Analysis: C.S. Lewis Tyranny Quote

Betcha didn’t know you were going to have class today, huh? That’s right. . .NOW SIT DOWN AND GRAB YOUR NOTEPAD AND #2 PENCIL. GRRRR. 😆
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“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for all the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. ” — C.S. Lewis

Source: DustyReviews inspired this post, so shout out to him. Hello to Dusty from across the wire portal. 😎

Let’s start with the basics here. In this first part of the first sentence we are presented with the idea of multiple kinds of tyranny, but before we get into that lets get very basic and find out what exactly Tyranny is:

tyranny (countable and uncountable, plural tyrannies)

1. A government in which a single ruler (a tyrant) has absolute power; this system of government.
2. The office or jurisdiction of an absolute ruler.
3. Absolute power, or its use.
4. A system of government in which power is exercised on behalf of the ruler or ruling class, without regard to the wishes of the governed.
5. Extreme severity or rigour.

Are we are referring to simply a King? No, not quite it is more like an unlawful absolute ruler, one that works against it’s own people. At least that is how the term was actually used back then. [Source] Definition #4 is what we are dealing with from Lewis, I believe.

Now, back to the first part of the first sentence – “Of all tyrannies”. Waller Newell defined three type of tyrannies:

1) “The first is the “garden-variety” tyrant, most common in the ancient world: “These are basically men who dispose of an entire country and society as if it were their personal property”. . .

2) “The second type of tyrant is the “reforming tyrant”: “These are men who are indeed driven to possess supreme honor and wealth, and power unconstrained by law or democracy. But they are not mere hedonists or profit seekers. They really want to improve their society and people through the constructive exercise of their untrammeled authority.”

3) “The third type is uniquely modern, the “millenarian” tyrant, who is “driven by the impulse to impose a millenarian blueprint that will bring about a society of the future in which the individual will be submerged in the collective and all privilege and alienation will forever be eradicated.” This form of tyranny begins with the French Revolution and Robespierre, and continues through Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and, Newell argues, contemporary Jihadists.”

Source: Three Forms of Tyranny by Peter Leithart

Wait – what the crap is “Millenarianism“? This is just a ruler that comes in and decided “all things will be changed”. A bit bull-headed if you ask me, unless everything is already a total disaster, even then – why reinvent the wheel? Anyways, THAT’S BEYOND THE SCOPE OF THIS CLASS!! 😆

The question is, did we find the type of tyranny that C.S. Lewis is talking about? I think tyranny type #2 catches it. So, this tyrant or ruler makes decisions for his people and what he thinks is “best”. Great, another know it all.


Lets move to the next sentence:

“It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.”

C.S. Lewis

What is a robber baron?

Robber baron” is a derogatory metaphor of social criticism originally applied to certain late 19th-century American businessmen who were accused of using unscrupulous methods to get rich, or expand their wealth.

Robber baron is a sneaky business person, possibly malicious and they want all your money.

Why did your previous mean teachers misunderstand you and the students in  your school years? - Quora

The next part of the comparison is “omnipotent moral busybodies”. A.k.a. someone that is on their moral high horse. Let’s just do a rephrase here – Someone who can “do anything”, is a “lesson teacher” and “who meddles in the affairs of others”.

Reminds me of the Tool song titled The Pot, please enjoy the cover by Brass Against ( Yeah, it’s Friday again, so I had to sneak this in here ):

WARNING: There are a couple of *spotted* curse words in this song, however it is a intellectual song, so in my mind, even if curse words offended me ( which they do not ), it is worth a listen. NOTE: According to some this is somewhat of a ‘love letter’ to God or to religion, although the band has never indicated as such. “According to Adam Jones, it is confirmed to be about hypocrisy and is a double entendre that refers to both drug intoxication and believing oneself to be above others, deriving from the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black”.” And, if you would rather just read the lyrics.

All things aside, including this Tool song, C.S. Lewis is stating that he would rather be swindled than someone making decisions for him in what is thought as “his best interest”. Let’s move onto the next sentence:

“The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated.”

At least for me, two words in this sentence are confusing, so let’s rely on our dictionary for cupidity and satiated.

cupidity (countable and uncountable, plural cupidities)
1. Extreme greed, especially for wealth.


satiated (comparative more satiated, superlative most satiated)
1. Pleasantly satisfied or full, as with food; sated


This means to me that Mr. Lewis finds that he can at least get something out of the robber baron, maybe something like a test of his ability to actually spot or circumvent the greedy action? This could be a stretch. This also means that at some point the robber baron’s belly may be full and he will stop being greedy. Where as the tyrant destroying things for “his best interest” won’t. I don’t know. . .I can see in today’s landscape there are some robber barons that still aren’t satiated, but that’s OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF TODAY’S CLASS, KIDS. 😆

Okay, class members and kids we are on the last sentence, which is separated by a semicolon from the sentence before it.

“but those who torment us for our good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

This just means that somehow the tyrant has justified his actions to himself somehow and he believes it to be correct in his actions, even though he is destroying the nation, so they will never stop, because they think they are doing “what is right”.

I will take a moment to explore the differences between conscience and conscious. This is important, as it can cause confusion, even for a native speaker like me. Thanks, English language. 😆

Your conscience is the part of your personality that helps you determine between right and wrong. It is what makes you feel guilty when you do something bad and good when you do something kind.

In Freudian theory, the conscience is part of the superego that contains information about what is viewed as bad or negative by your parents and by society—all the values you learned and absorbed during your upbringing. The conscience emerges over time as you absorb information about what is considered right and wrong by your caregivers, your peers, and the culture in which you live.

Your conscious, on the other hand, is your awareness of yourself and the world around you. In the most general terms, it means being awake and aware. In psychology, the conscious mind includes everything inside of your awareness including things like perceptions, sensations, feelings, thoughts, memories, and fantasies.


My guess is that Mr. Lewis was “feeling some kind of way” when he wrote this – it would be really cool to know exactly what inspired this quote and where it came from exactly, so let’s DO IT!!! 😆

And, with about 30 seconds of research I can tell this quote actually came from a book called God in the Dock, a theological essay book. I did find some PDFs online, but I cannot speak to their accuracy.


What I got out of the quote is that it is better to be swindled by a greedy person or greedy business than to be blindly destroyed by rulers that make bad decisions on the merit of “what is in your best interest” and to be careful, not mixing care with the illusion of control. And, that’s all the time I have to spend on this for today. CLASS IS DISMISSED!!! 😆

If you have any additions or would like to have something considered as inaccurate in this article, I encourage you to state so in the comments. Rebellion is sometimes a good thing, and no, please do not confuse destructiveness for rebelliousness. 😉

Guys, until next time – may you find all the happiness that your life can fit in it’s happy spot – S.D. McKinley

By S.D. McKinley

S.D. McKinley lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He was born in the first half of the 1980's and grew up in Wisconsin as a young boy, then moved to Georgia when he turned exactly twelve years old. During teenage years, he raced dirt track go karts and played guitar. He discovered his current love for all kinds of art after his mid-life crisis at 25 years old. S.D. McKinley began writing books in 2017.

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