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)

John Milton

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.

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.