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John Milton believes men live under a “double tyranny” within (the tyranny of custom and passions) which makes them blind to the tyranny of government without (1649)

Milton draws upon classical authorities and Christian writers to support his argument that the people have the right and duty to rise up in rebellion and overthrow a tyrant:

If men within themselves would be governed by reason, and not generally give up their understanding to a double tyranny, of custom from without, and blind affections within; they would discern better what it is to favour and uphold the tyrant of a nation. But being slaves within doors, no wonder that they strive so much to have the public state conformably governed to the inward vicious rule, by which they govern themselves. For indeed none can love freedom heartily, but good men: the rest love not freedom, but license: which never hath more scope, or more indulgence than under tyrants.

THE TENURE OF KINGS AND MAGISTRATES:

PROVING THAT IT IS LAWFUL, AND HATH BEEN HELD SO THROUGH ALL AGES, FOR ANY, WHO HAVE THE POWER, TO CALL TO ACCOUNT A TYRANT, OR WICKED KING; AND, AFTER DUE CONVICTION, TO DEPOSE, AND PUT HIM TO DEATH; IF THE ORDINARY MAGISTRATE HAVE NEGLECTED, OR DENIED TO DO IT. AND THAT THEY, WHO OF LATE SO MUCH BLAME DEPOSING, ARE THE MEN THAT DID IT THEMSELVES.

If men within themselves would be governed by reason, and not generally give up their understanding to a double tyranny, of custom from without, and blind affections within; they would discern better what it is to favour and uphold the tyrant of a nation. But being slaves within doors, no wonder that they strive so much to have the public state conformably governed to the inward vicious rule, by which they govern themselves. For indeed none can love freedom heartily, but good men: the rest love not freedom, but license: which never hath more scope, or more indulgence than under tyrants. Hence is it, that tyrants are not oft offended, not stand much in doubt of bad men, as being all naturally servile; but in whom virtue and true worth most is eminent, them they fear in earnest, as by right their masters; against them lies all their hatred and suspicion. Consequently neither do bad men hate tyrants, but have been always readiest, with the falsified names of Loyalty and Obedience, to colour over their base compliances. And although sometimes for shame, and when it comes to their own grievances, of purse especially, they would seem good patriots, and side with the better cause, yet when others for the deliverance of their country endued with fortitude and heroic virtue, to fear nothing but the curse written against those “that do the work of the Lord negligently,” would go on to remove, not only the calamities and thraldoms of a people, but the roots and causes whence they spring; straight these men, and sure helpers at need, as if they hated only the miseries, but not the mischiefs, after they have juggled and paltered with the world, bandied and borne arms against their king, divested him, disanointed him, nay, cursed him all over in their pulpits, and their pamphlets, to the engaging of sincere and real men beyond what is possible or honest to retreat from, not only turn revolters from those principles, which only could at first move them, but lay the strain of disloyalty, and worse, on those proceedings, which are the necessary consequences of their own former actions; nor disliked by themselves, were they managed to the entire advantages of their own faction; not considering the while that he, toward whom they boasted their new fidelity, counted them accessory; and by those statutes and laws, which they so impotently brandish against others, would have doomed them to a traitor’s death for what they have done already. It is true, that most men are apt enough to civil wars and commotions as a novelty, and for a flash hot and active; but through sloth or inconstancy, and weakness of spirit, either fainting ere their own pretences, though never so just, be half attained, or, through an inbred falsehood and wickedness, betray ofttimes to destruction with themselves men of noblest temper joined with them for causes, whereof they in their rash undertakings were not capable. If God and a good cause give them victory, the prosecution whereof for the most part inevitably draws after it the alteration of laws, change of government, downfall of princes with their families; then comes the task to those worthies, which are the soul of that enterprise, to be sweat and laboured out amidst the throng and noses of vulgar and irrational men. Some contesting for privileges, customs, forms, and that old entanglement of iniquity, their gibberish laws, though the badge of their ancient slavery. Others, who have been fiercest against their prince, under the notion of a tyrant, and no mean incendiaries of the war against them, when God, out of his providence and high disposal hath delivered him into the hand of their brethren, on a sudden and in a new garb of allegiance, which their doings have long since cancelled, they plead for him, pity him, extol him, protest against those that talk of bringing him to the trial of justice, which is the sword of God, superior to all mortal things, in whose hand soever by apparent signs his testified will is to put it. But certainly, if we consider, who and what they are, on a sudden grown so pitiful, we may conclude their pity can be no true and Christian commiseration, but either levity and shallowness of mind, or else a carnal admiring of that worldly pomp and greatness, from whence they see him fallen; or rather, lastly, a dissembled and seditious pity, feigned of industry to beget new discord. As for mercy, if it be to a tyrant, under which name they themselves have cited him so oft in the hearing of God, of angels, and the holy church assembled, and there charged him with the spilling of more innocent blood by far, than ever Nero did, undoubtedly the mercy which they pretend is the mercy of wicked men, and “their mercies,”we read, “are cruelties;” hazarding the welfare of a whole nation, to have saved one whom they so oft have termed Agag, and vilifying the blood of many Jonathans that have saved Israel; insisting with much niceness on the unnecessariest clause of their covenant wrested, wherein the fear of change and the absurd contradiction of a flattering hostility had hampered them, but not scrupling to give away for compliments, to an implacable revenge, the heads of many thousand Christians more.

About this Quotation:

We have turned to the writings of John Milton many times in the selection of these quotations. It is not just because 2008 is the 400th anniversary of his birth, or that he is one of the greatest poets in the English language, or that he was a participant in the English Revolution of the 1640s which saw the overthrow of the Stuart monarchy, the execution of a king, the installation of a republic which turned into a new form of tyranny under Cromwell. It is all these facts which make him a fascinating figure. In this long passage Milton is keen to demonstrate the justice of overthrowing a tyrant king, something which the American colonists were to do in their own way 150 years after Milton wrote these words. What is interesting in this passage is the exploration of what happens to men who live under a corrupt and tyrannical regime.

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