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 Benevolent Tyranny

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PostSubject: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 1:45 am

Ok, I have never studied political theory, nor any serious philosophy, so I just want to ask can there be such a thing? It probably has been discussed elsewhere by much more erudite persons than I.

Firstly, the definition of tyranny I am using is possibly rather self-defined. Tyranny in this instance is the transgression of the rights of the individual. Be it the right to life, the right to justice, the right to property without interference, the right to privacy, and the right to be viewed as an individual, i.e. no collective punishment.
Could there possibly be an instance, where a political power could use tyranny in order to produce a beneficial result? Clearly from a deontological point of view this is in possible. Tyranny is wrong is wrong. There can be no capacity in which the use of tyranny can then be considered right or benevolent. However, from a consequentialist point of view, if tyranny was used in order to achieve a positive, is it not then benevolent? Are there circumstances wherein this is possible?

I think this the realm of dictators, as I think it is perfectly possibly to have a dictator, or even an absolute monarch, who does not undermine the individual rights. Therefore 'benevolent dictators' (which is probably a subjective term anyway) cannot necessarily be included within the term.

I was considering the position of Israel. Some of her actions in the west bank are, on the basis of the definition I outlined, tyrannical. Consider the rights of the palestinians suicide bomber family members. Their rights as individuals are undermined when their houses are destroyed as part of a collective punishment. There rights to property are ignored. They are not tried by jury, no conviction is made, the justice administered is arbitrary. However, it is done for a benevolent purpose. (I realise that many will have difficulty with this, and may disagree). It's reason is to protect its citizens from a greater crime, which consequentialists would argue, outweighs the transgression of individual rights. Can tyranny be considered benficial in such a regard?

Likewise with Zimbabwe. Say for instance, the original land confiscation by Mugabe was a true redistribution of land among poor zimbabweans, and not merely for government lackies and allies, could that too have been considered a benevolent tyranny? True it would have ridden roughshod over the rights of the whites involved, but had its aim been beneficial, i.e. the elimination of poverty within zimbabwe, would it not have then been a benevolent tyranny?

I'm sure there are many more examples, including perhaps the french revolution, and to an extent soviet collectivisation which one could refer to, it's just something I have been thinking about all day.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 1:58 am

I don't think that there's any particular doubt that one could assemble a list of cases where the rights of individuals or communities had been run over roughshod, but where the end result would nevertheless be considered good - by a certain group. Once can even assemble examples where the "certain group" is the majority.

What one cannot do is assemble a list of such cases where everyone agreed that the outcome was good - because one always has at the very least the people whose rights were set aside. In addition, I myself would disagree vehemently with your Israeli example, so the question of whether the majority would agree is up for grabs.

Taking that along a bit further, is the consent of the majority an acceptable marker, given there doesn't seem to be any other available? Answer: the Holocaust. Not so much the killing, which the majority of Germans might not have agreed with - but the setting aside of Jewish rights, which it appears the majority of Germans did agree with.

So my answer would be no, not at all. It is only possible to think of examples that were satisfactory to one side, as in the Israeli example - the Israelis are happy with it, the Palestinians are not. It should be no surprise, of course, that setting aside the rights of those you perceive as a problem leads to your satisfaction - that's virtually a tautology.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 2:22 am

Of course, indeed that is why I approached it from a consequentialist/utilitarian point of view, and not from a deontological point of view. It is only if one considers the view that one wishes to make the most amount of people happy as possible, that it is possible to balance out wrongs, that benevolent tyranny can ever be considered legitimacy. If one, however, says that depriving the rights of one individual is always wrong and always a malevolent act on that basis regardless of the consequence, that it should thus never be done, then benevolent tyranny is an oxymoron. It would be impossible to achieve benevolence through malevolent acts.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:11 am

riadach wrote:
Of course, indeed that is why I approached it from a consequentialist/utilitarian point of view, and not from a deontological point of view. It is only if one considers the view that one wishes to make the most amount of people happy as possible, that it is possible to balance out wrongs, that benevolent tyranny can ever be considered legitimacy. If one, however, says that depriving the rights of one individual is always wrong and always a malevolent act on that basis regardless of the consequence, that it should thus never be done, then benevolent tyranny is an oxymoron. It would be impossible to achieve benevolence through malevolent acts.

Only God sees all ends, my son.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:13 am

ibis wrote:
riadach wrote:
Of course, indeed that is why I approached it from a consequentialist/utilitarian point of view, and not from a deontological point of view. It is only if one considers the view that one wishes to make the most amount of people happy as possible, that it is possible to balance out wrongs, that benevolent tyranny can ever be considered legitimacy. If one, however, says that depriving the rights of one individual is always wrong and always a malevolent act on that basis regardless of the consequence, that it should thus never be done, then benevolent tyranny is an oxymoron. It would be impossible to achieve benevolence through malevolent acts.

Only God sees all ends, my son.

Let justice be done though the heavens fall.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:15 am

Justice is a good in itself.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:21 am

ibis wrote:
Justice is a good in itself.

Isn't that the problem? How shall we determine justice? Is it by an adherence to an objective set of moral laws, or by analysing consequences. I would lean towards the former, with a healthy dose of the latter. What I do wonder about though is, how do atheists reconcile an objective set of moral laws with their universal view?

I may be ignorantly wandering into a discussion I won't be able to handle.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:37 am

riadach wrote:
ibis wrote:
Justice is a good in itself.

Isn't that the problem? How shall we determine justice? Is it by an adherence to an objective set of moral laws, or by analysing consequences. I would lean towards the former, with a healthy dose of the latter. What I do wonder about though is, how do atheists reconcile an objective set of moral laws with their universal view?

I may be ignorantly wandering into a discussion I won't be able to handle.

Alternatively, you may be dragging an atheist into a discussion they can't handle!

It's certainly a hard question. For the religious, it's relatively trivial - God says "x is good"...so x is good. For the atheist, obviously, that's not an objective set of moral laws, but a man-made and particularly subjective set prone to the whims of the founders of the religion, the interpreters of "God's will", and not infrequently, the local morality of distant times and places.

First, we need to note that there is no "standard" atheist - there is no atheist canon, and no general set of laws or justifications for laws that applies to all atheists, so one atheist can answer only for themself.

Now, speaking for myself, I would say that most of humanity has an inbuilt desire for equity/justice, and that all law codes spring from that desire. It's not even a specifically human trait, since apes also seem to have it - which suggests it has evolutionary advantages.

This desire appears to go along with our recognition of others as similar to ourselves. In that sense, "do as you would be done by" is the basis of all law. People who lack this basic recognition of the other as deserving in the same way as ourselves are psychopaths or sociopaths - a form of strategy that is successful only in a population that is predominantly empathetic.

From my own perspective, I apply a derivation of the basic principle - I hold that it is wrong to treat anything else as having an existence solely in terms of one's own existence (in brief - "everything is real"). For that reason, the Israeli action in respect of the Palestinians is wrong, to me, because it involves the Israelis treating the Palestinians as an Israeli problem, rather than as having a separate existence.

Most laws and systems of laws, then, flow out from, and are an attempt to approach, equity. They are better or worse to the extent that they approach the goal of perfect equity.
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 4:19 am

ibis wrote:


Now, speaking for myself, I would say that most of humanity has an inbuilt desire for equity/justice, and that all law codes spring from that desire. It's not even a specifically human trait, since apes also seem to have it - which suggests it has evolutionary advantages.

The main issue I would have with that, is that it argues that our morality is a result of evolution. Now, this may seem ok, and given I believe that moral law was revealed in order to produce a cohesive society with which we could advance, I can see why the same system would be produced through the process of evolution. However, it does indeed leave the question open, that if our evolutionary circumstances were to change, would our objective morality and our view of equity and justice then change? Would that not equally make us guilty of being subject to, as you put it yourself, a local subjective morality of a distant time and place? Would you be happy living in a world where right and wrong were variables?


Quote :

This desire appears to go along with our recognition of others as similar to ourselves. In that sense, "do as you would be done by" is the basis of all law. People who lack this basic recognition of the other as deserving in the same way as ourselves are psychopaths or sociopaths - a form of strategy that is successful only in a population that is predominantly empathetic.

Most laws and systems of laws, then, flow out from, and are an attempt to approach, equity. They are better or worse to the extent that they approach the goal of perfect equity.

I always wondered is there a fatal flaw in the golden rule, one that Jesus himself (sorry, I don't want to drag this into a religious discussion) seems to have uncovered. Reciprocity can be negative as well as positive, and it can very easily be turned into an eye for an eye scenario. How exactly should one treat an avowed enemy. On the basis of reciprocity, how exactly does one respond to someone by whom you have already been wronged? The ball is then in your court, are you then free to do what you wish to compensate your injury? John kicked me, so am I free to do anything to john from which I would expect a kick? I understand the phrase is conditional, but the conditional and the ideal situation, is frequently undermined by the actual.

Secondly, it does not seem to answer the question of benevolent tyranny for example. How would you balance not doing an evil to one group, and doing a great benefit to another? In reciprocity, one could argue that one shouldn't do an evil, as one wouldn't like such an evil done to you. However, one should do good, as one would like such a good done to you. Both then are in conflict, and so in such an instances, one would have to rely on a consequentialism/utilitarianism, weighing the good and evils of each action and hoping they cancel eachother out. Indeed, the merits of reciprocity are frequently weighed by a consequentialism, which we admit is not always a satisfactory basis for establishing justice or equity.



Establishing equity or justice by the principle of reciprocity is thus a difficult task, and not only for the above reason. It cannot define a crime for instance, nor can it define the seriousness of it, as it is a completely subjective standard relying on an individual's tolerance. Once again, a certain degree of consequentialism would need to be applied in order to judge what a crime is, by assessing how serious their consequences are.

So if one wishes to establish justice, not on the basis of an objective morality where matters are clearly right and wrong, then one needs to apply a certain degree of consequentialism. This may mean that condemning tyranny as unjust outright may be rather unfair, given that justice is based on a degree of consequentialism, the consequences of that tyranny need also to be assessed.

Now my head hurts.


Quote :

From my own perspective, I apply a derivation of the basic principle - I hold that it is wrong to treat anything else as having an existence solely in terms of one's own existence (in brief - "everything is real"). For that reason, the Israeli action in respect of the Palestinians is wrong, to me, because it involves the Israelis treating the Palestinians as an Israeli problem, rather than as having a separate existence.

Nothing really I can disagree with there.


Last edited by riadach on Wed Apr 23, 2008 2:05 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Benevolent Tyranny   Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:24 am

No.
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