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Strangely, it is always America that is described as degenerate and 'fascist', while it is solely in Europe that actual dictatorships and totalitarian regimes spring up. ~ Jean-François Revel

Tyranny is a despotic or autocratic form of government, in which the exercise of power is concentrated in one individual without being impeded by constitutional safeguards. Its modern form is dictatorship.


  • The fundamental article of my political creed is, that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor; equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical.
  • Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.
  • Ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ ὅτι οἷα ἡ πρόθεσίς ἐστιν ἀδικεῖν, παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ δικαία ἀπολογία ἰσχύει.
    • The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.
      • George Fyler Townsend (1887)
    • Any excuse will serve a tyrant.
      • Joseph Jacobs (1894)
    • Aesop The Wolf and the Lamb from Aesop's Fables (c. 620-560 BC).
  • The tyrant now
    Trusts not to men: nightly within his chamber
    The watch-dog guards his couch, the only friend
    He now dare trust.
  • You don't get everything you want.  A dictatorship would be a lot easier.
    • George W. Bush, responding to the difficulties of governing Texas, "The Taming of Texas", Governing Magazine (July 1998); also cited in Is our Children Learning?: The Case Against George W. Bush (2000) by Paul Begala.
  • Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.
  • Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    • Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Creighton, dated April 3, 1887; cited from David Mathew Acton: The Formative Years (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946) p. 185.
    • Usually misquoted as "All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
  • Nature has left this tincture in the blood,
    That all men wou'd be tyrants if they cou'd.
    • Daniel Defoe The History of the Kentish Petition, Addenda, line 11; cited from The Shortest Way with Dissenters, and Other Pamphlets (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974) p. 100.
  • Under dictatorship, the people in prison are always superior to the people who put them there.
  • Fear not the tyrant; fear the tyrant's wake.
    • Tom Heehler The Well-Spoken Thesaurus (Sourcebooks, 2011).
  • I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush (September 23, 1800); in Andrew A. Lipscomb, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1903), vol. 10, p. 175. Carved at the base of the dome, interior of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.
  • Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.
  • Britannia fertilis provincia tyrannorum.
    • Britain, a province fertile in tyrants.
    • St. Jerome, Epistola 133.9; translation from Arthur Wade-Evans The Emergence of England and Wales (Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1959) p. 119.
  • Est ergo tyranni et principis hæc differentia sola, quod hic legi obtemperat, et ejus arbitrio populum regit, cujus se credit ministrum.
    • Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant.
    • John of Salisbury Policraticus Bk. 4, ch. 1.; John Dickinson (trans.) The Statesman's Book of John of Salisbury [1].
  • I consider that in no government power can be abused long. Mankind will not bear it. If a sovereign oppresses his people to a great degree, they will rise and cut off his head. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that will keep us safe under every form of government.
  • Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas.
    • Helen Keller, as quoted in the Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (13 April 2003).
  • As soon as the prince sets himself up above law, he loses the king in the tyrant. He does, to all intents and purposes, unking himself by acting out of and beyond that sphere which the constitution allows him to move in; and in such cases he has no more right to be obeyed than any inferior officer who acts beyond his commission.
    • Jonathan Mayhew A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (1750); cited from John Wingate Thornton (ed.) The Pulpit of the American Revolution (New York: Sheldon, 1860) pp. 94-5.
  • Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as Individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality, is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.
  • Where there have been powerful governments, societies, religions, public opinions, in short wherever there has been tyranny, there the solitary philosopher has been hated; for philosophy offers an asylum to a man into which no tyranny can force it way, the inward cave, the labyrinth of the heart.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, trans. Hollingdale, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.3, p. 139
  • Whenever kingship approaches tyranny it is near its end, for by this it becomes ripe for division, change of dynasty, or total destruction, especially in a temperate climate … where men are habitually, morally and naturally free.
    • Nicole Oresme, ̆De Moneta (c. 1360), Charles Johnson's translation, The De Moneta of Nicholas Oresme, and English Mint Documents (London, 1956), Ch. 25: "That a Tyrant cannot be lasting."
  • All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. An heritable crown, or an heritable throne, or by what other fanciful name such things may be called, have no other significant explanation than that mankind are heritable property. To inherit a government, is to inherit the people, as if they were flocks and herds.
    • Thomas Paine The Rights of Man (1791), pt. 2; cited from The Political Writings of Thomas Paine (Charlestown: George Davidson, 1824) vol. 2, p. 166.
  • Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
  • Tyrants in the course of time must eventually be overthrown because of the continual opposition of the oppressed. It is an unchanging Law, a constant rule, the penalty is certain, albeit that it is very slow coming to fruition.
    • Francesco Mario Pagano, Saggi Politici (1783), cited from Carlo Pisacane's La Rivoluzione, Troubador, 2010, p. 160.
  • La tyrannie est toujours mieux organisée que la liberté.
    • Tyranny is always better organized than freedom.
    • Charles Péguy Œuvres en prose: 1909-1914 (Paris: Gallimard, 1959) p. 1018; Ann and Julian Green (trans.) Basic Verities, Prose and Poetry (New York: Pantheon, 1943) p. 153.
  • Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my Lords, that where law ends tyranny begins!
  • This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,
    Was once thought honest.
  • Bleed, bleed, poor country!
    Great Tyranny! lay thou thy basis sure,
    For goodness dares not check thee!
  • O nation miserable,
    With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd
    When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?
  • For what is he they follow? truly, gentlemen,
    A bloody tyrant, and a homicide:
    One rais'd in blood, and one in blood establish'd;
    One that made means to come by what he hath,
    And slaughter'd those that were the means to help him;
    A base foul stone, made precious by the foil
    Of England's chair, where he is falsely set;
    One that hath ever been God's enemy.
  • The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.
    • Wole Soyinka The Man Died (New York: Harper & Row, 1972) p. 13.
  • Les despotes eux-mêmes ne nient pas que la liberté ne soit excellente; seulement ils ne la veulent que pour eux-mêmes, et ils soutiennent que tous les autres en sont tout à fait indignes.
    • Despots themselves don't deny that freedom is a wonderful thing, they only want to limit it to themselves; they argue that everyone else is unworthy of it.
    • Alexis de Tocqueville L'Ancien régime et la révolution (Paris: Michel L évy Frères, [1856] 1859) p. 21; François Furet and Françoise Mélonio (eds.), Alan S. Kahan (trans.) The Old Regime and the Revolution vol. 1, p. 88.
  • Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.
    • From an anonymous tribute to John Bradshaw, current in America by 1773; cited from Charles Symmons The Life of John Milton (London: Whittaker, [1806] 1822) p. 229.
    • Sometimes wrongly said to be inscribed on Bradshaw's gravestone.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 825.
  • A king ruleth as he ought, a tyrant as he lists, a king to the profit of all, a tyrant only to please a few.
  • Th' oppressive, sturdy, man-destroying villains,
    Who ravag'd kingdoms, and laid empires waste,
    And in a cruel wantonness of power,
    Thinn'd states of half their people, and gave up
    To want the rest.
  • Tyranny
    Absolves all faith; and who invades our rights,
    Howe'er his own commence, can never be
    But an usurper.
  • Think'st thou there is no tyranny but that
    Of blood and chains? The despotism of vice—
    The weakness and the wickedness of luxury—
    The negligence—the apathy—the evils
    Of sensual sloth—produce ten thousand tyrants,
    Whose delegated cruelty surpasses
    The worst acts of one energetic master,
    However harsh and hard in his own bearing.
  • Tyranny
    Is far the worst of treasons. Dost thou deem
    None rebels except subjects? The prince who
    Neglects or violates his trust is more
    A brigand than the robber-chief.
  • N'est-on jamais tyran qu'avec un diadème?
  • Tyran, descends du trône et fais place à ton maître.
    • Tyrant, step from the throne, and give place to thy master.
    • Pierre Corneille, Heraclius, I, 2.
  • Tremblez, tyrans, vous êtes immortels.
    • Tremble, ye tyrants, for ye can not die.
    • Jacques Delille, L'Immortalité de l'Âme.
  • There is nothing more hostile to a city than a tyrant, under whom in the first and chiefest place, there are not laws in common, but one man, keeping the law himself to himself, has the sway, and this is no longer equal.
    • Euripides, Suppliants, 429. Oxford translation (revised by Buckley).
  • Il n'appartient, qu'aux tyrans d'être toujours en crainte.
    • None but tyrants have any business to be afraid.
    • Hardouin de Péréfixe. Attributed to Henry IV.
  • 'Twixt kings and tyrants there's this difference known:
    Kings seek their subjects' good, tyrants their owne.
  • Men are still men. The despot's wickedness
    Comes of ill teaching, and of power's excess,—
    Comes of the purple he from childhood wears,
    Slaves would be tyrants if the chance were theirs.
  • Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.
  • Quid violentius aure tyranni?
    • What is more cruel than a tyrant's ear?
    • Juvenal, Satires, IV. 86.
  • Les habiles tyrans ne sont jamais punis.
    • Clever tyrants are never punished.
    • Voltaire, Mérope, V. 5.
  • A company of tyrants is inaccessible to all seductions.
    • Voltaire, A Philosophical Dictionary, Tyranny.
  • The sovereign is called a tyrant who knows no laws but his caprice.
    • Voltaire, A Philosophical Dictionary, Tyranny.


  • Sometimes we must fight terror with tyranny.
    • This quote actually comes from Maureen Dowd's self-described "imaged text" for Bush's second inaugural revised speech titled "Bush's do-over speech", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (9 November 2007).

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