Saturday, August 29, 2015

Short theses on tyranny

Tyranny, the origin of which the Greeks connected with Gyges and the Lydians, was perceived as a form of some radical usurpation—outwardly or exoterically with the usurpation of the seat of otherwise legitimate power and authority. But, as our discussion showed, the Greeks knew that this was not a simple replacement of one ruler, but another, but a fundamentally different radical form of power based on a particular art of rule—on the “usurpation,” appropriation of the minds and the souls, which was no longer as before limited to the slaves, but became extended and universalized even to the hitherto “free” men of society. In this regard, tyranny identified, developed and universalized the political and psychological methods, the principle, of new enslavement across the board. 

This fundamental insight also means that much of the existing, superficial and formal classification of political systems and regimes would also need to be revised accordingly—not every apparent tyranny might be tyranny in its proper sense, but merely a dictatorship, despotism, or an authoritarian regime. At the same, a number of systems and regimes generally not suspected of being tyrannies and even presented as anti-thesis of tyranny might under closer inspection start to be seen as concealed or effective tyrannies. For oppression as such does not define the essence of tyranny, which is the appropriation and enslavement of the mind and the psyche the tyranny’s dark id (the propensity to and desire for evil), to use a Freudian term here. Although oppression does tend to internalize itself too. As Aristotle emphasized, if the “work” is accomplished, the slave becomes the tyrant’s “friend,” because he or she becomes an extension and part of his body, psyche, and soul.

Dictatorship does not need to include the ambition and desire to break down the soul of the free men and women and to turn them into one’s own property. The same applies to authoritarian regimes, which are seen as such either because of oppression or because they curtail freedom and political rights of society or one of its more notable classes or interests. Dictatorship means a monopoly on power, though, in practice, this monopoly does not always need to be a monopoly on all and every power in society. In Rome, dictators were originally military leaders with temporary and emergency absolute powers for a very specific goal or campaign and included the power of life and death over the men under their command.  An authoritarian regime variously slights, denies or oppresses the political rights and agency of people or other notable classes and interests in society. Thus, an authoritarian regime with sharper and greater oppression and greater monopolization on power becomes practically indistinguishable from dictatorship. At the same time, tyranny that is visible and exposed (one which thus violates the basic, fundamental criterion of Gyges’ rule and its “ring”) is like a criminal that has been caught and convicted. Effective tyranny is the one which remains invisible and “friendly” in the eyes of its slaves and which thus remains free and at large.

Wrestling with tyranny, understood in this very fundamental and radical way, and/or its exposition, respectively propagation, is the innermost theme in Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus’ Histories (on the “ancient quarrel” between the Westerners, the Europeans, and the East),  Greek tragedians (all who circle around tyranny and its mysteries), Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (introduced as “this was the greatest disturbance in the history of the Hellenes … and almost the whole mankind”), Plato’s dialogues, especially the Republic, the Timaeus­, where these “principles” become the principles as if of the whole physical universe; the Critias, which describes ‘the greatest struggle Athens ever waged” and how such tyranny “would act in a great war,” the Laws, The Sophist, The Statesman; Aristotle’s corpus, notably his recommendation on how to preserve tyranny in the Politics.

Sophism was the direct product and development of this new political teaching and system. Greek philosophy led by Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates and Plato emerged as an irreconcilable revolt against it. Aristotle, taking (or usurping) the brand name of philosophy, set and restored sophism on the foundation—in the name of “philosophy,” which, as such, existed ever since.

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