Like Thomas, Erasmus (The Education of a Christian Prince, 27-8) focuses attention on the differences between tyranny and good rule, and like Thomas he follows Aristotles claim that the foundational difference is between devotion to private interests versus devotion to the public good. Like Thomas, Erasmus highlights the moral and social corrosion that always accompanies tyranny:

“A tyrants aim is to follow whatever takes his fancy; a kings . . . is to follow what is right and honorable. For a tyrant, reward is wealth; to a king, it is the honour that follows from virtue. A tyrant governs by fear, deceit, and evil cunning; a king through wisdom, integrity, and goodwill. The tyrant wields his power for himself; the king for the state . . . .

“The tyrant guards his security with a gang of foreign attendants and with hired brigands, the king consider himself safe enough in his good will toward his subjects and their good will toward him. The citizens who are distinguished for their moral quality, judgment, and prestige are held in suspicion and distrust by the tyrant, whereas the king holds fast to them as his helpers and friends . . . . The tyrant looks upon nothing with greater suspicion than cooperation between good men and between cities, but this is something in which good princes especially rejoice. Tyrants are happy to stir up party conflicts and disputes between their subjects and carefully feed and foster such animosities as happy to arise, improperly trading on these situations to reinforce their tyranny. But a king has the one interest of fostering harmony among his subjects and of resolving straight away such dissensions as happen to grow up among them.”

In a word, The tyrant strives to be feared, the king to be loved. Unlike a tyrant, the good king takes the role of a paterfamilias who considers any benefit to a member of the family to be a benefit to all, for what is a kingdom but a large family? A prince is a man ruling men, a free man ruling other free men. He is not a beastmaster but a father of a family, as God, the Prince of all, is Father of all (34-5).

More on: Politics

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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