The Face Of Despotism

Across the seas of history despotism has risen time and time again. Tyrants have ruled many lands in many times, more often than not to the great detriment of their peoples. But it is not the selfish and evil despot that does the greatest harm; it is the tyrant who enforces his rule for what he sees as the good of his people that does the longest lasting and most grievous harm, and is the one most to be feared.

The groundwork of mischief is this. A man fancies that he knows what is best for other men; that he is better acquainted with their sources of happiness than they can be; that he has more appropriate knowledge, and having more power, that he can turn his knowledge to good account on their behalf. He has formed his own estimate of good he is thoroughly persuaded that such and such a thing is good, and being good, he will compel others to receive and to adopt it, because it is good, and because he knows, from experience, it is so.

Yet despotism never takes a worse shape than when it comes in the guise of benevolence; and is never more dangerous than when it acts under the impression that it represents beneficence.

– Jeremy Bentham
Deontology; or, The Science of Morality

Benevolence may be nothing but the pale and impotent shadow of virtue when it does not lead to pragmatic beneficence, but this benevolence can also lead to the worst sort of tyranny when one man or an oligarchy decides that they know what is best for society.

One can look back and see that some of this happened under the Bush administration. A certain pragmatic despotism was enacted for the sake of what they thought was the greater good of America.

One must also look forward though. The Liberals are now in power and they have a long history of personally invasive legislation, all or most of which is meant to be for our own good. It would be best if America kept itself wary, lest these Liberals enact a “nanny state” who despotism will wear a kindly face, but whose iron fist will strike as hard as any other tyrant’s.

Related Reading:

Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City
Never Trust a Liberal Over 3-Especially a Republican
The Politics
What You Should Know About Politics . . . But Don't: A Non-Partisan Guide to the Issues That Matter
Politics: A Treatise on Government

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16 Responses to “The Face Of Despotism”

  1. zhann Says:

    I am going to go out a limb here. Don’t you feel that Despotism is the basis of the American government? Isn’t it safe to infer that the US government, and all democracies for that matter, are designed in a way that the elite stay in power while the working class remain under heel. All elite, throughout the history of democracies and republics, have always taken the stance that they know better than the working class, and it is in their right to pass laws to protect the working class from themselves. This can be seen countless times throughout history, especially US history.

    The beauty of American despotism is the way in which it is accomplished … very well thought out Propaganda. From the days of workers revolts in the 20s (and well before, to be honest), the propaganda machine has been used to villianize those that cared more about the working class than the elite, while solidifying the elites standing in the process. While Bush’s example can not be contested, and Obama is showing all the right signs, this is nothing new. Ronald Reagan could be a poster boy for Despotism, immensly strengthening the elite with his ‘trickle down’ economy. While there are those that will argue that this ‘worked’ in some way to lift the US economy, they fail to take into account that it lifted the USA because the rich got MUCH richer, while the poor and middle class got only a little poorer.

  2. judy Says:

    Great post, and I actually (mostly) agree with you, but in fairness, conservatives have a long history of personally invasive legislation too. The two sides just disagree on what what issues they’re going to be invasive about.

  3. judy Says:

    I love the timer that lets me edit myself for a few minutes after I comment. It’s like you have 4 minutes and 32 seconds to be more profound. 31. 30. 29…

    No pressure. =)

  4. jonolan Says:

    Thank you and welcome, Judy.

    I think that Conservatives are far less in favor of personally invasive legislation than the Liberals though. That’s not to say that they’re completely devoid of the behavior though. It could be argued that the Pro-Life position is personally invasive. Of course it could also be argued that the Pro-Choice / Pro-Abortion is personally invasive – since being murdered is quite personal and invasive.

    Yeah, the timer on editing comments is something I get a kick out of too. ;)

  5. Josh Brandt Says:

    Despotism seems to be a bit of an abstract concept.
    In one way or another any authoritative power can be labeled as such.

    That is why a balance of power is needed. The people choose their leaders and their leaders (hopefully) represent their people well. However liberalism calls for more government involvement in just about everything, and that is invasive in itself.

  6. jonolan Says:

    Despotism isn’t really an abstract concept. In a titularly democratic framework it is when the elected leaders choose to not represent their people and their people’s will, but choose instead to rule them through some form of fiat or another.

    You’re right about the invasive nature of Liberalism though…

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  10. ichabod Says:

    Hi jonolan;

    You have worded it perfectly, the “nanny state” :)

    When I was twelve years old, I enjoyed more freedoms than I do today. Sad isn’t it?

  11. jonolan Says:

    Thanks, ichabod. I wish I had coined the term, but “nanny state” was first used in a public forum by British MP Iain MacLeod back in 1965.

    I does perfectly sum up totalitarianism “for you own good” though, doesn’t it.

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