Big Head Press


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 574, June 13, 2010

"America didn't have a drug problem
before it passed drug laws."

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Having engaged in a certain amount of pedantry last week I'm going to try to put an end to a train of thought.

A tyrant needs a certain amount of support to succeed. To gain this support there are certain ideas he communicates to his followers. If his followers agree with these theses the tyrant will rule. If not he will develop an acute understanding of what Hobbes meant by short, nasty, and brutish.

This list is not comprehensive, neither are all elements necessary. However, given the need to be able to stomp all competition, a tyrant must have support by enough shooters (sword swingers, pike men, whatever) to hold power. While this support can be bought (and a wise tyrant is generous to his muscle) it is more reliable to enjoy their intellectual support.

The first is that they are in a situation where the maxim "Necessity knows no law" applies. The emergency is so intense or the ideological goal so important that the usual constraints of law and custom not only can but must be disregarded. The rights of opponents, neutrals and even supporters are to be run over roughshod to achieve the party's, church's and or leader's ends.

Secondly they do not distinguish between treason and dissent. Anyone who dissents with them if they have power is a traitor, any act of treason that furthers their cause is legitimate dissent. There is no objective measure of what is loyalty to the nation (and the state) he rules, only obedience to the ruler. Even the most loyal are insecure of whether or not they have stepped over the line into treason.

The third and fourth are contradictory yet at the same time related. On the one hand they believe that their retention of power is necessary to the survival of their society. The other is a belief that they are powerless and entitled to do whatever they have to do to gain power. The "perfect storm" situation" is a belief that from a position of unjust powerlessness they have finally gained the power they deserve and will not let go under any circumstances.

Finally there is a conviction that the tyrant and his followers are so committed to their course of action that it has to be right. They can not afford to quit trying no matter what it costs. Frequently they argue they have already paid such a high price they can't afford to quit.

Any time a group subscribes to these assumptions they will create a tyranny. It may be that in objective fact these circumstances apply. The question then becomes whether or not they will relinquish power, or at least accept constraints once the crisis ends. Assuming they had the intellectual honesty to admit the crisis is over and/or not gin up a new one.


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