Democratic Underground

Against Tyranny
October 24, 2001
by Thomas Sturgess

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There is one force that makes us liberals more than any other. Tyranny in all its forms.

Why am I a Liberal? It's a question that I feel you should ask yourself every now and then. The reason that I can give is this.

Liberalism is against tyranny.

This has been the case throughout history, be it freeing the slaves, fighting for democracy or molding policies that aid the poor. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," although being Jefferson this was rather hypocritical as he shrank from violence and did not believe that God exists, but more of his hypocrisy later.

Tyranny is, as defined by the Oxford English dictionary, "Arbitrary or oppressive exercise of power; unjustly severe use of ones authority: despotic treatment or influence; harsh, severe or unmerciful action with tyrannical actions proceeding." This treatment can come from Governments, as we all know, witness the antics of despots from Ivan the Terrible right through to General Pinochet. This is something that liberals have been against since the dawn of time. It is tyranny that liberalism opposes more than anything else. Indeed the idea of the tyrannical state is the basis for the ideology that we all know as libertarianism.

However, libertarianism trips up because it fails to recognize one vital element of tyranny. This element is the simple truth that private individuals, businesses and other non-government bodies can also carry out tyrannical actions. It is the simple falsehood which causes libertarianism to fail, and which conservatives, the traditional supporters of tyranny use in order to actively promote tyranny.

Slavery is a case in point here. According to all liberals (and indeed anyone with any notion of right and wrong) slavery is utterly evil and, of course tyrannical. However, because private individuals brought, sold and owned slaves rather than the state the libertarian ideology does not see slavery for the evil that it truly was. This is the critical weakness in libertarian thinking.

It is for this reason that the slave owning founding fathers tended to sign up to this ideology, because it acted as a convenient cover for their own wrongdoing and hypocrisy. Let us not forget that the founding fathers of America were the same people who would cry for freedom one minute and lead slaves through the streets of Virginia in chains the next. Thomas Jefferson is a good example of this.

In recent years, as we all know, conservatives, the traditional supporters of tyranny throughout the ages have latched onto this philosophy, crying freedom at every opportunity. The critical weakness of libertarian thinking, namely that it is incapable of accepting that anyone other than the state can do anything wrong has been exploited by conservatives with increasing virulence since the mid-1970's. Why is this? Well it allows conservatives to justify policies such as welfare reform, the abolition of minimum wage laws, polluting the air that others breathe, persecuting anyone of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation, and withdrawing aid to those who need medical treatment. These actions are clearly tyrannical but which involve despotism being carried out by organizations and individuals other than the state.

According to conservative and libertarian thinking if a government official, if, say a tax collector beats you up and leaves you for dead that is tyranny, but if a private citizen or a business does it, well that's all just hunky-dory. This is nonsense and we as liberals must not be afraid to stand up and say so, to expose conservatives who speak of freedom for the idiots that they really are. Conservative "freedom" is merely the selfish freedom to carry out actions that will impose tyranny on other people. Liberal freedom is the freedom to live your life free from tyranny in all its forms.

Of course different people define tyranny in different ways and this allows for a great deal of debate amongst liberals about what actions and policies can be described as tyrannical. The "war on terrorism" is a case in point. I personally support the war on terror as I believe that the Taliban are perhaps the most tyrannical regime on the planet and that the only plausible way of removing the tyranny of fear that surrounds us at this dark moment in history is victory. Other people however, view all war as tyrannical and oppose the war on terror because they feel that it will lead to tyrannical actions on our part. Both points of view are entirely valid.

It is for this reason that liberalism must continue to be a broad church, welcoming everyone from moderates to outright socialists into its arms. Only together can we progress forward to a better world for all of us free from the forces of tyranny that have blighted us throughout history.