Donald Trump, Compared to the Classical Tyrants of History and the Tyrants of Philosophical Works
Below we explain classical tyranny, classical despotism, the warning signs of tyranny, and the sources “on tyranny” that describe the tools and tactics of tyrants (by authors such as Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, Montesquieu, and Plato).
To headline all of this, we’ll describe the Tyrant from Plato’s Republic (380 BC) and Plato’s warning of how Oligarchy and Democracy breed tyrant kings when the people life an Oligarchical man to power in a Democratic nation in times of perceived inequality.
AS virtue is necessary in a republic, and, in a monarchy, honour, so fear is necessary in a despotic government: with regard to virtue, there is no occasion for it, and honour would be extremely dangerous. – Montesquieu on the Virtues of Governments
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 above ground he is a protector. – Plato, on Tyranny Book 8 of the Republic.
TIP: Americans (and most westerners) live in a Polity, an ideal mixed-Republic. The main purpose of the Republic is to safeguard against Tyranny. So forgive any bias against tyranny I display below. This isn’t bias against Trump (nor is it a statement on his admirable qualities), it is bias against the qualities of a tyrant. To what extent Trump shares these qualities with tyrants is a thing of fact, upon which we can all have opinions as to what it means. We elected the man, and have tons of room for the implications of that in a democratic nation with fair elections, but despite that, we don’t have much room for tyrannical qualities in Americanism and Westernism (our whole foundation was a push-back against this). To resist tyranny is a first principle of the doctrine of American civil religion, since it was expressed by Madison and Washington and other founders. It is the duty of all Americans to safeguard against tyranny, including Trump himself. To what extent Trump doesn’t realize he is using the strategy of tyrants, he should realize it and check himself (that would be the main point here).
Viewpoint: What can Plato teach us about Donald Trump? – BBC Newsnight
An Introduction to Trump and Tyranny
Below we will discuss not only how Trump is like the Tyrant from Plato’s Republic, but also how he is like (and not like) past tyrants.
Trump is far from Hitler in action, but not all that far in some key messages.
Specifically, Trump has also obviously has modeled himself after past right-wing populists (in strategy and message more than in aggressive action so far), who in the case of WWII, we consider in general to be tyrants.
This is to say Trump, plainly and obviously uses the strategies of figures like past figures such as Mussolini, and Hitler, the WWII fascists. Thus, using our reason, if we consider those two to be Tyrants, then we must entertain the idea that Trump is exhibiting tyrannical qualities by emulating them.
To the extent that Fox News called Obama a tyrant, then we must call Trump a Tyrant as well.
This is what we will be First Amendment-ing about here, just like Fox News did back in the Obama years. Thus, to the extent one accepted Fox News doing it, they must accept us doing it. Note, the accusation isn’t that Trump IS a Tyrant, it is that Trump shares a number of qualities with the classical philosophical tyrants and real historic tyrants. That is empirical fact.
TIP: Most Republican leaders get accused of being Fascists, most Democrats of being Communists. There is a little justification there, but it is also just the perspective of one frame of reference. Obama was accused of being a Muslim from Kenya (by Trump) and a tyrant, no one ever stopped that (in fact we elected Trump anyway!) We are a liberal nation whose sole duty is to check powers and help support law, order, and liberalism against tyranny (legal and non-violent action allowed for by the Bill of Rights). We have free speech, so yes it’s a page about Trump and Tyranny, try not to crucify me; instead consider commenting with your thoughts below.
Donald Trump, Compared to the Oligarchical Man who Becomes a Tyrannical Man in Plato’s Republic
Trump is an “Oligarch” (classically speaking), who rose to power in a liberal nation (America), in a time of perceived social, political, and economic inequality (the Obama years), by rallying a frustrated base’s fear against “others”, and this is literally what chapters 7 and 8 of Plato’s Republic are about, thus we are making the comparison.
This is to say, Donald Trump is an oligarch who was lifted up to power on a populist message, by telling blue lies to his base, in a democracy, due to inequality in a state where everyone believed themselves to be liberal and free.
To get this, you have to get Plato’s Republic.
Plato’s Republic is a story about finding balance (justice) in the state and soul. It describes five forms of government (each a metaphor for the aspect of the human condition) that each devolve into the other.
Plato’s Five Regimes are: Monarchy and Aristocracy (rule by traditional kings and aristocrats; here implying rule by the wise), Timocracy (rule by honor, like a just military), Oligarchy (rule by wealth, both Barons and Cronies, like the Gilded Age), Democracy and Anarchy (rule by pure liberty and equality, an element of our modern mixed-Republic), and Tyranny (rule by fear).
In Plato’s story each regime is conflated with a type of man for an analogy.
The Oligarchical man, becomes the democratic man, becomes the tyrannical man, as he grows to love wealth, equality, and liberty (but lacks the restraints needed to reign in those powers; as those corrupt in extremes). From there a series of events drives this man toward tyranny, over time, after attempts at exile (like we saw with a figure like Napoleon).
This can be seen as a story about using our God given reason to control our animal nature, or it can be seen as a theory of classes (where Democrats and Oligarchs and Timocrats are meant to be restrained by Aristocrats to avoid Tyranny; like it is in a just Republic). Or this can be seen as a theory of governments.
It should be seen as a theory of all, a theory of how to create a Polity (like the one we live in).
The main warning here is not to put wealth, power, and fear above all else, to put truth and wisdom first, and to use the executive restraints of aristocracy and timocracy.
The problem is that Oligarchy breeds Democracy, and Democracy breeds anarchy and tyranny.
This is because in a state of pure liberty and equality there are no restraints (on things like the seeking of wealth and land and rent seeking), thus the one with the most money and golden tongue becomes the leader of a small faction of people who lift up their new champion (who promises them greatness and the destruction of the corrupt ruling class; like with Caesar).
At first the Oligarch King of the Democrats rules justly, but once the old leaders try to exile him and he gets a taste of blood (once he starts to purge his opposition who is trying to exile him; see the Deep State argument) he becomes frenzied (like a shark who has tasted blood) and begins to rule as a despot and tyrant (putting his whims before the needs of the state, using fear to control the people; as fear is the “virtue” of despots; he uses “criminal virtue“).
Over time this devolves as he needs to create more and more fear to consolidate wealth and power and to purge his enemies (who increase in number as he turns). The whole thing ends in a tyrannical nightmare, which is eventually overthrown and a new government is created from the ashes (eventually).
So, the Story of America is the story of overthrowing a (just barely) Tyrant, George III. But we in 2017 likely don’t actually want a bloody revolution like that.
So what can we learn here? Well, the good news is that I don’t think Trump has crossed the line yet. He is acting tyrannical (in that he is checking all the non-violet boxes), but he hasn’t reached the phase of no return yet.
Trump is a novice in government, and there is no reason that he can’t rule justly if he adheres to the rules, doesn’t try to pure the opposition, and steps up to the part.
In the interest of ensuring a stable four years and a stable nation, lets describe tyranny in general a little better so we can really confirm in which ways Trump is and isn’t acting like a Tyrant.
TIP: There are all sorts of tyrants. There is a tyrannical mob, a tyrannical minority, and a tyrannical man. All are not great. In the Civil War it was a tyrannical mob, the Jacobins of France were a bit of a Tyrannical mob, but a single leader like Hitler is just a Tyrant. They all share common features like ruling with fear and violence and not following the General Will (they say they do, but then they actually following their own specific will and corporate wills).
Summary of Plato’s story of the Tyrannical man: The starting point is Aristocracy, a just government dominated by the wisdom-loving element. When its social structure breaks down and enters civil war, it is replaced by Timocracy. The Timocratic government is dominated by the spirited element, with a ruling class of warriors or generals (Ancient Sparta is an example). As the emphasis on honor is compromised by wealth accumulation, it is replaced by Oligarchy. The Oligarchic government is dominated by the desiring element, in which the rich are the ruling class. The gap between rich and poor widens, culminating in a revolt by the underclass majority, establishing a Democracy. Democracy emphasizes maximum freedom, so power is distributed evenly. It is also dominated by the desiring element, but in an undisciplined, unrestrained way. The populism of the Democratic government leads to mob rule, fueled by fear of oligarchy, which a clever demagogue can exploit to take power and establish Tyranny. In a Tyrannical government, the city is enslaved to the tyrant, who uses his guards to remove the best social elements and individuals from the city to retain power (since they pose a threat), while leaving the worst. He will also provoke warfare to consolidate his position as leader. In this way, tyranny is the most unjust regime of all.
Bottomline: Sure wealth, liberty, and equality sound nice on-paper, but in extremes they are corrupting. This is why moderation, and not “the Sophist immoralism”, is the chief good. The point of Plato’s book is to be like a Chariot Driver (see metaphor below) and reign in our desires using the restraints of God Given human reason. Desiring money above all else and using fear as a weapon to control people is not enlightened, it is despotism and tyranny (classically speaking).
Plato: The Republic – Book 8 Summary and Analysis.
Plato: The Republic – Book 9 Summary and Analysis.
Plato’s Chariot Metaphor: Tying the “how does one become enlightened”, the human soul metaphor, and other metaphors together. The Chariot metaphor, in simple terms, describes how the higher-order aspects are meant to “drive” the lower-order ones. So the horses represent the reptile and animal nature of man, and the Charioteer steering the wild horses the human and higher-order qualities. Or, like Wikipedia says, “The Charioteer represents intellect, reason, or the part of the soul that must guide the soul to truth; one horse represents rational or moral impulse or the positive part of passionate nature (e.g., righteous indignation); while the other represents the soul’s irrational passions, appetites, or concupiscent nature. The Charioteer directs the entire chariot/soul, trying to stop the horses from going different ways, and to proceed towards enlightenment.” Well said.
The 15 Warnings Signs of Impending Tyranny From Robert Reich, 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder, and Other Important Reading on Tyranny and Despotism
The following is an excerpt from Robert Reich “on Tyranny”, I also suggest.
- A Propaganda Model Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky Excerpted from Manufacturing Consent, 1988.
- The Spirit of the Laws, 1748, by Montesquieu.
- Leo Strauss’s On Tyranny; and the modern On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2017 by Timothy Snyder.
- Machiavelli’s the Prince, which explains strategy for tyrants (meant to inform Republicans how to use the strategy against tyrants… How Machiavellian!).
- Also, one should check out the NAZI’s early 1920’s “Strasserist Socialist” platform (which shows the party’s early fascist ideology and socialist roots), Mussolini’s 1932 Doctrine of Fascism (which explains fascism well), and Hitler’s Mein Kampf (in which he explains his disdain for Marxism, Capitalism, Liberalism, and Democracy).
These above classical texts explain a lot of the strategy and ideology of tyrants, since they are written in all different eras, it clues us in that the qualities of a tyrant are common (that this is not just a liberal reacting to Donald Trump).
As tyrants take control of democracies, they typically:
1. Exaggerate their mandate to govern – claiming, for example, that they won an election by a landslide even after losing the popular vote.
2. Repeatedly claim massive voter fraud fraud in the absence of any evidence, in order to restrict voting in subsequent elections.
3. Call anyone who opposes them “enemies.”
6. Tell the public big lies, causing them to doubt the truth and to believe fictions that support the tyrants’ goals.
8. Attribute acts of domestic violence to “enemies within,” and use such events as excuses to beef up internal security and limit civil liberties.
10. Seek to eliminate or reduce the influence of competing centers of power, such as labor unions and opposition parties.
11. Appoint family members to high positions of authority
12. Surround themselves with their own personal security force rather than a security detail accountable to the public.
13. Put generals into top civilian posts
15. Draw no distinction between personal property and public property, profiteering from their public office.
ON TYRANNY: Lessons From the 20th Century with Author Timothy Snyder.
Timothy Snyder: The Russian Military Tactic of ‘Reverse Asymmetrical Warfare’ in Ukraine. The whole Russia thing isn’t just about the charges, it is also note worthy that a lot of tactics that Trump uses are favorites of the Russians.
Timothy Snyder – “What Can European History Teach Us About Trump’s America?”
“STOP CALLING DONALD TRUMP A FASCIST BECAUSE HE’S NOT ONE!” Timothy Synder says everything I can’t fit on a page. Blast you economy of words, but thank you videos.
MUSING: And they wonder why Tyrants don’t like intellectuals? Hitler rose up with only that 33% of active voters, tyrants know they don’t need to win over the intellectuals, they just need to make them afraid and purge them. The goal is to curb that potential before it gets to that point.