What is tyranny? There are obvious examples, but like other obvious things it can be hard to say what’s there when you press the point. Is PC tyranny? The patriarchy? Determinate being as such? All those things can seem horribly oppressive depending on which way you’re pointed. Like every other judgment, a judgment that something is a tyranny depends on your overall scheme of what makes sense, what’s worth while and what life should be like. If something suppresses the type of life that allows free play to the things you’re attached to and approve of, it’s a tyranny from your point of view. Here’s a dialog I wrote a while ago going into what’s meant by “liberal tyranny”:
Alter: So why do you say there’s a liberal tyranny in America today? So far as I can see you can pretty much do or say what you want.
Ego: But am I free to live the way someone would want to live?
Alter: What do you mean? Whatever you think is right you can do so long as you don’t break any laws and don’t interfere with what other people are doing.
Ego: That’s not true though. For example, I think it’s right to raise my children to love their country, respect adults in authority, and do what’s right. That’s a problem though if the country has adopted bad principles and the adults in authority—teachers, people on TV, whoever—insist on them and say people who teach their children the opposite should be ignored. It’s next to impossible if it’s a democratic country based on big organizations and mass communications so that there’s no place to hide unless you turn your family into hermits. And I don’t think it’s right for most people to be hermits. So in fact I can’t live the way I think is right.
Alter. That’s crazy though. You’re just saying you want things set up to favor whatever you happen to like because that makes your life easier. If they were, that would leave someone else out in the cold who likes something different. What makes you special?
Ego: I’m not special. I just think the “traditionally virtuous” life is better than the “inclusively tolerant” life. I’ll argue the point with you if you want. Look, you can’t judge whether a government is good or bad if you ignore its purposes. If a society favors the worse life over the better life it’s a bad society. If the favoritism is intentional and official, its government is evil. And if the government tries to make the worse way of life universal by universal interference—forcing all social institutions to organize themselves that way, training children that way in spite of parental objections, inventing special rules to defeat opposition—then it’s tyrannical.
Alter: But “tyranny” doesn’t mean a government that supports things you don’t like, it means a government that does oppressive and lawless things and doesn’t let the people do anything about them.
Ego: My personal feelings aren’t the issue. We’re trying to make a moral judgment—what is a tyranny—and that requires some other moral judgments. You can’t say what’s oppressive without saying what the good and normal things are that make up a human life, so you can tell whether it’s good or bad that the government suppresses this, that or the other. As someone once said (me, in fact):
A man who arbitrarily imprisons me or confiscates my property is a tyrant. Ruling elites that destroy the social institutions and relationships that make me what I am, that attack the family and abolish gender distinctions, ethnic ties, and traditional moral standards, that drive religion out of public life and tell private associations what members to choose and why, are also tyrannical.
Now maybe you think I’m just wrong about the things that make up a normally good life. You can’t say it’s all just a matter of taste, though, because if you do you can’t talk about good or bad government at all. Because everything is to somebody’s taste. And as to lawlessness and suppression of popular resistance, there’s the judicial response to Proposition 2 in Colorado and Proposition 187 in California, and judicial impostion of “gay marriage” in Massachusetts. The courts will always come up with whatever is needed to keep the program on track and be applauded for it. I call that situation lawless and tyrannical, because I call the program a bad program that’s at odds with what makes for a good pattern of human life.