6 May 2023

What is a tyrannicide? – Characteristics and examples of the main tyrannicide

By Donald

Tyrannicide refers to the act of killing a tyrant of a government. In history, tyrannicide is justified by some philosophers as a form of legitimate resistance against the abuse of power, while others have condemned it as a violation of the established order and the law.

In this article we will talk about tyrannicide, its definition, and everything related to its concept. Keep reading!

What does the term tyrannicide mean?

It is the act of assassinating a tyrant, that is, to an oppressive or despotic leader who exercises unfair and cruel power over his nation. The justification behind tyrannicide is that the tyrant has violated the rights and freedoms of his citizens, and therefore his death penalty is necessary to restore justice and freedom.

The concept of tyrannicide dates back to ancient Greecewhere some philosophers argued that it was justifiable to kill a tyrant who had violated the laws and the welfare of the citizenry.

Along the history there have been several cases, some of the most famous include the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC or that of dictator Benito Mussolini in 1945 by members of the Italian resistance.

However, tyrannicide also is controversial and criticized by many as a violation of the rule of law and a legal justification for political violence. Today, most modern democracies reject tyrannicide and uphold the right to a fair trial and due process rather than personal revenge.

What is tyrannicide in Santo Tomás?

Saint Thomas Aquinas was one of the most influential philosophers and theologians from middle Ages. In his work ‘Summa Theologiae’, he addressed the issue of tyrannicide and argued that, in certain circumstances, it could be justified.

According to Saint Thomas, the power of a leader comes from God and is entrusted to him to protect the common good and justice. If a ruler violates divine law or natural law and commits unjust actions against his subjects, he loses his right to rule and becomes a tyrant. In such cases, citizens have the right and obligation to defend themselves and depose the oppressive king. However, Santo Tomas also established conditions to justify tyrannicide:

  • The tyrant must have violated divine law or natural lawsuch as freedom of worship, private property, human life, among others.
  • The temporal authority, such as parliament or a court of law, must have failed in his duty to remove the tyrant power.
  • Tyrannicide has to be carried out by a legitimate authoritysuch as a prince or a representative body of citizens.
  • The act must be considered as the last resort after having exhausted all peaceful possibilities to remove the tyrant from power.

It is important to take into account that for Santo Tomás the tyrannicide It was not something desirable or something that should be sought. However, in extreme cases of oppression and violation of human rights, it could be justified as a last resort to restore justice and the common good.

What is tyrannicide in Juan de Mariana?

Juan de Mariana was a Spanish theologian and writer of the 16th centurywho also addressed the subject of tyrannicide in his work ‘De Rege et Regis Institutione’ (On the king and the royal institution).

Mariana argued that a king or ruler it could be deposed and killed if he broke the law and oppressed his people. According to Mariana, tyrannicide was a natural right of the people, and people could rebel against an unjust and violent ruler.

Mariana established that the citizens had the right to take up arms and kill the tyrant if he violated the liberties of the people. However, he also established some conditions to justify tyrannicide:

  • The ruler must be a tyrant, that is, an oppressive and violent leader that does not respect the law and violates human rights.
  • citizens must be under intolerable oppressionthat threatens your life, liberty or property.
  • Rebellion and tyrannicide must be carried out by people with legitimate domainsuch as an assembly of citizens, a prince or a religious authority.

Mariana argued that tyrannicide was not something that should be sought, but that should only be applied in extreme circumstances and as a last resort to protect liberty and justice. In addition, he established that the act should be based on the common good and not on personal motives or revenge.

What is the doctrine of tyrannicide?

It is a political theory from liberalism, it maintains that the use of force to depose an oppressive ruler is legitimate and justified. This has been developed throughout history. in different contexts and culturesand It has been the subject of debate and controversy.

In general, he maintains that political power is not absolute and that rulers have an obligation to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. If a leader violates these rights and becomes a tyrant, he loses his legitimacy and can be forcibly deposed.

Some philosophers and theologians such as Santo Tomás de Aquino, Juan de Mariana and Francisco de Vitoria have justified it under certain conditions, however others have rejected the doctrine of tyrannicide considering it dangerous and contrary to the established social order. For example, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that political power is absolute and that rebellion against the ruler is always illegitimate, since it can lead to chaos and civil war.

Currently, is not accepted or applied In most countries. Instead, a wide variety of political and legal systems have developed that seek to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and limit the power of rulers.

What are the characteristics of tyrannicide?

Are vary depending on the season and the historical and cultural context. However, some common characteristics of tyrannicide can be identified, such as:

  • The violence: Implies the use of force and aggression to depose the tyrannical and oppressive ruler. It can be justified or unjustified, depending on the perspective.
  • the illegality: Tyrannicide is a criminal act and outside the norms and laws established by the government and society. In certain cases, the perpetrators are considered criminals and be punished for their action.
  • legitimacy: It can be justified by some as a fair and necessary act to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens. However, this legitimacy can be questioned and rejected by others who consider that violence and illegality are not justified under any circumstances.
  • morality: Tyrannicide raises ethical questions, since it involves the decision to take another person’s life. In many cases, the perpetrators of tyrannicide can justify their action as a correct and necessary act to protect society from a tyrannical and oppressive ruler.
  • Uncertainty: Tyrannicide is an action that has unforeseen consequences and uncertain for society and for the future of the country. On many occasions, it triggers an armed conflict and a regime change that brings unpredictable and long-lasting repercussions.

What are the most relevant cases of tyrannicide? – Examples

Throughout history there have been several examples that are considered transcendental due to their political and social impact. Some of the most outstanding cases are:

  • Henry III of France: He died in the year 1589 by a monk fan named Jacques Clément. Clément considered that Henry III was a tyrant who had harmed the Church and that he should be deposed. The assassination triggered a series of political and religious conflicts that plagued France for several years.
  • Oliver Cromwell: He led the English Revolution in the 17th century and deposed king charles Yo. After the king’s execution in 1649, Cromwell became the de facto leader of England and ruled the country with a heavy hand. In 1658 Cromwell died naturally. but his body was exhumed and decapitated by his political enemies after the restoration of the monarchy.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Died 1865 by actor and sympathizer Confederate John Wilkes Booth. Booth considered Lincoln a tyrant who had abolished slavery in the United States and was undermining the rights of the southern states. Lincoln’s assassination triggered a political and social crisis and affected the country’s history.
  • Nicolae Ceaușescu: The Romanian dictator he was executed in 1989 during the Romanian Revolution. Ceaușescu ruled Romania with a heavy hand for several years and had accumulated great power and wealth at the expense of the population. The Romanian Revolution was a popular movement that led to the fall of the Ceaușescu regime and the establishment of a new political system in Romania.