Calling tyranny “stable” may seem paradoxical

Friday, September 23rd, 2022

People in developing nations are not surprised when their government turns over, Daniel Klein & Michael C. Munger note, but those of advanced democracies have grown complacent, even though we know that democracies that appear stable can capsize:

Between 1850 and 1930, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire turned into tyrannies. Since the year 2000, there has been a massive increase in the number of people living under tyranny, with fully 80 percent of the world’s population living in countries that Freedom House classifies as not having “free” government systems. In fact, as of 2021, 58 countries, with 38 percent of the world’s population, are now classified as full-on “not free” systems, having collapsed into tyranny.

It is tempting to think “it can’t happen here.” But Americans are more concerned about that than they have been in decades. In July, a CNN poll indicated that 48 percent of respondents think it is “likely” or “somewhat likely” that state actors will successfully overturn the results of a US election because their party did not win.

We, the present authors, are worried that putatively upright countries today are in danger of descending into tyranny. A tyranny — once capacities for control and despotism are constructed, in some cases including expansive government employment, dependency, and largesse — can be nearly impossible to reform. The key to the descent into tyranny, and the stability of tyranny once it is achieved, is this: Tyrants use tyranny to fortify their keep and to protect themselves against the sanctions due them for their crimes.

Calling tyranny “stable” may seem paradoxical. Tyrannies suffer from chaotic upheavals and violent paroxysms. But the state of tyranny itself is stable, like a capsized canoe. Ordered liberty is better for everyone — aside, perhaps, from the despotic faction and their affiliates. It is difficult to restore the rule of law once it is debased. Rectification would call for changes in personnel, operations, and attitudes. The relative power and privilege of the despots would disappear with rectifications. Tyrants use the tools of tyranny to protect themselves against the sanctions due them.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)


  1. Szopen says:

    I would recommend to not treat seriously anyone who uses FreedomHouse, though it’s not as bad as some other rankings. Compare their ranking for my country (Poland): the ranking was lowered, amongst others, because of ban on abortion and refusing to let immigrants in via Belarusian order. At the same time in previous years they (rightly) cited questionable practices by the Law and Justice government forgetting that similar practices were sometimes done by previous governments.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    We, ourselves, are pretty far down the road to tyranny, and we will get there.

    In Europe and the rest of the Anglophone countries, one can be arrested, tried and convicted, and fined and/or imprisoned for a variety of different kinds of “hate” speech. Discussion of the Holocaust is absolutely forbidden. A while ago, a black minister from the Caribbean was arrested in London for reading the King James Version aloud on a street corner. The charge was disorderly conduct or some such nonsense. He was eventually released without being charged.

    The US government does not directly prosecute people for speech, but its minions in the social media, schools, businesses, etc., do.

    You might also want to look up the al-Awaki family. They were American citizens of Yemeni descent. The father, 16 year-old sone, and 8 year-old daughter were murdered by drone and special forces in separate attacks.

    Then there is the saga of Julian Paul Assange, who is an Australian editor, publisher, and activist. He founded WikiLeaks. In 2010, it published a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Assange is under arrest in Britain awaiting extradition to the US. Manning was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, but only served 7 after commutation by Obama. She was held in solitary confinement for a year.

    The various leaks documented just how murderous our drone program is. Nearly every drone strike killed innocent bystanders, especially as funerals and weddings were favored targets.

    One might note also that the EU bureaucracy is a self-appointed elite who dictate policy to the European parliaments.

  3. PM says:

    Anyone wishing to consider the “chilling” of free speech by European governments might wish to consider the cases of Graham Phillips and Alina Lipp, and the conduct of the British and German governments respectively.

  4. Jim says:

    Freedom House, you say?

    “Freedom House is a non-profit, majority U.S. government funded organization in Washington, D.C.”

    Golly jeepers creepers, I wonder who could be behind this!

    Its chairman is literally, not figuratively, Michael Chertoff, whose father “was Rabbi Gershon Baruch Chertoff (1915–96), a Talmud scholar and the former leader of the Congregation B’nai Israel in Elizabeth. His mother is Livia Chertoff (née Eisen), an Israeli citizen and the first flight attendant for El Al. His paternal grandparents are Rabbi Paul Chertoff and Esther Barish Chertoff.” He is an “American attorney [and was] the second United States Secretary of Homeland Security to serve under President George W. Bush.” Just in case you aren’t getting the picture yet, “[h]e was the co-author of the USA PATRIOT Act” and “has been an advocate of enhanced technologies, such as full body scanners. His lobbying firm Chertoff Group (founded 2009) represents manufacturers of the scanners.”

    Its president is someone named, without a trace of irony, Michael J. Abramowitz. Is he who you think he is? Yes. “Before joining Freedom House in February 2017,” Michael J. Abramowitz “was director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Levine Institute for Holocaust Education. He led the museum’s genocide prevention efforts and later oversaw its public education programs.” You will be unsurprised to learn that “he was previously national editor and then White House correspondent for The Washington Post. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and former fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the Hoover Institution. A graduate of Harvard College, he is also a board member of the National Security Archive.”

    Most recently our dear Michael was quoted in a New York Times blog post titled “Parties’ Divergent Realities Challenge Biden’s Defense of Democracy”. He said, “Sadly, we have gotten away from a common understanding that democracy is a process and does not necessarily guarantee the results your side wants, that even if your team loses an election, you can fight for your policies another day. That’s a huge challenge for the president, but also for all politicians.”

    How shocking.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    We’re describing a high entropy state here. Stable chaos.

    Only an energy differential from outside can change this.

  6. Bomag says:

    “You might also want to look up the al-Awaki family.”

    Should be discussed more. Rather astonishing: a secret court handing down a death sentence on a nominal citizen.

    So let’s talk about the tyranny of the courts, ever more expensive and removed from practical considerations. Now we’ve got court cases against a former president over national security issues. Really? Is anything outside the scope of their duties? And all the federal judges issuing emergency orders to aid the tyranny of the day; and their rulings overturning votes on various issues, like gay marriage.

    So let’s consider all our tyrants. Large social media companies are plenty tyrannical. Significant sections of our cities are tyrannical “no go” zones. I’m warned away from sections of national parks because the drug lord tyrants are growing their stuff. Etc. etc.

  7. VXXC says:

    CNN democrats notice what they just did in 2020 lol.

    “In July, a CNN poll indicated that 48 percent of respondents think it is “likely” or “somewhat likely” that state actors will successfully overturn the results of a US election because their party did not win.”

    Yes, and that’s the standard now, and a perch that can’t be climbed off, nor will it be. There will be no Red Wave after about 2230 EDT on November 8th, instead the Red wave shall suddenly collapse by say oh 0300 when a vast number of Blue votes are discovered….

    Unless they finally read the Dominion Democracy Suite User manual, as I have been recommending for 2 years. Let me help! I want stable something something too…

    I recommend starting at page 50, although the good stuff starts in Chapter 4. You know, rank choice voting and all that, tabulating and importing results,

    What’s funny is CO.SOS keeps redacting and un-redacting this…BTW this is the 2019 version, which was quite operative in 2020, it’s just…democrats…

    Democrats really need to read a book.

    page 50:

    “9.1 Write-in Resolution Screen
    The Write-In Resolution screen is accessed by click on the Write-in Resolution in
    the Activities Navigation panel (General Group). See Figure 9-1 .
    Clicking Refresh beneath the Contest panel will populate the panel with all
    NOTE: The time required for the contents to appear will vary depending on the
    size of the project”

    - yes the size of the project, yes.

  8. McChuck says:

    We already live in a country where the election was stolen. The EU is a tyranny of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. So is the Deep State in DC.

    Want proof? Covid lockdowns and the clot-shot vaxx. Australia actually built and utilized concentration camps for non-compliance.

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