Principles of Tyranny
by Jon Roland
Definition of tyranny
Tyranny is usually thought of as cruel and oppressive, and it often
is, but the original definition of the term was rule by persons who lack
legitimacy, whether they be malign or benevolent. Historically, benign
tyrannies have tended to be insecure, and to try to maintain their power by
becoming increasingly oppressive. Therefore, rule that initially seems benign
is inherently dangerous, and the only security is to maintain legitimacy —
an unbroken accountability to the people through the framework of a written
constitution that provides for election of key officials and the division of
powers among branches and officials in a way that avoids concentration of
powers in the hands of a few persons who might then abuse those powers.
Tyranny is an important phenomenon that operates by principles by which it
can be recognized in its early emerging stages, and, if the people are
vigilant, prepared, and committed to liberty, countered before it becomes
The psychology of tyranny
Perhaps one of the things that most distinguishes those with a fascist
mentality from most other persons is how they react in situations that engender
feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Both kinds of people will tend to seek
to increase their power, that is, their control over the outcome of events, but
those with a fascist mindset tend to overestimate the amount of influence over
outcomes that it is possible to attain. This leads to behavior that often
brings them to positions of leadership or authority, especially if most other
persons in their society tend to underestimate the influence over outcomes they
can attain, and are inclined to yield to those who project confidence in what
they can do and promise more than anyone can deliver.
This process is aided by a common susceptibility which might be called the
rooster syndrome, from the old saying, "They give credit to the
rooster crowing for the rising of the sun." It arises from the tendency of
people guided more by hope or fear than intelligence to overestimate the power
of their leaders and attribute to them outcomes, either good or bad, to which
the leaders contributed little if anything, and perhaps even acted to prevent
or reduce. This comes from the inability of most persons to understand complex
dynamic systems and their long-term behavior, which leads people to attribute
effects to proximate preceding events instead of actual long-term causes.
The emergence of tyranny therefore begins with challenges to a group,
develops into general feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, and falls into a
pattern in which some individuals assume the role of "father" to the
others, who willingly submit to becoming dependent "children" of such
persons if only they are reassured that a more favorable outcome will be
realized. This pattern of co-dependency is pathological, and generally results
in decisionmaking of poor quality that makes the situation even worse, but,
because the pattern is pathological, instead of abandoning it, the
co-dependents repeat their inappropriate behavior to produce a vicious spiral
that, if not interrupted, can lead to total breakdown of the group and the
worst of the available outcomes.
In psychiatry, this syndrome is often discussed as an "authoritarian
personality disorder". In common parlance, as being a "control
The logic of tyranny
In Orwell's classic fable, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the protagonist
Winston Smith makes a key statement:
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If
that is granted, all else follows.
Following the trial of the surviving Branch Davidians in San Antonio, Texas,
in March, 1994, in which a misinstructed jury acquitted all the defendants of
the main crimes with which they were charged, but convicted them of the
enhancements of using firearms in the commission of a crime, the federal judge,
Walter F. Smith, first dismissed the charges, correctly, on the grounds that it
is logically impossible to be guilty of an enhancement if one is innocent of
the crime. However, under apparent political pressure, he subsequently reversed
his own ruling and sentenced the defendants to maximum terms as though they had
been convicted of the main crimes, offering the comment, "The law doesn't
have to be logical."
No. The law does have to be logical. Otherwise it is not law. It is
arbitrary rule by force.
Now by "logical" what is meant is two-valued logic, which
is sometimes also called Boolean, Aristotelian or
Euclidean logic. In other words, a system of propositions within which a
statement and its negation cannot both be true or valid. One of
the two must be false or invalid. The two possible values are
true and false, and every meaningful proposition can be assigned
one or the other value.
A system of law is a body of prescriptive, as opposed to
descriptive, propositions, that support the making of decisions,
and therefore its logic must be two-valued. It is a fundamental principle of
law that like cases must be decided alike, and this means according to
propositions that exclude their contradictions.
It is also a fundamental principle of logic that any system of propositions
that accepts both a statement and its negation as valid, that is, which accepts
a contradiction, accepts all contradictions, and provides no
basis for deciding among them. If decisions are made, they are not made on the
basis of the propositions, but are arbitrary, and that is the definition
of the rule of men, as opposed to the rule of law.
So what Winston Smith is saying is that freedom means being able to
distinguish between a true proposition and a false one, and what his nemesis
O'Brien therefore does to crush him is make him accept that
"2 + 2 = 5", which cannot be true if the logic is
Aristotelian. O'Brien represents the logic of arbitrary power, a
"logic" we might call Orwellian, although Orwell, whose real
name was Eric Blair, was strongly opposed to it.
The methodology of tyranny
The methods used to overthrow a constitutional order and establish a tyranny
are well-known. However, despite this awareness, it is surprising how those who
have no intention of perpetrating a tyranny can slip into these methods and
bring about a tyranny despite their best intentions. Tyranny does not have to
be deliberate. Tyrants can fool themselves as thoroughly as they fool everyone
- Control of public information and opinion
- It begins with withholding information, and leads to putting out false or
misleading information. A government can develop ministries of propaganda under
many guises. They typically call it "public information" or
- Vote fraud used to prevent the election of reformers
- It doesn't matter which of the two major party candidates are elected if no
real reformer can get nominated, and when news services start knowing the
outcomes of elections before it is possible for them to know, then the votes
are not being honestly counted.
- Undue official influence on trials and juries
- Nonrandom selection of jury panels, exclusion of those opposed to the law,
exclusion of the jury from hearing argument on the law, exclusion of private
prosecutors from access to the grand jury, and prevention of parties and their
counsels from making effective arguments or challenging the government.
- Usurpation of undelegated powers
- This is usually done with popular support for solving some problem, or to
redistribute wealth to the advantage of the supporters of the dominant faction,
but it soon leads to the deprivation of rights of minorities and individuals.
- Seeking a government monopoly on the capability and use of armed
- The first signs are efforts to register or restrict the possession and use
of firearms, initially under the guise of "protecting" the public,
which, when it actually results in increased crime, provides a basis for
further disarmament efforts affecting more people and more weapons.
- Militarization of law enforcement
- Declaring a "war on crime" that becomes a war on civil liberties.
Preparation of military forces for internal policing duties.
- Infiltration and subversion of citizen groups that could be forces for
- Internal spying and surveillance is the beginning. A sign is false
prosecutions of their leaders.
- Suppression of investigators and whistleblowers
- When people who try to uncover high level wrongdoing are threatened, that
is a sign the system is not only riddled with corruption, but that the
corruption has passed the threshold into active tyranny.
- Use of the law for competition suppression
- It begins with the dominant faction winning support by paying off their
supporters and suppressing their supporters' competitors, but leads to public
officials themselves engaging in illegal activities and using the law to
suppress independent competitors. A good example of this is narcotics
- Subversion of internal checks and balances
- This involves the appointment to key positions of persons who can be
controlled by their sponsors, and who are then induced to do illegal things.
The worst way in which this occurs is in the appointment of judges that will go
along with unconstitutional acts by the other branches.
- Creation of a class of officials who are above the law
- This is indicated by dismissal of charges for wrongdoing against persons
who are "following orders".
- Increasing dependency of the people on government
- The classic approach to domination of the people is to first take
everything they have away from them, then make them compliant with the demands
of the rulers to get anything back again.
- Increasing public ignorance of their civic duties and reluctance to
- When the people avoid doing things like voting and serving in militias and
juries, tyranny is not far behind.
- Use of staged events to produce popular support
Acts of terrorism, blamed on political opponents, followed immediately with
well-prepared proposals for increased powers and budgets for suppressive
agencies. Sometimes called a Reichstag plot.
- Conversion of rights into privileges
- Requiring licenses and permits for doing things that the government does
not have the delegated power to restrict, except by due process in which the
burden of proof is on the petitioner.
- Political correctness
- Many if not most people are susceptible to being recruited to engage in
repressive actions against disfavored views or behaviors, and led to pave the
way for the dominance of tyrannical government.
The key is always to detect tendencies toward tyranny and suppress them
before they go too far or become too firmly established. The people must never
acquiesce in any violation of the Constitution. Failure to take corrective
action early will only mean that more severe measures will have to be taken
later, perhaps with the loss of life and the disruption of the society in ways
from which recovery may take centuries.