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Friday, November 18, 2016

A realistic view

The perennial problem of tyranny—lest we forget

By Waller Newell
264 pp: Cambridge University Press, 2016
Reviewed by Mark Milke
One shopworn cliché about terrorism is that the root cause of it is poverty. Accordingly, if only we could dry up the “pools” of the poor, where resentment and terror ostensibly breed, we would end murderous chaos at its source. The underlying assumption is that if all humanity were fat and happy, the incentives for terrorism and tyranny would disappear.
Proponents of such arguments, who span the ideological spectrum from Marxists to (some) market economists, thus assume a largely materialist explanation for human behaviour. They forget the passions from the petty to the praiseworthy, from grievance-mongers and entitlement-seekers to soldiers who throw themselves on grenades to save their brothers in arms. Instead, the materialists skip past these and other examples of non-pecuniary motivations in the belief that all problems at base, have a material cause.
This folly is eviscerated in a piercing new book from Waller Newell, professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Carleton University. Newell, in the best tradition of a classics scholar uncontaminated by either trendy academic theories or wish-fulfillment fantasies, slices through banal bromides about justifiable behaviour and instead takes account of all human motivations, money being one, but power-seeking being another, especially in politics.
In Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice and Terror, Newell takes the reader on a three-millennium ride through history’s Caesars, emperors, Kaisers, dictators, tyrants, and terrorists. The author’s goal is to analyze various types of despotism so we can properly understand the modern terrorists and tyrants we face, and deal with them effectively in order to preserve our freedom.

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