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Aristotles and Marxs Theories of Tyranny

Aristotle's Concept of Tyranny

In 384-322 B.C., Aristotle wrote The Politics by gathering materials from the Greek polis and neighboring states. To achieve this goal, he experientially analyzed and compared the countries political systems. Though The Politics is considered as one of the supreme books in politics, the book is seen as a sign of an immaculate form of Orientalism. According to Aristotle's Hellenocentric worldview, and generally acceptable view by then, the Greek citizens who were living freely in a self-governing polis, had come up with reason to the highest level of understanding that they had reached the highest level of human evolvement (Aristotle 350 BC, 18). Though Aristotle's mode of research was precise and experiential, he made mistake in distinguishing the differences accruing between the Greeks and the neighboring tribes by stating that the differences were merely as ordinary and necessary. He further presented the others as being barbarian. In essence, Aristotle's The Politics places the Greeks against the Persians through Hellenocentric exceptionalism and Orientalism.

Such Hellenocentric attitude has been inherited and expanded by the modern Westcentrism which has adopted the tradition Greek civilization as its intellectual origin, thereby recognizing Hellenocentrism as its prime example.

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Aristotle's political thought coupled tyranny and Asia as examined forthwith. In the foundation of The Politics, Aristotle clearly differentiates between the rule of a statesman from those of a sovereign and a house executive or a patriarch. He indicates the rule of a statesman as a straight ruler over free and equal citizens. Basically, the ruler is democratic in the sense that the he exercises his authority in conformity with the rules imposed by the art of statesmanship and as one who rules and is ruled in turn (Aristotle 350 BC, 31). On the contrary, the rule of a monarch and a patriarch as the plumb one over unfree and unequal, with  humans being fundamentally tyrannical in the good judgment that they wield an uncontrolled and sole authority.

Aristotle made a distinction between Greeks and barbarians, who are the Europeans and Asians or Persians. This implied that, the ancient Greeks felt themselves different from Europeans and Asians. The Greeks believed that the stock belonged to the natural master and ruling element, as it had the capacity, by virtue of its intelligence, to exercise forethought. In contrary, the barbarian believed that the stock was in a state of slavery by nature, because it lacked a natural ruling element and had the element which was able, by virtue of its physical power, to do the physical work. Therefore, by implication, the barbarians and the slaves are the same by nature (Boesche 1995, 36). Aristotle wrote that barbarous peoples should be governed by the Greeks. It was ordinary for the ancient Greeks to think that they were prepared with coherent faculty and freedom that allowed them to take part in the political life of the polis which was their highest political association. The civilized political community of the polis was supposed to pursue the common interest of liberated citizens.

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The famous Aristotelian suggestion that man is a political animal or more precisely, that man is by nature an animal in-tended to live in a polis, should be understood as a direct expression of Greek Exceptionalism. This suggestion was intended to be appropriate not to all people but to the Greeks only (Boesche 1995, 316). The common explanation by most researchers that the Aristotelian proposition, man is a political animal, applies to all people is an obsolete misapprehension. According to Aristotle, human nature is not widespread and natural to all human beings, but something revealed in the ultimate end acting as goal to be to be attained. In actuality, only Greeks, who have reached the stage of living in the polis, are certainly political animals by nature, and barbarians who are without a polis, by reason of their own nature and not of some accident constitute a poor sort of being. According to Aristotle's immaculate form of Orientalism, the life of slavery is fit for barbarians when they survive in Greece, and tyrannical rule is suitable for barbarians when they survive outside, the main reason being that they lack motive and the ruling element of free men (Aristotle 350 BC, 68).

Aristotle prefers a city-state occupied by free general public and it should be the ideal political involvement where people can pursue their familiar concerns. In contrary, those constitutions which only consider the personal interest of the rulers is all wrong and are perversions of the right forms. Additionally, when one or the few, rule with a view to the common interest, the constitutions under which they do so must necessarily be right ones. On the other hand, the constitutions directed to the personal interest of the One or the Few must unavoidably be perversions. Aristotle therefore presented kingship, nobility and the polity as correct constitutions that pursue people's common interest, and dictatorship, oligarchy and democracy as vicious (Aristotle 350 BC, 78). Among the three distortions, dictatorship is envisaged as the worst form since it is the vicious form of kingship.

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Aristotle forwards that, the capacity to overcome dictatorship is a dispensation reserved only for civilized Greeks. On the other hand, the Barbarians are viewed as servile and common households with dictatorial rule, and habituated to living under it. Aristotle notes that, while discussing the citizens' natural faculties for his ideal state, the peoples of cold countries generally, and in particularly those of Europe, are full of spirit but deficient in skill and intelligence (Boesche 1995, 26). He pointed out that the grassroots of Asia are brilliant with skill and intelligence but are deficient in spirit. Accordingly, Europeans attains no political development and show no capacity for governing others while Asians continues to be popular of subjects and slaves.  Differently, the Greek stock equipped with the best qualities of the two peoples continues to remain free and is capable of attaining the highest political development and rule every other people upon achieving political unity (Aristotle 350 BC, 183).

Further, Aristotle subdivided barbarians even more by presenting the Asians as more servile than Europeans. He postulated that these uncivilized grassroots are more servile in character than Greeks because the peoples of Asia are more servile than their Europe counterparts. In this case, Asia referred to the confines of Persia and its neighborhoods east of the Aegean Sea and it included the ancient "near east" which was far smaller than the current Asia.

According to Aristotle, human nature is defined in terms of ethnic disparities. He regarded Asians as servile, leading a slavish life without any struggle and taking oppressive rule for granted. He latter extended his definition of human nature on the basis of ethnic differences to the political community (Boesche 1995, 19) From his assessment that there ought to be no society which is meant by its nature for rule of the tyrannical type it can be Judged that, Aristotle's argument is specifically applicable only to Greek city-states while tyranny remain natural and constitutional for European and Asian barbarians.

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In line with the above analysis, it can be concluded non-Greek barbarians did not have the capacity or the right to resist tyranny. Aristotle assumed that barbarians' kingship was permanently tyrannical and impossible to overthrow. He imagined that tyrannies in Greece could and should be overturned, and that if they did exist in Greece they were mere perversions. Aristotle identified Asia as tyrannical based on his Hellenocentric preconceived notion. To him, barbarian tyranny was a natural and normal political system for the servile and slavish Asians, while the Greek tyranny was regarded as a temporary and pathological deviation. 

Aristotle's Analysis of Tyranny

Aristotle examined and formulated ideal political systems by analyzing actual politics. He described and diagnosed tyranny in comparison with other political systems. He latter examined the causes of its collapse and measures for its preservation. During his life Aristotle described the major features of tyranny as follows:

  1. It's a single-person government of the political association on the line of treating the citizens' equivalent to how a master treats slaves that is despotism.  
  2. The tyrant uses intimidation as a sign of desirable quality of superior power.
  3.  The tyrant has a bodyguard, usually a foreign, to protect him against them and rules contrary to the will of his subjects.
  4. Tyranny exists where a single person governs men, with the view to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, who are all his peers or superiors without any form of responsibility. 

Aristotle, thus, sees tyranny as a political system that transforms equal relations among free men into those between master and slaves. It does not serve the common interest of the community but serves the sole private interest of the ruler. Similarly, tyranny does not respect law nor satisfy the consent of subjects as the condition for legitimate political power whereas the kingship rules with the blessings of subjects and within the legal limit. If a tyrant makes believe to take into consideration the consent of the subjects, he purposely does so to legitimate his rule for private gains (Aristotle 350 BC, 138). But upon failibng to gain the consent of his subjects, he will rely upon the physical coercion such as a foreign bodyguards or armed forces. Tyranny is the most corrupt political regime with the tyrant corrupting his citizens and turning them into servile subjects.

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According to Aristotle, a Tyranny collapse is caused by internal quarrels among partners with the actual attacks of revolutionaries against the office and life of a tyrant. The reasons behind why subjects rebel against their tyrants are over and over again unjust oppression, fear, and contempt (Boesche 1995, 12). 

According to Aristotle, tyranny can be preserved in two ways which are basically completely opposed to one another. The first is traditional and it's widely used in the modern situation in tyrant countries while the second is the turning of tyranny into the nature of a kingship. The first method assumes that the subjects are hostile to a tyrant and the aim is to make them unable to conspire while the second aims at making the subjects indisposed to conspire.

The first method consist some measures namely:

  1. The purging of outstanding and spirited men, as they can be a threat to tyranny.
  2. The breeding of mutual distrust and discord among subjects so that they remain estranged and are unable to launch collective action against their tyrant.
  3. Encouraging ignorance among subjects and to place all people under constant surveillance of secret police therefore keeping people in isolation and atomization.
  4. Impoverishing their subjects partly to prevent people from having the means for engaging in political action and partly to keep them busy earning a living.

In contrary, the second method seeks to prolong tyranny by disguising itself as kingship. In other words the tyrant should act, or seem to act, in the role of a good player of the part of King (Aristotle 350 BC, 2). He should plan and decorate his city as if he were not a tyrant, but a trustee for its benefit. He should always show a particular enthusiasm in the cult of the gods.

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Marx's theory of tyranny

Marx's theory of tyranny focuses primarily on the political and social struggle as brought about by capitalism and democracy and this revolves around the struggle of the classes and those in full control of the means of production. In his theory, Marx does not bring out the impact of multiple races and the associated multi-cultural influences on capitalism (Marx-Engels 1978, 41). In essence, Marx's analysis of tyranny is based on the early teachings of Aristotle on the subject. The theory as postulated by Marx indicates that taking special considerations on the potential impact of the multi-racial aspect of capitalism is essential in the examination of the control of classes by the capitalist tyrants.

When minority groups gain significant economic and political power to influence policies, they capitalists form political react by forming political coalitions aimed at excluding the minorities from ever gaining access to control of the means of production. The capitalist tyrants will do everything possible suing all means at their disposal to ensure that they frustrate the public policies and low level political appointments so as to foster competition and division among the minority groups, which the chief aim of deterring them from ever climbing the political and economic ladder (Boesche 1995, 52).

In his analysis, Karl Marx views tyranny as a set of political and economic customs that have flourished over the centuries. These customs are expressed differently in different places and also in different historical time periods. Originally tyranny was not conceived as a political system but rather an essential ingredient of any political system exercised by that in authority and in control of the means of production. Tyranny then describes a set of reciprocal political and economic obligations among the nobility, the aristocracy and the rulers. Tyranny emerges naturally as a result of the decentralization of leadership (Marx-Engels 1978, 103).

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This has been common in several empires that lacked the bureaucratic infrastructure necessary to support a cavalry without having to entice the warring class. In these tyrannical empires, heavily mounted soldiers could easily secure and enact a system of hereditary rule over their allocated pieces of land and consequently were at all times ready to defend the ruling tyrants (Boesche 1995, 259).  This then brought about social, political and economic changes over their spheres of influence as they gained more and more powers over their territories. 

Marx describes tyranny as the precursor of capitalism. He says that tyranny is the economic situation in play that heralds the debut of capitalism. For Marx, tyranny is defined by the collective power of the ruling class and that this power is vested in the ruling class' ability to own all or most of the productive land, industries and the infrastructural means. He observes that under tyranny, the poor masses who form the bulk of the society only survive at the mercy of the merciless tyrants who are in control of the masses life. Marx seems to consider tyranny purely from the economic perspective (Marx-Engels 1978, 141). This is closely tied to Aristotle's who also draws close ties between tyranny and the economic systems that govern tyrannical societies. Marx' analysis seems to be a modification of Aristotle's, the only difference being that Marx's analysis draws heavily from modern time experiences.  

Marx concurs with and in some cases criticises the political systems that are brought about by tyranny. He argues that tyranny and politics are inexplicably bound and that each is to a certain extent responsible for the success of the other (Boesche 1995, 189). He further notes that tyranny can be of benefit to the poor masses if the political system puts up special mechanisms to harmonise relationships between those in the ruling class who also happen to own the means of production and the masses. In essence, Marx seems to agree that tyranny is not evil by virtue of its existence, but the way the evil in it underlies the way in which those in the tyrant class express themselves as evidenced through the enactment of oppressive policies. One other thing which is clear in Marx's analysis of tyranny theory is that tyranny grows naturally in any society. It is not brought about by conspiracies but rather by the feeling of high elf esteem by those members of the society who have actualised.

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The Marxist theory of tyranny observes that the prosperity of tyranny is shaped and moulded by the general laws of economic life as imposed by the aristocracy. Marx disputes the existence of abstract laws in tyrannical societies but rather affirms that principles of governances as decreed by the aristocracy are practical and are in most cases followed to the rather. In this kind of society, the implication of any legislation is felt across all quarters and that their enactment solicits immediate response (Marx-Engels 1978, 332). His theory points out that each tyrant society implements its own rules and that ones a given society has outlived a given period of development, it starts to enact other laws. This is in response to the changes that are necessitated with change of time. But then it is worthy nothing that the general rule and principles of tyranny is one and the same thing regardless of the society in which they are applied and also the time when they are applied whether present or past.

Marx's theory of tyranny builds heavily on his analysis of the theory of historical materialism in which he notes that societies are constantly in struggle with nature for existence. According to this theory, every member of the society is in one way or the other engaged in the production processes of the necessities for subsistence. When production is done, there are those who produce more than they need. These are the people who end up being the tyrants as they can easily own the means of production owing to their excessive production (Boesche 1995, 136). Naturally, these tyrants become the rulers of the society and with the passage of time, are able to exercise their control over wider aspects of the society's life. Marx refers to this as the theory of natural growth of tyranny. He claims that tyranny exists in every society and that it manifests in different forms from political, economic, cultural and social perspectives. In today's world capitalism is fanning the zeal of tyranny.











Much as they claim to embrace democracy and equality for all, countries all over the world are stained with the scorch of tyranny. It is not easy for any country to fully eliminate tyranny as there will always be the rich and the poor. In commerce for example, there will be the bourgeoisies who run monopolies and the general rule of economics is that not every member of the society can engaged in commercial activities (Marx-Engels 1978, 21). Therefore those with the financial muscles open up business empires and depending on the sector of the economy in which they venture, they can gain enough influence to determine which policies the state should promote or adopt. And since the existence of their businesses is essential o the economic prosperity of the nation, these people naturally attain some tyrannical powers over the society as the sate cannot wish their businesses away just like that.

The theory of tyranny as postulated by Marx indicates that it is not easy for people to pursue their common interests under a tyrannical society. This, he argues is because tyrannical constitutions enshrines more on the interests of the rulers at the expenses of the ordinary citizens. These constitutions and the principles under which they apply are merely perversions of the reality and are meant to protect the interests of those in the aristocracy in the long run. Marx observes that in all manners of fairness tyranny is an extremely dictatorial and corrupt political system that works to siphon off the fortunes of the collective efforts of the masses.

For Marx, the capacity to overcome the tyranny vests in the masses' ability to unite for the common goal. Their spirit of determinism in fighting the social and economic injustices perpetrated by the tyrants can only bear fruit if they act together (Marx-Engels 1978, 41). This inspiration Marx has borne fruits in today's modern societies as evidenced by political and economic revolutions staged in various countries against dictatorial leadership. A notable example was the military coup in Niger a few months ago that ousted president Tanja after he threatened to extend his term of office. Equally such revolutions have occurred in many other countries and their net effect is expected to be at least an improvement in the ordinary citizen's basic life.

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Karl Marx in his analysis of tyranny takes a skeptical approach. He perceives tyranny as an extreme form of social decay that should not have place in the modern society. He accuses the dictatorial system of governance for ordinary citizen's suffering while the bourgeois class enjoys the efforts of these citizens. In his view the status and interests of the people should at all times stand out of those of the state as they are the people who give the state and its rulers their identity. Further, he professes that the people should at all times keep a watchful eye on the system of governance so as to guard against changing political systems that can easily turn dictatorial and therefore bring a lot of suffering to the people (Boesche 1995, 303).

It is Marx's conviction that the absolute state of economic, social, cultural and political prosperity can only be attained when the societies manage to fully eliminate dictatorial and tyrannical leadership from them.  This piece of sentiments is equally shared by Aristotle who in his teachings about tyranny and dictatorship points out that tyranny is an arbitrary rule that is very much disrespectful of the law and that it in all its dimensions contravenes the wishes and interests of humanity.

He further says that on order to ensure perpetual existence, tyrants engage various tactics aimed at creating fear, mistrust and misunderstanding among the people and that these barbaric tactics give rise to high levels of ignorance and impoverishment among the people. Both Marx and Aristotle attach a lot of importance on the people and calls on them to collectively and individually oppose all forms of tyrannical leadership.  

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Aristotle defined tyranny as a single man's subjective rule which is discourteous of the law, goes contrary to the will of the people and practices the ruler's private interest. According to Aristotle, such tyranny seeks out to preserve itself by employing various measures such as the breeding of mutual distrust and fear through constant surveillance, encouraging ignorance and impoverishment of people, and suppressing free political action by citizens (Boesche 1995, 59). Tyranny thus represents the direct opposite to Aristotle's ideal polity, in which he intended to represent that the governance depends on the support and consent of free citizens and that political action is based on deliberative agreement. Aristotle also examined the elements maintaining tyranny, and notes that great reputations are given to citizens who cause the downfall of tyranny.

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