Moral Destiny and Tyranny

A mate of mine made this tongue in cheek comment the other day to a Canadian fellow;

Why do you hate America so much that you decided to be born somewhere else?

Which is an appeal to the absurd in nationalism and the arbitrary nature with which it deals with individuals, citizens and non-citizens alike. Charles Harpur believed that mankind’s natural destiny was moral perfection and it was the imposition of our social and political frameworks which acted as the main deterrents against mankind achieving that goal. He called it “for the faith that is in them” and made the point that Australians, once free of the inequality imposition of an aristocracy, will discover the equality in themselves. This republican philosophy was also the basis for Dan Deniehy pillorying William Wentworth’s bunyip aristocracy when Wentworth tried to create a titled upper house in NSW.

Deniehy and Harpur both believed that tyranny was the most destructive external affliction on the moral and ethical nature of human affairs. To Deniehy tyranny becomes a crime against the individual, the society; and since mankind’s destiny is moral perfection, it becomes a crime against nature itself. Tyranny is man as violence against natural order.

We recognize absolute tyranny quickly and easily these days; dictators, despots, even tyrants. They stand out like sore thumbs in a world where the most advanced forms of social order are constitutionally based liberal democracies. The technological innovation of the American Republic and the enlightenment was the recognition that tyranny does not have to be absolute to be destructive. We know the insidious form of tyranny as arbitrary government or arbitrary executive governance. The US Bill of Rights was the use of constitutionalism to limit arbitrary government.

The twentieth century has seen Executives claim “state of emergencies” to get around restrictions of constitution, convention and representation. This goes back to the myth of Cincinnatus who left his farm to become dictator in order to save Rome, and then gave up his powers sixteen days later to return to his crops. We have seen this enacted out on an absolute scale in Thailand, where the military had to nullify the constitution in order to save it – a ridiculous notion.

At an insidious level we have seen liberal democratic systems, both presidential and parliamentary, claim the war on terror places our nations in a state of emergency, enabling all manner of arbitrary executive governance. Due to the nature of party discipline in these structures we have seen arbitrary government become a part of legislation, enabling executive whim.

To Dan Deniehy the executive ‘state of emergency’ is unrepublican and illiberal. It places the government at violence with; the individual, the social order that supports it and even nature. For Deniehy and Harpur the removal of tyranny in government, in all its forms, is an important step toward wider moral improvement.

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Scott Wickstein
17 years ago

since mankind’s destiny is moral perfection

How can we assume that is the case?

17 years ago

Do we have to assume? Can’t we just hope?

17 years ago

Scott, “How can we assume that is the case?”

Deniehy extrapolated from history. He saw history as one moral improvement (and increasing reduction of tyranny). The natural end point of moral improvement over time is moral perfection. It is a pretty seductive and romantic view of humankind. Deniehy on the issue;

Few individuals who have traced the progress of society even from a semi-barbarous state to its present condition, will venture to deny that man is destined in this world to attain a state of moral perfection., in comparison with which the most refined and polished communities of ancient and modern times are sunk in the shade.


The progress of events as viewed in the visible outside world around us, bespeaks an era of moral and social enjoyment, when an ordinary member of the community looking down through the sombre vista of time upon the philosophy of past ages, dimly shadowed in the distance, will exult in his destiny having placed him so far in advance of the wisest and greatest who preceded him.

So irresistible if the onward course of man in the march of improvement that even the trammels which the despotism of a northern dynasty has for centuries been weaving to enthral the human mind in a state of perpetuity, will at no distant day, snap asunder, and regenerated and intellectual man proclaim from the highest point of the Septentrion the triumph of a great social and moral revolution.