Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

FAREWELL, then, Slobbo of Serbia, last of the European tyrants. In fact, there was no need for you to go. Aristotle (384-322 Bc) offers quite a handy list of top tips for tyrants who want to stay in power.

In his Politics, Aristotle points out that one sort of tyrant has only three ends in view - to keep the people demoralised, mistrustful and weak. With the people in that condition he will stay in power because they lack the spirit of enterprise, the confidence to put their faith in each other and the sheer manpower needed to force a tyrant out.

That was clearly Slobbo's way, and it proved as disastrous as one would expect. But Aristotle offers another view of tyranny. The alternative tyrant should preserve financial probity by publishing accounts of revenue and expenditure (this will stop him bribing his chums); should try to inspire respect, not fear, but if he cannot do that, should at least acquire a healthy military reputation; should honour the gods and bestow honours, in person, on those with special abilities; should not humiliate those under him or exploit his position (for `when men are angry they do not spare themselves'); and should make people feel they are more secure under him than under any other regime. …

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