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The Tyrant
The Catholic Thing ^ | Tuesday, 07 February 2012 | James V. Schall, S. J.

Posted on 09/09/2012 11:12:03 AM PDT by SumProVita

The tyrant is always among the most important to understand. ...snip....

What else strikes us as odd is that the tyrant almost invariably arises out of a democracy. Democracy breeds tyrants. We are loath to hear it. But we are also reluctant to examine the guiding spirit of the actual regimes we designate as “democratic.”

A democracy is a regime in which “freedom” rules. Here “freedom” is defined, not as allowing us to follow what is virtuous, but the relativist permission to do whatever we will. The democratic regime makes no judgment about right or wrong. As a result, right and wrong are defined by the polity, from which no appeal is permitted. Nothing is higher than civic will.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: democracy; freedom; obama
On this Sunday, for some reason, this short essay seems very timely.
1 posted on 09/09/2012 11:12:08 AM PDT by SumProVita
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To: SumProVita

Amen to that!

2 posted on 09/09/2012 11:26:13 AM PDT by DarthVader (Politicians govern out of self interest, Statesmen govern for a Vision greater than themselves)
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To: SumProVita
The Scottish Jurist and Historian Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler published a collection of lectures in 1801. He advanced a theory of democracy based on historical observation: From over 200 years ago and he nailed it big time. I'd say we're somewhere between apathy and dependency on our way to dystopia.
3 posted on 09/09/2012 11:28:24 AM PDT by upchuck ("Definition of 'racist:' someone that is winning an argument with a liberal." ~ Peter Brimelow)
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To: SumProVita

Americans associate freedom and liberty with democracy, but in truth, freedom and liberty are just side effects of what is democracies’ strongest selling point: it is more efficient than other means of government. And this efficiency is so obvious that it can be seen by both king and peasant.

A case in point was found in very rural China. They managed to get a generator and a single television, which could pick up a far away signal. On the TV channel, they saw a game show. And on the game show, someone said the magic words: “Let’s vote on it!” And these uneducated rural peasants actually got to see democracy in action.

Then their petty leader, a very low ranking communist party member, showed up to give the farmers their orders. This time, as he had done many times before, he gave them a poor order, because he knew little about farming. Suddenly something unexpected happened. A farmer who had seen the game show put up his hand then disagreed with the petty leader.

He was shocked. Nobody had ever done that before. So he told the farmer no, do it my way. Then another farmer put up his hand and said the magic words. “Let’s vote on it!”

All the farmers there agreed with him. But so shocked by this, the petty official agreed that they should do it their way. They were thrilled, ran off, and before long they had brought in a much larger crop than anyone else in the area.

The success was noted, the petty leader was promoted, and everybody involved had instantly become democrats. Soon the government figured out what had happened and prohibited game shows from showing voting.

But the seed, as it were, had been planted.

In any event, what about tyrants and democracy?

Well, beyond a low level, democracy can only retain its efficiency if it becomes republican-democracy, in which people who share common goals elect someone to represent those goals on their behalf.

And this method works, insofar as it does propel what the people want to the top of the government. If they want a tyrant, they get a tyrant.

But a tyrant is only really a tyrant if he gives the people what they do not want. When this happens it is often because the tyrant sees his people as poor and backward, and wants them to have wealthier, more prosperous lives.

Cases in point, the Mexican president Porfirio Diaz and the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Both of them were iron fisted dictators, and both of them led their peoples into modernity.

But were they tyrants? They were both opposed by the forces of primitive barbarism, violence and chaos, which for years they kept at bay. Eventually both fell because they decided that their people had worked hard enough and deserved to enjoy what they had created.

They did not fall because they were tyrants, but because they stopped being tyrants.

4 posted on 09/09/2012 11:41:34 AM PDT by yefragetuwrabrumuy (DIY Bumper Sticker: "THREE TIMES,/ DEMOCRATS/ REJECTED GOD")
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To: upchuck’s all so OBVIOUS. Persons...or groups of persons transition from one stage to the next depending on the virtue and wisdom of their choices...or the lack thereof.

Whenever I find myself engaged in a conversation with one who seems to think that mankind has evolved (in the full sense)...and that somehow we are all so much more enlightened these perhaps compared to the Dark Ages ... I always ask:

Then, how is it that mankind still has exactly the same propensity toward sinful behavior now as it did then?

(I actually don’t even use the word, “sin,” as it would provoke such an intellectual recoil on their part, that they would be unable to concentrate on what I am asking.)


5 posted on 09/09/2012 11:47:00 AM PDT by SumProVita
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

Americans associate freedom and liberty with democracy, but in truth, freedom and liberty are just side effects of what is democracies’ strongest selling point: it is more efficient than other means of government.


However, it is crucial that all understand HOW to define FREEDOM.


6 posted on 09/09/2012 11:51:45 AM PDT by SumProVita
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

In the essay, the tyrant’s longevity is determined by how the people define FREEDOM.

“Tyrants are safe so long as, in their souls, people define freedom as the doing of whatever they want.”

Of course, he was stating this as the political desire of the majority. If the desire of the majority is abortion, re-definition of marriage, restricting religious liberty, etc...because right and wrong are defined by the will become the society best suited to a tyrant.

7 posted on 09/09/2012 12:05:21 PM PDT by SumProVita
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To: SumProVita
Liberty or License?

America's Founders knew the dangers of "pure democracies," and they chose a Republic, and a form which left "the People" in control of their elected representatives' use of delegated power.

The U. S. Constitution's Precious Cargo*

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court even can do much to help it." - Judge Learned Hand

The Constitution's words are only the vehicles which carry great ideas across the centuries. The precious cargo must be defined, protected, and treasured by "We, the People" in order for its benefits to accrue to each generation. Take the word, "liberty". What message does this semantic vehicle bring?

Abe Lincoln: "We all declare for liberty, but

in using the same word we do not mean the same thing...."

"The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator,

While the wolf denounces him for the same act...."

"Plainly," said Lincoln, "the sheep and the wolf are not agreed

upon a definition of liberty."

To some, he said, "liberty" means: that each individual in the society may do as he sees fit with himself and the earnings from his labors. To others, "liberty" means: that some persons may do as they see fit (or arbitrarily determine to be best) with other persons' earnings. Lincoln wisely observed that each respective view can be called by the other party by two "different and incompatible" names: "liberty" (unbridled license) and "tyranny" (power abused).

Down through the centuries since 1787, America's constitutional vehicle has traveled, proclaiming right up front that its primary purpose is to "secure the Blessings of Liberty." This is not just any old vehicle. This is the Constitution of the United States of America! Its makers left volumes of writings and definitions of the cargo of priceless treasure its words carry. Its intent to secure a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, and promote the general Welfare (common good) and "secure the Blessings of Liberty" relies on a clear understanding of, and strict adherence to, its underlying philosophy that each individual possesses Creator-endowed rights, as well as its structural provisions for protecting them from abuses of power by those they elect to positions of power in public office.

"Liberty"--the word--can become "liberty"--the blessing--only to those who care enough to know the difference between "license" and "tyranny": to those who will never mistake the real treasure of liberty envisioned by America's Founders for its counterfeits--rampant, unbridled license among the citizenry or abuse of power by those to whom power is delegated. Both are equally fatal to true liberty.

* "Lessons In Liberty" Series by La Vaughn G. Lewis, Free Lance Writer and Co-Editor of "Our Ageless Constitution" & "Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty"

8 posted on 09/09/2012 12:17:47 PM PDT by loveliberty2
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To: SumProVita
The democratic regime makes no judgment about right or wrong. As a result, right and wrong are defined by the polity, from which no appeal is permitted. Nothing is higher than civic will.

No judgements? Civic will? Nonsense.

Media Manipulation

9 posted on 09/09/2012 12:39:56 PM PDT by Talisker (One who commands, must obey.)
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To: Talisker

I don’t think you read the essay. It was “democracy” as defined in the often defined by philosophers. In a sense, this type of definition is already taking firm root in our nation...unfortunately.

Please remember that...pure democracy and a democratic republic....are two distinct entities.

10 posted on 09/09/2012 1:21:03 PM PDT by SumProVita
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To: loveliberty2

“Liberty”—the word—can become “liberty”—the blessing—only to those who care enough to know the difference between “license” and “tyranny”


You got it!!! ;-)

The origin of TRUE liberty is Divine.

11 posted on 09/09/2012 1:23:44 PM PDT by SumProVita
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To: SumProVita

Superb post.

In a republic, the political burden on the citizen is immense.

In a tyranny, the citizen bears no political burden.

It is our nature to select the path of least resistance and explains why free societies are so rare.

12 posted on 09/09/2012 1:32:38 PM PDT by Jacquerie (Exterminate rats.)
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To: SumProVita

Does the Church Condone Tyrannicide?


With the recent terrorist attacks, some have suggested that the leaders of these terrorist organizations be assassinated for the good of all people. What would be the Church’s teaching on this?


The moral issue here is that of tyrannicide — the killing of a tyrant, and specifically, the killing of a tyrant by a private person for the common good. Technically, there are two classes of tyrants: a tyrant by usurpation (tyrannus in titulo), a ruler who has illegitimately seized power; and a tyrant by oppression (tyrannus in regimine), a ruler who wields power unjustly, oppressively, and arbitrarily.

Tyrannicide has had support from various philosophers and theologians through the centuries, including the ancient Greeks and Romans, most notably Cicero; Catholics, most notably John of Salisbury (d. 1180) Jean Petit (d. 1411), and Suarez (d. 1617); and Protestants, most notably, Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and Calvin.

St. Thomas Aquinas gave the most substantial argument for tyrannicide. He based his position on his arguments for just war and capital punishment. St. Thomas concluded, “He who kills a tyrant (i.e. an usurper) to free his country is praised and rewarded” (In 2 Sentences, 44.2.2).

A tyrant by usurpation has illegitimately seized power and, therefore, is a criminal. When there are no other means available of ridding the community of the tyrant, the community may kill him. According to St. Thomas, the legitimate authority may condemn him to death using the normal course of law. However, if the normal course of law is not available (due to the actions of the tyrant), then the legitimate authority can proceed “informally” to condemn the tyrant and even grant individuals a mandate to execute the tyrant. A private citizen who takes the life of a tyrant acts with public authority in the same way that a soldier does in war.

The key conditions for a justifiable act of tyrannicide in this case include that the killing be necessary to end the usurpation and restore legitimate authority; that there is no higher authority available that is able and willing to depose the usurper; and that there is no probability that the tyrannicide will result in even greater evil than allowing the usurper to remain in power.

A tyrant by oppression is one who has come to power legitimately, but rules unjustly, oppressively, and arbitrarily. Here the community must confront the tyrant, and if necessary, depose him, formally or informally, according to the course of law available. In most circumstances, a private citizen morally cannot kill a tyrant by oppression, because the tyrant came to power through a legitimate means and thereby the community must depose him. If the community does depose the tyrant, according to St. Thomas, he becomes now a tyrant by usurpation and thereby may be eliminated by an act of justifiable tyrannicide in accord with the above norms.

However, if the tyrant by oppression attacks the citizen, jeopardizes the welfare of the community with the intent leading it to destruction or killing the citizens, or commits other evils, then a private citizen can morally commit an act of justifiable tyrannicide. Moreover, if because of the tyrant’s rule, a nation cannot defend itself, is on the course of destruction, and has no lawful means to depose or to condemn the tyrant, then a citizen may commit an act of justifiable tyrannicide. Interestingly, many modern political philosophers would posit that a leader who abuses power and has become tyrannical ipso facto loses legitimacy and becomes an usurper.

Please note that the Church has not definitively taught on this subject. The Church not only recognizes the authority of legitimate rulers and their duty to uphold the common good of the community, but also the duty of citizens to support a legitimate government. However, the Church also has set standards of just war and even capital punishment which would be applied to a conflict between a community against an unjust tyrannical leader. Keep in mind that an act of justifiable tyrannicide would have to be an act of last resort, when no other reasonable course of action is available to protect the community.

Klaus von Stauffenberg
Perhaps a particular example would help. In the Summer of 1944, many officers in the German military realized that their country would soon lose the war. The Allies had successfully landed in France with the D-Day Invasion and were pushing toward Germany; the Soviets were advancing from the East; the major cities of Germany were bombed heavily and frequently. To save Germany from devastating defeat and form a new government, Lieutenant Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, described as “a serious Catholic,” formed a plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20. He and other members, including Field Marshal Rommel, Field Marshal von Witzleben, and General Beck, knew that Hitler had to be removed from power, and recognized that no regular means of government existed to do so. The only course of action seemed to be justifiable tyrannicide. Von Stauffenberg reportedly met with Cardinal Count Preysing of Berlin to discuss this matter, and his eminence honored the motives and offered no theological objection to restrain him. In so doing, Cardinal Preysing placed his own life in jeopardy with the Gestapo, but was never implicated in the plot.

On the evening of July 19, von Stauffenberg stopped by a Church to pray and then retired to bed. The next day, July 20, he planted the bomb at the Wolf’s Lair at Rastenburg in East Prussia. It exploded, but failed to kill Hitler. Von Stauffenberg and three others were arrested and executed that very night; others would endure the same fate later. However, they committed, or at least tried to commit, an act of justifiable tyrannicide. (See Fitzgibbon, 20 July, p. 150, Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 1042ff, Royal, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century, p. 154.)

Again, the Church has not definitively taught on this moral issue. However, terrorism is a real evil that must be confronted and stopped. Terrorists must be identified, isolated, and brought to justice. However, if there are no means of bringing them to justice or there are communities who support, protect, and promote them, thereby thwarting the pursuit of justice, then the leaders of nations may consider an act of justifiable tyrannicide as a last resort.


Saunders, Rev. William. “Does the Church Condone Tyrannicide?” Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.


Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a “Straight Answers” column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald

13 posted on 09/09/2012 2:39:48 PM PDT by Brian Kopp DPM (Sin Makes You Stupid.)
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To: Dr. Brian Kopp

EWTN has several of Fr. William Saunders’ writings in its online library.

Thanks for another perspective regarding the topic.

14 posted on 09/10/2012 5:04:33 AM PDT by SumProVita
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