When I was younger, I imagined tyranny coming in the guise of some sort of foreign invader or openly despotic government, with a mass resistance fighting back.
As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve begun to realize that this is not how tyranny typically comes. It will not be a hard push, but rather a soft embrace. It will not be the overt display of police and military power, rather it will be a silent threat fronted by smiling faces who “want what’s best.” Tyranny will promise security and order, as long as the rules are followed and one doesn’t look behind the curtain to unmask the implicit threats underlying the whole system.
This type of tyranny is advancing in the world as people’s view of the proper role of government becomes less about “securing the blessings of liberty” and more about providing safety, or at least a veneer which promises it. This, of course, has the side effect of enforcing actions which increase government’s authority in an effort to provide this “safety.” Along with this comes an entire philosophy which justifies the "goodness" of these actions. In former times, we might have called this a state “religion,” as did the ancient Romans who sacrificed to the health of their emperors. Now, though, we have lost the ability to recognize it for what it is and therefore call it simply being enlightened, un-bigoted, and open-minded, when it is anything but the sort.
What else to make of the descent of the U.K. into the madness which prevents parents from taking their sick child someplace else for treatment (and paying for that treatment themselves) and then also threatening those who speak out? Or, the madness of Canada in enforcing certain speech and punishing those who do not obey? Or, California in potentially banning speech and services which advocate for a world-view which goes against the state religion? Or, the dangerous slope that the rest of the U.S. is on which advocates for mob rule and the trampling of innate rights which are supposed to be protected by the Constitution and Bill of Rights? (The 2nd Amendment is the most obvious one under attack, but every other right protected by the Amendments has been under assault for years as well.)
This is not the type of obvious, overt institution of tyranny that I had envisioned as a child. Instead, it is the type of “soft despotism” foreseen by Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited America in the 1830s:
“I am trying to imagine under what novel features despotism may appear in the world. In the first place, I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest….
Over this kind of men stands an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare charges for a man’s life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see the citizens enjoy themselves, provided that they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasure, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not entirely relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living?
Thus it daily makes the exercise of free choice less useful and rarer, restricts the activity of free will within a narrower compass, and little by little robs each citizen of the proper use of his own faculties. Equality has prepared men for all this, predisposing them to endure it and often even regard it as beneficial.
Having thus taken each citizen in turn in its powerful grasp and shaped him to its will, government then extends its embrace to include the whole of society. It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men’s will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.”
(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America)
(Image: the Gracchi, By Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume - https://archive.org/stream/appreciationofsc00sturuoft#page/146/mode/2up, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9173013 )