Political vs Moral Implications of a Dictator/Tyrant

Hey guys. In a class of mine the other day we had begun lightly touching on the subject of dictators and such, and discussing the question of whether its possible(or simply morally permissable) to seperate a leader’s public and personal life, in the basic sense of allowing lesser evil for a greater good. However we weren’t able to go into it too much due to lack of time, so I thought I’d bring the discussion over to the minds on SD.

I have to be honest in saying that I myself have been on both sides of the issue over the years, due to very strong arguments for both sides.

The most emmient and useful dictator example that comes to my mind is Caesar Augustus, or even his predessesor Julius Caesar. Both seized power from their governments and used illegal means of cementing this power(Julius moreso the former, Augustus moreso the latter) thereby creating extremely efficent and successful governments, and in the case of Augustus, created an age of peace and prosperity that, as some historians have said, would not be equaled until our own day in the United States. This subject on the whole had arisen in my class while discussing Andrew Jackson, specifically his refusal to comply with a direct order from Washington during the War of 1812 to dissamble his army and send home the volunteers. Yet, after having refused to do so, he then moved his Army into New Orleans and defeated a major British Army of whose whearabouts was at that time unkown to Madison.

So we certainly have had, on more than one occasion in History, fellows do things that would have appeared blatantly wrong at the time, yet somehow managed to achive something great and good. It almost begs the question that if a figure arose today in the US who, in exchange for absolute power, could solve our security, economic, political, and social dilemmas, would you support them?

I personally however, have ended up believing that no, I more then likely would not support them. My reasons essentially encompass beliefs that I think John Stuart Mill would give me and “atta boy” for. For I feel that in the end, though some of the greatest achievments have come from doing things for the greater good, it must be said that most of the greatest evil has come from the same sort of belief. The only way you could get me to believe that, in this political sense, “the ends justify the means” would be to somehow prove to me, without any doubt whatsoever, that more good will result from little evil. And this is my biggest problem with the above stated motto–we can’t absolutely know that after giving some man absolute power he will use it for good.

I suppose this is where it gets a little tricky though. For if you take nearly any horrible(morally) political leader in history, you will see that at least one or more of their stated goals is essentially the accomplishing of some act or social change that most everyone would agree is very good. Communism champions the great idea of equality, Democracy the idea of freedom, and of course theres always various tyrants vowing to put and end to political corruption. The biggest problem however, is that most of the tyrants and dictators who have championed the aforementioned ideas are always willing to trample other morals and ideas(afterwhich, in most cases we get genocide or politcal proscription lists)which are just as important, in the name of achieving their single goals which brought them to power. With that in mind, however, we must also realize that we almost always elect officals based on what it is they say will be done, and in the end can only take it on their word that these things truely will be done.

So it is a touchy subject, but those are my basic thoughts, and I was wondering what the general feeling on the matter is.

you seem to be conflating “legality” with “being good” or “doing no evil”. Do you think that “legal” governments do no evil and do not believe in “ends justify the means”? Spanish Republic was “legal” too, but this did not stop them permitting some of their constituent factions from stealing private property and persecuting Catholic Church on a massive scale.

Well consider your statement for a second. It would appear you feel that I think all legality is the same as morality, or at least thats what you seem to infer. Clearly that was not the point of the OP and the reason your confused is because you switched the direction I was taking the issue in. The general idea behind governments is the greatest good for the greatest number of people(thats certainly not how they all work, but it is and has been the driving force behind establishing them), and so this of course would dictate, as I was clearly inferring, that legality and doing the right thing should be on par with each other. Futhermore, the main focus was on individuals in History, not entire entities, as again, I made quite apparent.