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Tyranny is not a matter of minor theft and violence, but of wholesale plunder, sacred and profane, private or public. ~ Plato
I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. ~ Thomas Jefferson
The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. ~ John Adams
The despotism of vice—the weakness and the wickedness of luxury—the negligence—the apathy—the evils of sensual sloth—produce ten thousand tyrants. ~ Lord Byron
Tyranny can scarcely be practised upon a virtuous and wise people. ~ John Adams

Tyranny is a despotic or autocratic form of government, in which the exercise of power is concentrated in one individual or a ruling class without regard to the wishes of the governed.

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  • The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shall not covet," and "Thou shall not steal," are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
  • Tacitus appears to have been as great an enthusiast as Petrarch for the revival of the republic and universal empire. He has exerted the vengeance of history upon the emperors, but has veiled the conspiracies against them, and the incorrigible corruption of the people which probably provoked their most atrocious cruelties. Tyranny can scarcely be practised upon a virtuous and wise people.
  • Ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ ὅτι οἷα ἡ πρόθεσίς ἐστιν ἀδικεῖν, παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ δικαία ἀπολογία ἰσχύει.
    • Aesop The Wolf and the Lamb from Aesop's Fables (c. 620-560 BC).
  • The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.
    • as translated by George Fyler Townsend (1887)
  • Any excuse will serve a tyrant.
    • as translated by Joseph Jacobs (1894)


  • The tyrant now
    Trusts not to men: nightly within his chamber
    The watch-dog guards his couch, the only friend
    He now dare trust.
  • Οὐδὲν ὑφίσταται τὴν βίαν τοῦ πλούτου· Πάντα ὑποκύπτει τῇ τυραννίδι, πάντα ὑποπτήσσει τὴν δυναστείαν.
    • Nothing withstands the influence of wealth. Everything submits to its tyranny, everything cowers at its dominion.
    • Basil of Caesarea, To the Rich (c. 368), in Saint Basil on Social Justice, edited and translated by C. P. Schroeder (2009), p. 51


  • The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience. It would be easy, however, to destroy that good conscience by shouting to them: if you want the happiness of the people, let them speak out and tell what kind of happiness they want and what kind they don't want! But, in truth, the very ones who make use of such alibis know they are lies; they leave to their intellectuals on duty the chore of believing in them and of proving that religion, patriotism, and justice need for their survival the sacrifice of freedom.
    • Albert Camus, "Homage to an Exile", published as an essay in Actuelles III, originally a speech "delivered 7 December 1955 at a banquet in honor of President Eduardo Santos, editor of El Tiempo, driven out of Colombia by the dictatorship".
  • Even the tyrant never rules by force alone; but mostly by fairy tales. And so it is with the modern tyrant, the great employer. The sight of a millionaire is seldom, in the ordinary sense, an enchanting sight: nevertheless, he is in his way an enchanter. As they say in the gushing articles about him in the magazines, he is a fascinating personality. So is a snake. At least he is fascinating to rabbits; and so is the millionaire to the rabbit-witted sort of people that ladies and gentlemen have allowed themselves to become.


  • 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.
  • Of all the tyrannies on human kind
    The worst is that which persecutes the mind.
    • John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther (1687), Pt. I line 239-240
  • Hitler set up a tyranny: a state with a mighty police force, a growing army, a host of spies and informers, a secret espionage, backed by swift and cruel punishment, which migh vary from loss of job to imprisonment, incommunicado and without trial, to cold murder.


  • The end of the tyranny of bureaucracy, which was the self-destructive vice with which socialism was infected, marked the installation of another and different tyranny, namely the tyranny of money.
    • Michel Glautier, The Social Conscience (2007), p. 207
  • Para evolucionar es preciso ser libre y no podemos tener libertad si no somos rebeldes, porque nunca tirano alguno ha respetado a los pueblos pasivos; jamás un rebaño de carneros se ha impuesto con la majestad de su número inofensivo, al lobo que bonitamente los devora sin cuidarse de otro derecho que el de sus dientes. Hay que armarse, pero no de un voto inútil, que siempre valdrá tanto como el tirano quiere, sino de armas efectivas y menos candorosas cuyo uso nos traiga la evolución ascendente y no la regresiva que preconizan los luchadores pacifistas. ¡Pasividad, nunca! Rebeldía, ahora y siempre.
    • To evolve we must be free, and we cannot have freedom if we are not rebels, because no tyrant whatsoever has respected passive people. Never has a flock of sheep instilled the majesty of its harmless number upon the wolf that craftily devours them, caring for no right other than that of his teeth. We must arm ourselves, not using the useless vote that will always be worth only as much as a tyrant wants, but rather with effective and less naive weapons whose utilization will bring us ascendant evolution instead of the regressive one praised by pacifist activists. Passivity, never! Rebellion—now and always.
    • Práxedis Guerrero, Passivity and Rebellion (29 de Agosto 1909), Punto Rojo, N° 3, El Paso, Texas, translated by Javier Sethness-Castro. [1]


  • 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 [2].
  • 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).


  • Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.


  • 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.
  • Attacking the press is a common ploy of autocrats and dictators who want to hide the truth. They oppose an open press that holds them accountable—and you know a country is in trouble when its leader tries to challenge and undermine press freedoms.
    • Cindy McCain, Stronger (2021)
  • There is nothing more puerile than the mind of a tyrant.


  • 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
  • We are now slaves of big companies, all of us. The Hitlers are replaced by men of power and wealth. I begin to see the need of socialism and listen to Herbert Marcuse. Before, I saw the tyranny of communism equal to the tyranny of money.
    • Anaïs Nin, Spring 1974, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1966–1974, p. 314


  • 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."


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. 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. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
  • He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
  • 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.
  • The early years of the [nineteenth] century marked the progress of the race towards individual freedom and permanent victory over the tyranny of hereditary aristocracy, but the closing decades of the century have witnessed the surrender of all that was gained to the more heartless tyranny of accumulated wealth.
    • Richard F. Pettigrew, November 22, 1900 Triumphant Plutocracy: The Story of American Public Life from 1870 to 1920 (1921), p. 425
  • 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!
  • Tyranny is not a matter of minor theft and violence, but of wholesale plunder, sacred and profane, private or public. If you are caught committing such crimes in detail you are punished and disgraced; sacrilege, kidnapping, burglary, fraud, theft are the names we give to such petty forms of wrongdoing. But when a man succeeds in robbing the whole body of citizens and reducing them to slavery, they forget these ugly names and call him happy and fortunate, as do all others who hear of his unmitigated wrongdoing.


  • And think not God to be heedless of what the unjust do. He only respites them to a day when the eyes will stare in terror, hastening forward, their heads upraised, their gaze not returning to them, and their hearts vacant. And warn people of a day when the chastisement will come to them, then the wrongdoers will say: "Our Lord, respite us to a near term, we will respond to Thy call and follow the messengers." "Did you not swear before that there will be no passing away for you? And you dwell in the abodes of those who wronged themselves, and it is clear to you how We dealt with them and We made (them) examples for you."


  • The right to punish the tyrant and the right to dethrone him are the same thing; both include the same forms. The tyrant’s trial is the insurrection; the verdict, the collapse of his power; the sentence, whatever the liberty of the people requires.


  • 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.
  • Magistrates in some acts may be guilty of tyranny, and yet retain the power of magistracy; but tyrants cannot be capable of magistracy, nor any one of the scripture-characters of righteous rulers. They cannot retain that which they have forfeited, and which they have overturned; and usurpers cannot retain that which they never had.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • When government is unjustly exercised by one man who seeks personal profit from his position instead of the good of the community subject to him, such a ruler is called a tyrant.
  • When what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted, ... one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants.
  • One who liberates his country by killing a tyrant is to be praised and rewarded.
    • Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, in Thomas Aquinas: Political Writings (Basil Blackwell: 1959), p. 185.
  • Better a century of tyranny than one day of chaos.
    • Ibn Taymiyyah, Kitab al-Siyasa al-Shar'iya, as quoted in Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Oxford University Press, p. 19.
  • One must distinguish well arbitrariness from tyranny. Tyranny can be exercised by means of law itself, and then is not arbitrariness; arbitrariness can be exercised in the interest of the governed, and then it is not tyrannical.


  • Remember, I have not appointed you as commanders and tyrants over the people. I have sent you as leaders instead, so that the people may follow your example. Give the Muslims their rights and do not beat them lest they become abused. Do not praise them unduly, lest they fall into the error of conceit. Do not keep your doors shut in their faces, lest the more powerful of them eat up the weaker ones. And do not behave as if you were superior to them, for that is tyranny over them.
    • Umar as quoted in Omar the Great : The Second Caliph Of Islam (1962) by Muhammad Shibli Numani, Vol. 2, p. 33


  • Plutocracy is an established fact not only when rich men and women rule the state but also when they rule the company and the factory. ... Still, the tyranny of money is less frightening than the kinds of tyranny that have their origins on the other side of the money/politics divide. Certainly, plutocracy is less frightening than totalitarianism; resistance is less dangerous. The chief reason for the difference is that money can buy power and influence, as it can buy office, education, honor and so on, without radically coordinating the various distributive spheres and without eliminating alternative processes and agents. ... Corrupt distributions coexist with legitimate ones, like prostitution alongside married love. But this is tyranny still, and it can make for harsh forms of domination.
    • Michael Walzer, Spheres Of Justice: A Defense Of Pluralism And Equality (1984), p. 317
  • The English monster, the center of mischief, a shame to the British Chronicle, a pattern for tyranny, murder and hypocrisie, whose bloody Tyranny will quite drown the name of Nero, Caligula, Domitian, having at last attained the height of his Ambition, for Five years space he wallowed in the blood of many Gallant and Heroick Persons.
    • William Winstanley, Loyal Martyrology as quoted in Conflicts with Oblivion (1935) by Wilbur Cortez Abbott, p. 159.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

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 (early 2nd century), 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.

See also

  • Encyclopedic article on Tyrant on Wikipedia
  • The dictionary definition of tyranny on Wiktionary
Social and political philosophy
Ideologies Anarchism ⦿ Aristocratic Radicalism (NietzscheBrandes...) ⦿ Autarchism ⦿ Ba'athism (• Aflaqal-AssadHussein) ⦿ Communism ⦿ (Neo-)Confucianism ⦿ Conservatism ⦿ Constitutionalism ⦿ Dark Enlightenment ⦿ Environmentalism ⦿ Fascism (• Islamo-Eco-Francoism...) vs. Nazism ⦿ Feminism (• Anarcha-RadicalGender-criticalSecond-wave...) ⦿ Formalism/(Neo-)cameralism ⦿ Freudo-Marxism ⦿ Gaddafism/Third International Theory ⦿ Legalism ⦿ Leninism/Vanguardism ⦿ Juche (• Kim Il-sungKim Jong IlKim Jong Un...) ⦿ Liberalism ⦿ Libertarianism/Laissez-faire Capitalism ⦿ Maoism ⦿ Marxism ⦿ Mohism ⦿ Republicanism ⦿ Social democracy ⦿ Socialism ⦿ Stalinism ⦿ Straussianism ⦿ Syndicalism ⦿ Xi Jinping thought ⦿ New Monasticism (• MacIntyreDreher...)
Modalities Absolutism vs. Social constructionism/Relativism ⦿ Autarky/Autonomy vs. Heteronomy ⦿ Authoritarianism/Totalitarianism ⦿ Colonialism vs. Imperialism ⦿ Communitarianism vs. Liberalism ⦿ Elitism vs. Populism/Majoritarianism/Egalitarianism ⦿ Individualism vs. Collectivism ⦿ Nationalism vs. Cosmopolitanism ⦿ Particularism vs. Universalism ⦿ Modernism/Progressivism vs. Postmodernism ⦿ Reactionism/Traditionalism vs. Futurism/Transhumanism
Concepts Alienation ⦿ Anarcho-tyranny ⦿ Anomie ⦿ Authority ⦿ Conquest's Laws of Politics ⦿ Duty ⦿ Eugenics ⦿ Elite ⦿ Elite theory ⦿ Emancipation ⦿ Equality ⦿ Freedom ⦿ Government ⦿ Hegemony ⦿ Hierarchy ⦿ Iron law of oligarchy ⦿ Justice ⦿ Law ⦿ Monopoly ⦿ Natural law ⦿ Noblesse oblige ⦿ Norms ⦿ Obedience ⦿ Peace ⦿ Pluralism ⦿ Polyarchy ⦿ Power ⦿ Propaganda ⦿ Property ⦿ Revolt ⦿ Rebellion ⦿ Revolution ⦿ Rights ⦿ Ruling class ⦿ Social contract ⦿ Social inequality ⦿ Society ⦿ State ⦿ Tocqueville effect ⦿ Totalitarian democracy ⦿ War ⦿ Utopia
Government Aristocracy ⦿ Autocracy ⦿ Bureaucracy ⦿ Dictatorship ⦿ Democracy ⦿ Meritocracy ⦿ Monarchy ⦿ Ochlocracy ⦿ Oligarchy ⦿ Plutocracy ⦿ Technocracy ⦿ Theocracy ⦿ Tyranny