This question is always asked as a quick rebuttal to monarchism. But it is a foolish question. The reality of politics and human nature proves it to be a foolish question — a question that can be rebutted with another question: What if a president is a tyrant?
The republican might respond with “we’ll vote him out of office.” But that is a foolish response. No tyrant is going to hold fair elections.
What is Tyranny?
This is a question that also must be answered. Under the modernist, post-“Enlightenment” definition, any form of autocracy or absolute rule can be considered tyranny. Naturally, this is the line of thinking used by the republican-minded.
It is an absurdist view, however. To find a better definition, we must go back before the so-called Enlightenment and its perversion of reason.
Let us turn to Aristotle. He concluded there to be three good regimes. He states that the best regimes are Monarchy (the rule of one), Aristocracy (the rule of a few), and the generically named Constitutional regime (where a large portion rule). These are considered good regimes so long as they rule in the common good.1
If they rule for their own good, then these regimes become their degenerate counterparts. A monarchy becomes a Tyranny, aristocracy becomes Oligarchy, and the constitutional regime becomes Democracy.
Yes, despite the modern world’s love of democracy, it is a degenerate form of government. Aristotle even considered a way of leading to tyranny:
The appointment of a king is the resource of the better classes against the people, and he is elected by them out of their own number, because either he himself or his family excel in virtue and virtuous actions; whereas a tyrant is chosen from the people to be their protector against the notables, and in order to prevent them from being injured. History shows that almost all tyrants have been demagogues who gained the favor of the people by their accusation of the notables.2
This seem rather prescient, despite being written more than 2,000 years ago. The greatest tyrants of recent history have all been democratically elected or came about by some kind of revolution (generally of “the people”).
Likewise came Hitler, the most infamous tyrant of recent history. He came about after the fall of the Kaiser and the democratic constitution of the Weimar Republic. After his National Socialist German Workers’ Party received the most seats in the Reichstag, President von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as Chancellor.
But the above examples have one beginning in common: overthrown monarchies.
True tyranny, history shows us, is not monarchy or even autocracy, but the rule of a leader contrary to the common good. History further shows that the worst of these are not royals, but strongmen who come about through revolution or democratic means.
As for what to do about a tyrant, there isn’t a very good answer. With any form of government, oppressive or not, there are two choices: obey or rebel. The latter has a long history of failure.
However, history, Aristotle, and the Bible show us that a good king is one who is prudent, just, and does not overburden his subjects:
By justice a king builds up the land; but one who raises taxes tears it down.3