Quotations about   tyrant

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Despotic authority attaches great importance to being considered strong, and much less to being admired for its wisdom. Besides, what does wisdom mean to a despot? It means skill in the use of power. The wise despot knows when and how to strike. This continual display of power is necessary because, at root, any dictatorship appeals to the lowest instincts of the governed: fear, aggressiveness toward one’s neighbors, bootlicking. Terror most effectively excites such instincts, and fear of strength is the wellspring of terror.

Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007) Polish journalist, photographer, poet, author
Shah of Shahs (1982)
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Added on 28-Jun-21 | Last updated 28-Jun-21
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The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions — even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)
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Added on 12-May-21 | Last updated 12-May-21
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Their guards also are such as are used in a kingly government, not a despotic one; for the guards of their kings are his citizens, but a tyrant’s are foreigners. The one commands, in the manner the law directs, those who willingly obey; the other, arbitrarily, those who consent not. The one, therefore, is guarded by the citizens, the other against them.

[οἱ γὰρ πολῖται φυλάττουσιν ὅπλοις τοὺς βασιλεῖς, τοὺς δὲ τυράννους ξενικόν: οἱ μὲν γὰρ κατὰ νόμον καὶ ἑκόντων οἱ δ᾽ ἀκόντων ἄρχουσιν, ὥσθ᾽ οἱ μὲν παρὰ τῶν πολιτῶν οἱ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοὺς πολίτας ἔχουσι τὴν φυλακήν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics [Πολιτικά], Book 3, ch. 14 / 1285a25 [tr. Ellis (1776)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:
  • "The guard of the king is, for the same cause, one that belongs to a monarch and not to a tyrant, for the citizens protect their kings with their arms; but it is aliens who guard despots. For the former rule legally over willing subjects, the latter over unwilling; so that the former are guarded by their subjects, the latter against them." [tr. Bolland (1877)]

  • "Wherefore also their guards are such as a king and not such as a tyrant would employ, that is to say, they are composed of citizens, whereas the guards of tyrants are mercenaries. For kings rule according to the law over voluntary subjects, but tyrants over involuntary; and the one are guarded by their fellow-citizens, the others are guarded against them." [tr. Jowett (1921)]

  • "Also their bodyguard is of a royal and not a tyrannical type for the same reason; for kings are guarded by the citizens in arms, whereas tyrants have foreign guards, for kings rule in accordance with law and over willing subjects, but tyrants rule over unwilling subjects, owing to which kings take their guards from among the citizens but tyrants have them to guard against the citizens." [tr. Rackham (1944)]

  • "For the same reason, their bodyguard is of a kingly rather than a tyrannical sort. For the citizens guard kings with their own arms, while a foreign element guards the tyrant, since the former rule willing persons in accordance wit the law, while the latter rule unwilling persons. So the ones have a bodyguard provided by the citizens, the other one that is directed against them." [tr. Lord (1984)]

  • "And their bodyguards are kingly and not tyrannical due to the same cause. For citizens guard kings with their weapons, whereas a foreign contingent guards tyrants. For kings rule in accord with the law and rule voluntary subjects, whereas the latter rule involuntary ones, so that the former have bodyguards drawn from the citizens, whereas the latter have bodyguards to protect them against the citizens." [tr. Reeve (2007)]

  • "Citizens guard their kings with arms; foreigners protect tyrants. This is because kings rule according to the law and with willing citizens while tyrants rule the unwilling. As a result, kings have guards from their subjects and tyrants keep guards against them." [tr. @sentantiq]

Added on 9-Jun-20 | Last updated 12-Feb-21
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AGATHA: … But after that, I’d better see some cake.
TARVEK: You know, there’s more to being an evil despot than getting cake whenever you want it.
AGATHA: If that’s what you think, then you’re doing it wrong!

Phil Foglio (b. 1956) American cartoonist
Girl Genius, Vol. 13, p. 38, “The Heterodyne Requires Cake” (10 Apr 2013)
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Added on 16-Aug-19 | Last updated 16-Aug-19
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The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him, they crush those beneath them.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848) British novelist, poet [pseud. Ellis Bell]
Wuthering Heights, ch. 11 [Heathcliff] (1847)
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Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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This hand, to tyrants ever sworn the foe,
For Freedom only deals the deadly blow;
Then sheathes in calm repose the vengeful blade,
For gentle peace in Freedom’s hallowed shade.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Written in an Album (1842)
Added on 24-Oct-16 | Last updated 24-Oct-16
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It’s said that “power corrupts,” but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable.

David Brin (b. 1950) American scientist and author
The Postman, ch. 14 (1985)

Often paraphrased: "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." See Frank Herbert.
Added on 21-Oct-16 | Last updated 21-Oct-16
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A well run tyranny is almost as scarce as an efficient democracy.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Friday [Dr. Baldwin] (1982)
Added on 17-Nov-15 | Last updated 17-Nov-15
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The hero saves us. Praise the hero! Now, who will save us from the hero?

Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) Roman politician and orator [Marcus Portius Cato]
Speech in the Roman Senate
Added on 25-Sep-15 | Last updated 25-Sep-15
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I believe any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Why Liberty?” Chicago Tribune (30 Jan 1927)
Added on 12-Aug-15 | Last updated 12-Aug-15
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If I had to choose, I should detest the tyranny of one man less than that of many. A despot always has his good moments; an assembly of despots never.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Tyranny” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
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Added on 4-Nov-14 | Last updated 4-Nov-14
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For somehow this is tyranny’s disease, to trust no friends.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
Prometheus Bound, l. 224

Alternate translation: "In every tyrant's heart there springs in the end this poison, that he cannot trust a friend."
Added on 6-Jan-09 | Last updated 9-Mar-21
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We must not conclude merely upon a man’s haranguing upon liberty, and using the charming sound, that he is fit to be trusted with the liberties of his country. It is not unfrequent to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it but their own liberty, — to oppress without control or the restraint of laws all who are poorer or weaker than themselves.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803) American revolutionary, statesman
Essay, The Advertiser (1748)
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Added on 16-Jul-08 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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He that fears you present, will hate you absent.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #2101 (1732)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-21
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Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

Aesop (620?-560? BC) Legendary Greek storyteller
Fables [Aesopica], “The Wolf and the Lamb” (6th C BC) [tr. Jacobs (1894)]
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Alternate translations:

  • "'Tis an Easie Matter to find a Staff to Beat a Dog." [tr. L'Estrange (1692)]
  • "A tyrant never wants a plea." [tr. James (1848)]
  • "The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny." [tr. Townsend (1887)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Sep-21
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If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled subordinates, then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
“Unit of One Anniversary Handbook,” Fast Company (28 Feb 1997)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Oct-15
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