Lesson 6: Tyranny, Totalitarianism, and Structural Pluralism

6.1 Kingship and Law

Kingship is a distinct type of regime with a legitimate claim to being a good regime according to Aristotle. We may call it CLAIM 4. THE CLAIM OF KINGSHIP. In favor of monarchy are the following arguments: Extend the claim of virtue - what if there is an individual of outstanding virtue, (wealth, strength) so as to be a great benefactor to all? That is, he rules for the common good with the consent of all - such is a king and who could argue against it if virtue or wealth or strength is the only consideration? Or consider the reverse, what if people are so rude, uneducated, and poor, that a virtuous man stands out as the best to rule? Justice would demand that he be king. Why banish virtue? And is it folly to do so? Second, there is an advantage of personal rule - rule demands initiative and discretion. Law is much too limited and rigid to deal with all the contingencies of a situation. Perhaps we need a strong leader to get the job done (p. 142). Third, a single person is not subject to faction and paralysis in deliberation and execution. In time of war, we give president special powers. Thus monarchy is most conducive to order and peace (Aquinas therefore recommends it for this reason). But against the claim of the monarch are the following points 1. Personal rule is too open to abuse since it rests on the arbitrary will of one person. He is subject to passion (not if truly virtuous?). So it is best to check personal rule with law - and establish a constitutional kingship at least. 2. Politics really disappears - there is one citizen, the king! We have reduced the political life to the household - to the rule of father over children? Or husband over wife? Or master over slave? If politics disappears, then ostracism can make sense. 3. Rule of one is really not possible - there will always be advisors and friends (p. 147) so we head back to aristocracy or democracy - one needs more than two eyes, two hands, ears, etc. toward many assembled? Finally, 4., there is the problem of succession - 223/144 -a great theme for Shakespeare. After the King comes what -- stability/civil war - freedom/tyranny. So Aristotle considers THE RULE OF LAW as a counter to monarchy as such because 1. law is neutral and impartial, primarily because it is not passionate but rather with it "we bid God and reason" to rule. (147) People are always partial to their own case, hence we must watch personal rule and be wary of it. A king, like any man, would tend to seek good for his friends and harm for his enemies and rouse up favor seeking and spite. Law allows for equality and rotation of rule, hence political life as such. Nevertheless, law is limited by being too general - it cannot supply prudence and application to individual cases; further it does not interpret itself. There will be a need for a supreme court of some kind. This need for interpretation reminds us of a founding, a constitution and that prelegal fact of regime, pointed out by Strauss in Lesson 4. Thus law is biased toward regime. This returns us to beginning point - what is best regime and who should rule? (p. 200). see III.10, 11.

Conclusion and transition. The King stands as a reminder to all three claims - none is absolute, for they could all be outdone or carried to an extreme by a king and overtaken by arbitrary rule. We are fortunate if the absolute ruler is a man of great virtue. But politics is gone even if he can provide for us and encourage some virtue. But what if the brutal rather than the fine side of these claims wind out? Then we have tyranny and despotism. Tyranny marks the real limit or destruction of the polis and a decent human life. The three competing claims show the need for a stable and prudential mix in the form of POLITY as we argued in lesson five. The claim of kingship also shows the need for FREEDOM and political participation. These are two marks, stability and freedom, of a good healthy political regime. They are conditions for the good life and virtue - or for the fine side of politics. Stability and freedom temper the brutality of politics - civil war and repression. Let's now take up the issue of repression.

6.2. Tyranny

Immoderate or extreme action leads to tyranny - which is the arbitrary rule of the bad for selfish or partial goods. This means that extreme or unmixed Democracy or Oligarchy leads to Tyranny. Recall the principles of justice - equality and inequality - that is equals should be treated equally and the unequal treated unequally. On these extremes see Aristotle's Politics 1309b22; 1318 a 25, b 29; 1292 a 15 (232, 261, 168). Tyranny actually is a blend of the worst of Oligarchy/Democracy (whereas polity or mixed regime the blends best from each) 1311a8; 1310b 4 . The political problem with tyranny is that it means the loss of political life into household rule. This is the problem noted by Aristotle at the outset of the politics. It is a form of arbitrary rule - and indeed the destruction of law signals onset of arbitrary rule -- as we have seen democracy sends out the signal through the phenomena of mob rule and demagogue rule; Oligarchy gives the indication of the onset of tyranny through the clique rule. Now household rule is not political rule because of its inequality and its manner of rule; and yet there is a big difference between king and tyrant. The king models his rule on paternal rule over child; it is based on merit, and it is for the good of ruled. On the other hand, tyranny is modeled on the despotic rule over slaves; it is actually though a rule of the worst (although possibly of the strong); and it is for the good of ruler (1313a30). In a way it is worse than slavery, because Aristotle envisions the possibility of slavery being for the good of the ruler and ruled. With tyranny it is sheer exploitation.

Aristotle is keen observer of political technique. Hence he sets the devices by which a tyrant may achieve his version of political stability (absence of faction and revolution). It is of course a cure far worse than the disease as our founding fathers well noted. Here are the techniques or devices of repression as noted by Aristotle. People under Tyranny are slaves; the tyrant attacks the inner spirit of political life. He breeds mutual distrust and destroys friendship. Aristotle says in the Ethics, "With friends one is better able to think and to act." So it is to the tyrant's hold on power to isolate people, and make them strangers and enemies. He must also therefore undermine associations and make them incapable of action (no power to initiate or resist, like a slave.) In other words the citizen under a tyrant is no citizen in the authentic meaning of the term. The tyrant is one who thrives on ignorance, passivity, and the absence or lack of means to act or communicate, like private property. Most of all the tyrant must break their spirit through fear and terror, humiliation - individuals and groups, and finally through dependence and submission. So what is Aristotle saying to the tyrant -- here is how to keep power, a proto-type of Machiavelli? Not at all; Aristotle is addressing the free men of Athens to recognize the very conditions for freedom. Freedom requires the existence of an assembly and associations intermediate between the isolated individual and the power of the state such as family, business, clubs, unions, guilds, etc. In a word: freedom requires friendship from such groups because nodes of power arise which check arbitrary rule. Freedom also requires the capacity to initiate action. This entails that one is free to acquire information and be educated. It also means that citizens are free to develop ability and habit of action (responsibility). And finally, it requires the possession of the means to act - e.g. private property. Thirdly, a free city must respect the honor or dignity of its citizens. So they must be secure and free from terror. The citizens must have a public sphere in which they are honored. Modern tyranny still uses many of the devices of the ancient tyrannies and we can see the relevance of the requirements or conditions for freedom. But today there are some significant differences between authoritarian/totalitarian regimes. We find the significant difference in extent of repression - is it primarily political, but also economic and social and religious. There is also a difference today in the means of control: the tyrant destroys the possibility of conversation and persuasion through coercion and beyond to violence and terror. The new elements in communist or fascist tyranny also include the use of ideology and technology.

Chart 6.1 The Three Ruling Devices of Tyranny

A. breeds mutual distrust; destroys friendship

  1. isolates people, makes them strangers, enemies
  2. undermines associations

B. makes them incapable of action (no power to initiate like a slave)

  1. ignorance
  2. passivity lack of means, such as private property

C. breaks their spirit

  1. fear and terror
  2. humiliation - individuals and groups
  3. dependence and submission

6.3. Concept of Pluralism

a. Maritain

6.4. Subsidiarity

6.5. Property

In BOOK II, c. 5 Aristotle sets out a defense of private property and a critique of communism or the scheme for a community of property. His quarrel with his teacher Plato is that he violates the cardinal rule of politics -- do not reduce the polis to the household. So he makes a critique of Plato's community of wives, children, property as we find in the Republic. This proposal makes the polis one big happy household. But in fact, we need plurality and diversity to have a polis. That inner economic and social diversity and structural plurality help the city to fulfill its function as a self-sufficient community and to be a perfection of the more homogeneous family and village. Moreover, the human needs sense of one's own. Aristotle's common sense formulation is this -- private ownership and common use. Why private ownership? One has better care for what is one's own, and communal things are often neglected. This is true of property as we all know; and it is true of children as well -- Aristotle quips "it would be better to be a real cousin than a son in Plato's Republic." Common ownership waters down attachment and it weakens natural piety, that is respect for one's parents. Private ownership is also to be preferred because many virtues depend on private property - liberality, friendship, and justice itself. Thus communism is based on a false premise. Although it wears an attractive face and argues benevolence (p. 50) - for example that great fraternity will arise, and evils of selfishness will disappear. But evil is not simply a result of social structure, rather it is human wickedness. Moreover, communists still bicker, if not more (communes?) Aristotle says the political flaws of this schema are many including leveling of notes into one, that is the absence of a proper pluralism. So why common use? This is the virtuous way to use property as a good citizen. But common use must be bred through education - custom and law. It is a question of disposition and virtue, not coercion. So the city must through education and custom and law develop friendship, temperance, and liberality - these restrain desire. Communism ultimately denies the body part of human nature and fails to appreciate the importance of the love of one's own. Communism cannot suffer the tension of the love of one's own and love of the good simply - the very heart of the human condition. So communism is both anti-Eros and anti-thumos. The nature of Eros is more private than public; and the public spiritedness also requires attachment to one's own family and friends.


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