Portrait of Thomas Gordon

Thomas Gordon asks whether tyranny is worse than anarchy (1728)

Found in: The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon’s Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)

The English radical Whig and Commonwealthman Thomas Gordon (1692-1750) argues in his Discourses on Tacitus (1728) that “a settled active Tyranny” is worse than no government at all:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

IT is usually said, that bad Government is better than none; a proposition which is far from self-evident. I am apt to think that absolute Tyranny is worse than Anarchy; for I can easily suppose popular confusion to be less mischievous than a settled active Tyranny, that it will do no less harm, and is likely to end sooner. All tumults are in their nature, and must be, short in duration, must soon subside, or settle into some order. But Tyranny may last for ages, and go on destroying, till at last it has left nothing to destroy. What can the most dreadful Anarchy produce but a temporary work of desolation and fury, what but violation of Law and Life? And can Government be said to exist, where all Justice is neglected, where all Violence and Oppression is committed, where lawless Will is the only reason, where the ravages of blind appetite, and of the blind sword; are the only administration?