What would qualify as a tyrannical government

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Herfried Münkler

To person

Dr. phil., born 1951; Professor of Theory of Politics at the Institute for Social Sciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin. [email protected]

The idea that "the middle class" should dominate the order of the community appears for the first time with the Greek legislator Solon, namely as a balance between the upper and lower classes: "Because I gave the people as much power as is enough of theirs Honor I took nothing and added nothing. But to those who were looked up for the sake of wealth, the mighty, I also only let them have what is due to them, I stood there and covered the shield of my power over both I wasn't right with them and not with them. "[1] In the seventh century BC, that was a thoroughly revolutionary idea, because up until then," the superiors "had hoi kaloi kai agathoi, the beautiful and the good, as they called themselves, had the say in every respect. But the noble families and their respective followers had fought against each other for rule, and so the cities had sunk into ever new civil wars. This struggle of the aristocratic factions is typical for the dissolution of a traditional order; it can be observed not only in the city-states of ancient Greece, but also in those of late medieval Italy: if a noble family had gained the upper hand, they drove the competing families into exile, where they then gathered new strength and alliances with the ruling families of other cities organized to eventually return to their hometown by force of arms and take power there again. After that the power struggle continued with the opposite sign, and unless one of the two sides gave up exhausted or was exterminated "stump and stick" by its opponents, this was in principle an endless struggle. In the long run it was ruinous for the politically and economically emerging cities. A solution had to be found. Solon's proposal for the rule of law as the center between the common people and the powerful aimed in this direction. The ruinous conflict should be ended by a fair compromise.

The competing aristocratic factions were organized vertically, from top to bottom. Above all in the lower strata of society, the aristocrats gathered a following who they armed, with whose help they fought the battles or tyrannized their adversaries. This mixture of thugs and task forces was funded by the aristocrats in order to get a reliable following. However, this calculation did not always work out, at least not when the ranks of the "lower" led to the emergence of the notion that in future one should no longer fight for the interests of a noble family, but for one's own interests the "lower" one. In this way, horizontal ideas of solidarity developed against the vertical following structures, in which one can see an early form of class struggle - at least that is what some historians have done.

But the cohesion of the lower ones was only rudimentary, and so they were dependent on leaders, without whom they had no capacity to act. In both the Greek cities of antiquity and the Italian cities of the late Middle Ages, these leaders became tyrants, as they were commonly known, as their rule was based not on the legitimacy of the nobility, but on the potential for violence of their supporters. The establishment of a tyranny thus became a further alternative to the struggles of the aristocratic factions and the search for a center as the rule of law. The tyrants found followers beyond their immediate entourage because they ensured peace and order. [2] Viewed ideally, there were three models of political rule: the tradition-based one of the old noble families, which was precarious because they fought against each other again and again; the violent power of the tyrants, which ensured peace and security, but was in constant danger of turning into arbitrary rule; and the idea of ​​a center-based rule of law, the problem of which, however, was that there was initially no strong social support for it.

Over time, however, the rule of the tyrants became unbearable, the taxes imposed on the citizens to finance the life guards and the increasingly luxurious lifestyle of the tyrants grew steadily, and any opposition that arose against it was suppressed by force. In short, tyranny became what it is commonly understood to be today. The formation of the middle class as a social group that laid claim to rule in the cities thus took place in confrontation with two threatening challenges: the permanent power struggles of the aristocratic factions, the "superiors", who were no longer able to develop a stable system of rule, and one themselves tyranny largely based on the lower classes, which ended the civil war within but dramatically increased the financial burden on the peace within. In terms of their mentality, the initially relatively small group of the middle class was not really interested in domination and saw it as a burden that they would have liked to avoid; In view of the existing alternatives, however, she increasingly got involved in this project.

With this, however, the Achilles heel of a rule of the middle classes becomes immediately visible: that they are too happy to withdraw from this obligation, which they feel more than others as a burden. Viewed schematically, the exercise of power by the "upper classes" due to their excessive claims to power, their ambition and their competitive awareness is dangerous for the middle classes, and the danger of domination by the "lower classes" consists in the fact that they are dependent on leaders who do not have their own interests only above the welfare of the whole association, but also above that of their immediate followers, the political order of the Middle Ages is permanently threatened by their limited interest in exercising power. They understand the order they cultivate as citizenship and not as rule, [3] developing normative central ideas of the exercise of power in their own self-interest and thus limiting the material and immaterial added value that can be drawn from holding power. Thus the great advantage of rule by the middle class, namely their reduced pleasure in power, becomes their greater danger, and that consists in the fact that the incentives for exercising power are too small to sustain their burdens and limitations. That hasn't changed until today. The rule of the middle class is in danger of drying up.