Why Democracies Vote for Tyrants

Plutarch, Precepts of Statecraft 802 E

“Public leadership comes from persuading people through argument. But manipulating a mob in this way differs little from the capture and herding of stupid animals.”

δημαγωγία γὰρ ἡ διὰ λόγου πειθομένων ἐστίν, αἱ δὲ τοιαῦται τιθασεύσεις τῶν ὄχλων οὐδὲν ἀλόγων ζῴων ἄγρας καὶ βουκολήσεως διαφέρουσιν.

I was reading through some passages about leadership in preparation for a virtual conference beginning tomorrow,  “Teaching Leaders and Leadership Through Classics” is going live. (You can participate by registering). The passage above made me think of Peisistratus and how he subverted a democratic state.

Aristophanes gets in on this game with his presentation of the advantages of the Unjust Argument over the just, see a friend’s post on this topic.

Herodotus, 1.59

Peisistratos becomes a tyrant through histrionic lies

“After that, [Hippokrates] had a son named Peisistratos. Then the Athenians on the coasts were in strife with those who lived inland and Megakles, the son of Almeôn, was the leader of the first group, and Lykourgos the son of Aristolaidos was the leader of the inlanders. Peisistratos, because he had designs on a tyranny, led a third faction; after he gathered his partisans and claimed to be a defender of the heartland-Greeks, he enacted the following plans. He wounded himself and his mules and then drove his wagon into the marketplace as if he had fled enemies who wished to kill him as he was traveling to the country. Because of this, he asked the people for a bodyguard under his power, since he had previously earned good repute as a general against the Megarians when he took Nisaia and displayed many other great accomplishments. The Athenian people, utterly deceived, permitted him to choose from the citizens men three hundred men who were not spear-bearers under Peisistratus but club-carriers: for they followed behind him, carrying clubs. Once these men rebelled with Peisistratos, they occupied the acropolis.”

γενέσθαι οἱ μετὰ ταῦτα τὸν Πεισίστρατον τοῦτον, ὃς στασιαζόντων τῶν παράλων καὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ πεδίου ᾿Αθηναίων, καὶ τῶν μὲν προεστεῶτος  Μεγακλέος τοῦ ᾿Αλκμέωνος, τῶν δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πεδίου Λυκούργου <τοῦ> ᾿Αριστολαΐδεω, καταφρονήσας τὴν τυραννίδα ἤγειρε τρίτην στάσιν, συλλέξας δὲ στασιώτας καὶ τῷ λόγῳ τῶν ὑπερακρίων προστὰς μηχανᾶται τοιάδε· τρωματίσας ἑωυτόν τε καὶ ἡμιόνους ἤλασε ἐς τὴν ἀγορὴν τὸ ζεῦγος ὡς ἐκπεφευγὼς τοὺς ἐχθρούς, οἵ μιν ἐλαύνοντα ἐς ἀγρὸν ἠθέλησαν ἀπολέσαι δῆθεν, ἐδέετό τε τοῦ δήμου φυλακῆς τινος πρὸς αὐτοῦ κυρῆσαι, πρότερον εὐδοκιμήσας ἐν τῇ πρὸς Μεγαρέας γενομένῃ στρατηγίῃ, Νίσαιάν τε ἑλὼν καὶ ἄλλα ἀποδεξάμενος μεγάλα ἔργα. ῾Ο δὲ δῆμος ὁ τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων ἐξαπατηθεὶς ἔδωκέ οἱ τῶν ἀστῶν καταλέξασθαι ἄνδρας τριηκοσίους οἳ δορυφόροι μὲν οὐκ ἐγένοντο Πεισιστράτου, κορυνηφόροι δέ· ξύλων γὰρ κορύνας ἔχοντες εἵποντό οἱ ὄπισθε. Συνεπαναστάντες δὲ οὗτοι ἅμα Πεισιστράτῳ ἔσχον τὴν ἀκρόπολιν. ῎Ενθα δὴ ὁ Πεισίστρατος

Peisistratos is exiled after ruling for a short time. But, with the help of a foreign tyrant, regains the tyranny through more deceit and stupidity

Image result for Pisistratus

Herodotus, 1.60

“Once Peisistratos accepted this argument and agreed to these proposals, they devised the dumbest plan for his return that I can find, by far, if, even then, those in Athens, said to be among the first of the Greeks in wisdom, devised these things. (From antiquity, the Greek people have been set apart from barbarians by being more clever and freer from silly stupidity). In the country there was a Paianiean woman—her name was Phuê—and she was three inches short of six feet and altogether fine looking. After they dressed her up in a panoply, they put her in a chariot, and adorned her with the kind of scene which would make her a completely conspicuous sight to be seen. Then they drove her into the city, sending heralds out in front of her, who were announcing after they entered the city the words they had been assigned, saying something like “O Athenians, receive Peisistratos with a good thought, a man Athena herself honored beyond all men as she leads him to her own acropolis.” They went everywhere saying these things. And as soon as the rumor circulated among the people, they believed that the woman was Athena herself: then they were praying to the woman and were welcoming Peisistratos!

After he regained the tyranny in the way I have narrated, Peisistratos married the daughter of Megakles in accordance with the agreement they made. But because he already had young sons and since the family of the Alkmeaonids were said to be cursed, he did not wish to have children with his newly wedded wife, and he was not having sex with her according to custom…”

᾿Ενδεξαμένου δὲ τὸν λόγον καὶ ὁμολογήσαντος ἐπὶ τούτοισι Πεισιστράτου, μηχανῶνται δὴ ἐπὶ τῇ κατόδῳ πρῆγμα εὐηθέστατον, ὡς ἐγὼ εὑρίσκω, μακρῷ  (ἐπεί γε ἀπεκρίθη ἐκ παλαιτέρου τοῦ βαρβάρου ἔθνεος τὸ ῾Ελληνικὸν ἐὸν καὶ δεξιώτερον καὶ εὐηθείης ἠλιθίου ἀπηλλαγμένον μᾶλλον), εἰ καὶ τότε γε οὗτοι ἐν ᾿Αθηναίοισι τοῖσι πρώτοισι λεγομένοισι εἶναι ῾Ελλήνων σοφίην μηχανῶνται τοιάδε. ᾿Εν τῷ δήμῳ τῷ Παιανιέϊ ἦν γυνή, τῇ οὔνομα ἦν Φύη, μέγαθος ἀπὸ τεσσέρων πήχεων ἀπολείπουσα τρεῖς δακτύλους καὶ ἄλλως εὐειδής. Ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα σκευάσαντες πανοπλίῃ, ἐς ἅρμα ἐσβιβάσαντες καὶ προδέξαντες σχῆμα οἷόν τι ἔμελλε εὐπρεπέστατον φανέεσθαι ἔχουσα, ἤλαυνον ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, προδρόμους κήρυκας προπέμψαντες, οἳ τὰ ἐντεταλμένα ἠγόρευον ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, λέγοντες τοιάδε· «῏Ω ᾿Αθηναῖοι, δέκεσθε ἀγαθῷ νόῳ Πεισίστρατον, τὸν αὐτὴ ἡ ᾿Αθηναίη τιμήσασα ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα κατάγει ἐς τὴν ἑωυτῆς ἀκρόπολιν.» Οἱ μὲν δὴ ταῦτα διαφοιτῶντες ἔλεγον, αὐτίκα δὲ ἔς τε τοὺς δήμους φάτις ἀπίκετο ὡς ᾿Αθηναίη Πεισίστρατον κατάγει, καὶ <οἱ> ἐν τῷ ἄστεϊ πειθόμενοι τὴν γυναῖκα εἶναι αὐτὴν τὴν θεὸν προσεύχοντό τε τὴν ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἐδέκοντο Πεισίστρατον. ᾿Απολαβὼν δὲ τὴν τυραννίδα τρόπῳ τῷ εἰρημένῳ ὁ Πεισίστρατος κατὰ τὴν ὁμολογίην τὴν πρὸς Μεγακλέα γενομένην γαμέει τοῦ Μεγακλέος τὴν θυγατέρα. Οἷα δὲ παίδων τέ οἱ ὑπαρχόντων νεηνιέων καὶ λεγομένων ἐναγέων εἶναι τῶν᾿Αλκμεωνιδέων, οὐ βουλόμενός οἱ γενέσθαι ἐκ τῆς νεογάμου γυναικὸς τέκνα ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

Post-fact is pre-fascism?  Seems like an understatement…

Polybius has an explanation for this:

Polybius, Histories 6.4

“The proof that what I have said is true comes from the following. It must not be asserted that every well-made government is a principality, but only the government which is assented to voluntarily and which is governed by reason rather than fear and force. Nor should we consider every oligarchy to be an aristocracy: the latter emerges only when men rule because they are the most just and the most prudent. In a similar way, a true democracy is not that in which the majority has the power to do whatever it wants, but what counts is if the will of the majority enforces observance of its traditional laws, honor to the customary laws, duty to parents, respect to elders, obedience to the laws—then it is right to call a state a democracy.

From this, we can isolate six types of government: the three I have just mentioned and three additional, related forms, monarchy, oligarchy, and mob rule. The first of these, monarchy, arises naturally, and without machination. The second follows it and develops from it with preparation and adjustment. Once this has transformed into the evil form akin to it, tyranny, and aristocracy develops from the dissolution of both. When aristocracy devolves into oligarchy as is natural, and the people turn into rage over the injustice of their leaders, democracy emerges. Over time, mob-rule develops from outrage and illegality. Anyone can understand clearly from this pattern that the things I am saying now are true, based on the nature of each government in its origins and its evolution.”

polybius

ὅτι δ᾽ ἀληθές ἐστι τὸ λεγόμενον ἐκ τούτων συμφανές. [2] οὔτε γὰρ πᾶσαν δήπου μοναρχίαν εὐθέως βασιλείαν ῥητέον, ἀλλὰ μόνην τὴν ἐξ ἑκόντων συγχωρουμένην καὶ τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ πλεῖον ἢ φόβῳ καὶ βίᾳ κυβερνωμένην: [3] οὐδὲ μὴν πᾶσαν ὀλιγαρχίαν ἀριστοκρατίαν νομιστέον, ἀλλὰ ταύτην, ἥτις ἂν κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν ὑπὸ τῶν δικαιοτάτων καὶ φρονιμωτάτων ἀνδρῶν βραβεύηται. [4] παραπλησίως οὐδὲ δημοκρατίαν, ἐν ᾗ πᾶν πλῆθος κύριόν ἐστι ποιεῖν ὅ, [5] τι ποτ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸ βουληθῇ καὶ πρόθηται παρὰ δ᾽ ᾧ πάτριόν ἐστι καὶ σύνηθες θεοὺς σέβεσθαι, γονεῖς θεραπεύειν, πρεσβυτέρους αἰδεῖσθαι, νόμοις πείθεσθαι, παρὰ τοῖς τοιούτοις συστήμασιν ὅταν τὸ τοῖς πλείοσι δόξαν νικᾷ, τοῦτο καλεῖν δεῖ δημοκρατίαν. διὸ καὶ γένη μὲν ἓξ εἶναι ῥητέον πολιτειῶν, [6] τρία μὲν ἃ πάντες θρυλοῦσι καὶ νῦν προείρηται, τρία δὲ τὰ τούτοις συμφυῆ, λέγω δὲ μοναρχίαν, ὀλιγαρχίαν, ὀχλοκρατίαν. [7] πρώτη μὲν οὖν ἀκατασκεύως καὶ φυσικῶς συνίσταται μοναρχία, ταύτῃ δ᾽ ἕπεται καὶ ἐκ ταύτης γεννᾶται μετὰ κατασκευῆς καὶ διορθώσεως βασιλεία. [8] μεταβαλλούσης δὲ ταύτης εἰς τὰ συμφυῆ κακά, λέγω δ᾽ εἰς τυραννίδ᾽, αὖθις ἐκ τῆς τούτων καταλύσεως ἀριστοκρατία φύεται. [9] καὶ μὴν ταύτης εἰς ὀλιγαρχίαν ἐκτραπείσης κατὰ φύσιν, τοῦ δὲ πλήθους ὀργῇ μετελθόντος τὰς τῶν προεστώτων ἀδικίας, γεννᾶται δῆμος. [10] ἐκ δὲ τῆς τούτου πάλιν ὕβρεως καὶ παρανομίας ἀποπληροῦται σὺν χρόνοις ὀχλοκρατία. [11] γνοίη δ᾽ ἄν τις σαφέστατα περὶ τούτων ὡς ἀληθῶς ἐστιν οἷα δὴ νῦν εἶπον, ἐπὶ τὰς ἑκάστων κατὰ φύσιν ἀρχὰς καὶ γενέσεις καὶ μεταβολὰς ἐπιστήσας.

anaklosis

4 thoughts on “Why Democracies Vote for Tyrants

  1. Aristophanes says something related to the Plato line in the debate between Just and Unjust Logos in Clouds, where the Unjust Logos claims to be more effective among the masses who lose their ability to reason.

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