet a need and many cling to me, look to me, and I let it go to my head, think I must always deliver, no matter what, and the ends of keeping folks happy so I stay in power, justify any means I may employ, to do so?

    Ah – – such musings, I engage upon, inserting “I” for name of a tyrant I view with contempt – and declare none would be so bold, delusional or narcissitic as ‘that person’ to do what they do – therefore, they are a monster, and I and folks who think like me are fine, and wonderful – and yet –

    always, in the back of my mind, an inner voice – is it mine? God’s? my early training? whispers to me…..

    “Okay -so you think that leader absolutely wrong and a tyrant – so do many – what happened to bring them to power? How many suffered in silence or hurt or want, that leader appeared to be the only one who seems to ‘see, listen and answer’ them? Who is willing to say – “I’m gonna help you?”

    And in the end, over history – yes, there are self-appointed protectors, who do anything but protect – and yet, there are many great leaders who inspire and say to the masses, “I can’t do this all by myself – yes, you’re hurting, you’re struggling, I’ll do what I can, and I think I can do this part over here, but for the love of all that’s holy! You folks need to get off your duff and fight along side me – if for nothing else, and not me, but for yourselves!!!

    And leaders, the good, the bad, the ugly, the ludicrous, come with the same package all humans do – themselves – the pros/cons of themselves, and quickest way to find out how shiny that two-side coin of a human really is?

    Just watch, wait and listen – How do they take power? Ask for it? How do they behave in victory or defeat? How do they act when they stand alone vs. when an army stands behind them? Or between them and their enemy?

    And always – to me? Leaders are usually pretty easy to figure out – really – just catch them on their worst moment/day and see what they do then, and what they say to you, after that worst day is in the recent past – and patterns emerge – over and over and over –

    โค I feel you and I don't have the answers yet, either, but not knowledgeable enough or willing to take on leadership roles myself, yet, thus, it remains, currently, my job, to assess, observe and choose if I will be a follower or ostrascized – left alone to fend for myself – that, at the end of the day, to me, is every humans job – the choice and willingness to stand alone or risk sacrifice if they cannot in good faith, be a follower of the 'latest/greatest/who has power, just now' –

    1. … my job, to assess, observe and choose if I will be a follower or ostrascized โ€“ left alone to fend for myself โ€“ that, at the end of the day, to me, is every humans job…

      That is so beautifully written, Tamrah Jo ~ thank you!


      1. Thank YOU! David! For hearing my heart and spending time replying when I get lost in ‘reading’ and focus on each piece/and, if it calls to my heart? Writing TOO many words in comments!! You make such a difference in my Life Journey, whether you realized you were signing up for it or not – for now? It is and I’m VERY appreciative of your gifts , given, that enhance my daily life! Thank You!!!

  3. I think there is a problem is elevating anyone too highly. The people must protect themselves; no one person can do it for them. When you stop seeing someone as flawed and human, that person becomes very dangerous to you. As long as you are able and willing to criticize your leaders, you have not given them control over you. (for example, the idea that the President might be above the law). This is true in personal relationships as well, come to think of it. If you are afraid to contradict your partner, you are lost. (K)

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