Reflections on the Tyrant
Tyrants and time.— In the final years of an ambitious tyrant’s reign, he typically takes his shot at ultimate glory — and ultimately hits himself. Why? Because he mistimes the shot. All his earlier calculations and preparations were undertaken with patience and painstaking forethought, so much so that the preparation and forethought themselves almost became the essence of the game. At the end, however, he inevitably makes the decision to act on all those preparations somewhat prematurely, for the simple reason that this decision, and this one alone, is made not on the tyrant’s usual presumption of infinite power and endless opportunity, but rather in the fear of old age, the fear of running out of chances, much as a man who has fallen asleep on a long bus ride might be jerked awake by a slight bump and, suddenly fearing he has missed his stop, quickly ring the bell and disembark, still half dazed — only to realize that he has jumped off ten stops early.
Loyal to the last.— It is in the tyrant’s waning years, when the fates have begun to turn against him at last, that we begin to remark on his “loyalists,” those individuals within his inner circle who seem never to waver in their support for him, or in their willingness to share his final, desperate outcome. It is likely that most of these loyalists, if not all of them, are loyal entirely by self-interested calculation. Knowing their master’s time is limited, they hope to be his chosen successor, or at least to be in the right position to make their play for power when the time comes. In other words, the individuals we refer to as the tyrant’s loyalists would more accurately be understood as vultures, hungrily circling around him and warily eying one another, waiting impatiently for him to die. The tyrant himself knows this, but he has no friends, no one else to carry out his commands, so he keeps them close and invests his trust in them, increasingly aware that he must stay active and continue throwing food to them with the appearance of confident vitality, lest they smell his weakening spirit and swoop in for their feast. Unlike we naïve outsiders, the tyrant knows best what a “loyalist” is, for he was once a scavenger himself.