"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Moral Tyrant

Since its conception in ancient Greece, democracy has been highly criticized and now, more than ever, we see significant relationships between democracy and corruption. There are many forms of democracy such as direct, liberal, anarchist and socialist, and to classify them as corruptible would be unfair. Each nation is unique and consists of diverse cultures, religions, traditions and its own form of government to rule it. It is for this reason that one can not simply enforce any form of government onto a nation as exemplified by the United States’ fight to impose democracy in Iraq, a country ruled by monarchy and tyranny throughout the past century. Tyranny, often referred to as the opposition to liberty, is scarred with the actions of tyrants throughout history. Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong have blemished the 20th Century with death and hatred in the name of tyranny. I’ll take this opportunity to introduce the idea of the moral tyrant, a new form of tyranny unlike and unassociated to its predecessor.

A tyrant can be defined as “a single ruler holding vast, if not absolute power through a state or in an organization. The term carries connotations of a harsh and cruel ruler who places his/her own interests or the interests of a small oligarchy over the best interests of the general population which he/she governs or controls.” This definition does not apply to the moral tyrant.

Moral sense comprises the principles of right and wrong and conforming to standards of behavior and character based on those same principles. The moral tyrant does not rule through fear, places society’s needs’ before his own, is incorruptible and therefore, applies justice firmly and uncompromisingly. Corruption can be the result of greed, but also religion, and it is for this reason that the moral tyrant must be agnostic.

Plato's philosophical views of an ideal state or government can be contrasted with moral tyranny. According to Plato, only the few should rule and, reason and wisdom should govern. "Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,... nor, I think, will the human race." (Republic 473c-d) Plato clearly illustrates these philosopher kings as "those who love the sight of truth" (Republic 475c). Plato also argued that it was better to be ruled by a bad tyrant than a bad democracy and believed that a state linearly declines from an aristocracy to an oligarchy, then to a democracy and finally, to tyranny. In contrast to Plato’s rulers/guardians, the moral tyrant rules with reason and wisdom, but unlike the guardians, the tyrant must be elected. Let us consider the following example.

Singapore is a city-state ruled not by tyranny, but by the People’s Action Party (PAP) that has been in office since self-government was achieved. Many foreign political analysts and opposition parties argue that Singapore is essentially a one-party authoritarian state. “The Economist Intelligence Unit lists Singapore as a country with a ‘hybrid’ system comprised of democratic and authoritarian elements.” Singapore is said to be considered partially free because of its severe laws restricting freedom of speech, chewing gum, spitting, etc. Inherited from British and British Indian laws, heavy fines, caning and capital punishment are practiced.

The government justifies its tough application of justice in fear of breeding disharmony within Singapore's multi-racial and multi-religious society. Although Singapore is governed by an authoritarian-sort of rule, its economy is highly successful and is considered to be “the least-corrupt country in Asia and amongst the top ten cleanest from corruption in the world by Transparency International.”

The moral tyrant is a thought, an alternative, or an idea, but not a final solution. There is further proof that under the right circumstances and environment, the moral tyrant can blossom a nation, but in practice, it is highly questionable because of the social consequences authoritarian rule has on a nation.

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