Acton Institute Powerblog

The Despotic Reign of Fear

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Yesterday was both Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) and the day that Donald Trump became the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican party. I reflected on the confluence of these two phenomena in a short essay on what Mr. Trump might learn from Emperor Palpatine. It is not well-known, perhaps, but Palpatine was instrumental in creating the so-called Book of Sith, which includes a treatise by him on “Absolute Power.” I draw a couple of lessons for Mr. Trump from Darth Sidious’ work, but there’s another element that I want to highlight briefly as well.

At one point Sidious reflects on his rise to prominence, his control of the Galactic Senate, and eventual consolidation of power under the Empire. “Fear is the spark that drove my march to power. Even now it fuels the engine of my Empire,” he writes. “The weak must be trained to fear the consequences of betrayal. They must dread that their neighbor’s loyalty is greater than their own. The anxious will whip themselves into hysterical nationalism without further prompting” (emphasis added).

13174032_848140198624580_2869438526186601064_nHere Sidious provides a key insight into the nature of despotic tyranny and it’s corruption of human relationships. Such tyranny isolates individuals from one another, making sure that they no longer relate to anyone except as mediated by the despot or his machinery. Or as Tocqueville put it, “A despot readily pardons the governed for not loving him, provided that they do not love each other.” Love having been excluded, fear is left alone to reign.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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