What is a Tyrant?

This arose out of writing up Volume 2 of Notes Ignota (i.e. notes on Seven Surrenders – coming soon) but it seemed so apt to recent events that it is worth quoting in a more lengthy manner.

Those who have read Too Like the Lightning will have already come across the notable Enlightenment writer Denis Diderot (or those who haven’t and just know lots of stuff). He and Jean le Rond d’Alembert were key figures in the writing/compilation of the Encyclopédie – the Wikipedia of the Enlightenment.

Via the University of Michigan here is a translation of how Diderot described the nature of a tyrant (empahis mine). http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.238

Of all of the plagues that afflict humanity, there is none more fatal than that of a tyrant ; occupied solely with the objective of satisfying his passions, and those of the unworthy ministers of his power, he regards his subjects only as vile slaves, as beings of an inferior species, destined only to satisfy his caprices, and toward whom anything seems to him permissible; when pride and flattery have filled him with these ideas, the only laws he knows are those which he imposes; these absurd laws dictated by his interest and his fantasies, are unjust and vary according to his changes of heart. Because of the impossibility of exercising his tyranny on his own, and in order to force the people to submit to the yoke of his dissolute desires, he is forced to consort with corrupt ministers; his choice falls only upon wicked men who know justice only to violate it, virtue to transgress it, and laws to evade them…

…The suspicions, the guilt, and the terror besiege him from all directions; he knows no one worthy of his confidence, he has only accomplices, he has no friends. The people, exhausted, degraded, and demeaned by the tyrant , are insensitive to changes in him, the laws he has violated cannot help him; in vain he again appeals to the fatherland, but is there one where a tyrant reigns?

“Tyrant.” The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Thomas Zemanek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2009. Web. [fill in today’s date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.238&gt;. Trans. of “Tyran,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 16. Paris, 1765.

Seems suddenly very familiar.



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