Western civilization is risking the return of tyranny by increasing the size and scope of government. Throughout history, free societies descended into tyranny when their populations realized they can use the power of government to give themselves benefits at the expense of others. The Path To Tyranny examines how and why each of these free societies descended into tyranny and evaluates the current prospects for the United States.
Michael E. Newton graduated Summa Cum Laude with honors from Arizona State University with degrees in finance and computer information systems. He was a portfolio manager for ten years and writes about economics, finance, and the market. Michael Newton has always had a passion for history, politics, and economics, which led him write The Path To Tyranny: A History of Free Society's Descent Into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was just published in July 2011.
“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Do you know who wrote that? I confess I did not. It was Tom Paine, a statement from Common Sense, his defence of the American rebels of 1776. I’ve only ever read The Rights of Man and have no high opinion of Paine. Still, I agree with his sentiments here, never more so than today, never more so than at this time.
There are so many things we take for granted in our lives, people who live in relative security, those of us who are lucky enough to consider personal freedom to be an inalienable right, something bequeathed by past struggles and guaranteed by law. We have reached the ‘end of history’, so the argument advanced by Francis Fukuyama went; liberal democracy is the terminus, the best of all possible worlds.
The truth is different; everything is contingent, nothing certain. Europe, it would seem to me, is entering a post-democratic age, developing forms of governance that are becoming increasingly intolerable, increasingly at variance with Anglo-Saxon traditions. America, beset by a crippling debt burden, also faces an uncertain future, with freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution under threat from the growth of state.
Michael Newton’s The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny, which, by simple coincidence, I read at just the right time, is a warning, one, in my pessimism, I fear may already be too late. The author is true to his subject, coming like a doctor, or perhaps like a forensic scientist, offering a diagnosis to be worked on or a report to be lamented over; I can’t make up my mind which.
There are some impressive passages, of which the following is possibly the best example;
While free societies often descend into tyranny because of the choices they make, the people never actually choose tyranny. Instead, demagogues and ideologues promising freedom, equality, and wealth lead them to it. Today, politicians promise the right to high quality education, the right to free and affordable health care and housing, and many more so-called rights. These are not genuine rights. They are benefits at the expense of others. The rights to private property, free speech, and freedom of religion are true tights because they have no cost. The “rights” to education, housing, and health care cost the providers who must supply them for free or at a discount, or they must cost other taxpayers to reimburse the providers. As a result of the government providing these new “rights”, the people have fewer choices as the government rations goods and services, businesses are burdened with more regulation and more bureaucracy is added to the system. Instead of the greater freedom and wealth promised, the people are poorer and become slaves to the government.
We then proceed on a journey through various stages and states, from Ancient Greece to Modern America, a journey in political degeneracy, in the systematic erosion of freedom attendant on the rise of the state and forms of demagogic democracy, though the writer himself does not use that expression. I’m thinking specifically of something Aristotle wrote about democracy, that it was the perversion of constitutional government in the interest of the needy. Is that not the perfect leitmotiv for the last hundred years of political evolution in the West? I certainly believe it to be so.
Polybius took this up, warning, as Newton reminds us, that giving people too much power invariably ends in tyranny. Oh it’s all very well to talk about the emergence of tyranny in Athens, Rome, Communist Russia, Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, but the United States, what is the United States doing here? For the simple reason that, like Athens or Rome, it, too, is in the process of transition, with outcomes that remain wholly uncertain.
The signs Newton points to are really quite salutary, a growth in state power and intrusiveness that would have horrified the Founding Fathers, a potential tyranny far, far greater than the royal government of George III. The power of the Internal Revenue Service alone should be enough to occasion a dozen Revolutions! The present debt crisis is bound to make things even worse.
The Path to Tyranny is a lucid and compelling treatment of an important subject, one that should be of interest to all who value liberty. My criticisms,such as they are, are all of a minor nature. I think the chapter on Ancient Israel should have been placed at the outset, before that on Greece, rather than between Rome and Communist Russia. Also a couple of intermediate chapters would have been useful, including perhaps one on the descent into tyranny of Cromwell’s England, my own period of special interest. More important a chapter on France after the Revolution of 1789 would have been particularly useful in linking the ancient world with modern tyrannies like Communism and Fascist. Neither Communism nor Fascism can be properly understood, I feel, free from the forms of totalitarian democracy that emerged during this period. There are also a few minor errors of fact, of no great moment, I have to say.
None of this should detract from an important book that really does speak to the times, a book that holds up a Janus-like mirror to the present, showing past futures.
There has been a right wing thing over the past few years where people like Ben Carson conflate hundreds of years of Roman history to make a garbled point comparing Rome to the U.S. and warning of its impending doom (somehow involving political correctness). Maybe it went along with the obsession that Obama must want to be the Emperor. This book is in that vein, if that's what you're looking for.
Perhaps it is not surprising that it includes profoundly silly statements like the one below:
"It is said by many that Augustus was the best emperor Rome ever had. Most likely, Rome only became an empire because of Augustus' qualities. A lesser man may have taken the dictatorship, acted tyrannical, become unpopular, and been assassinated, just as happened to Julius Caesar. Augustus' successful reign established the imperial system, which led to the eventual decline and fall of Rome." (pg. 75)
I mean, I guess it's necessary for there to be an empire in the first place, in order for it to fall 500 years later, but I'm not sure what we're supposed to do with that.
WOW, what a book! If you feel that history repeats itself or at least rhymes this book is a must. We can learn so much from history and this book solidifies that fact. The past is our key to the future and Michael Newton has taken not one, nor two, nor three, but numerous free societies throughout history and shows how the growth of their governments led to their downfalls. I recommend this book to all American citizens who are old enough to read. I am going to encourage my family and friends to read this solid history book.
Is the United States on the same course as all the others? Time will tell, but this book gives the reader a pretty good idea of what is possible/probable if we do not take action in the present to alter course.
I received this awesome book through Goodreads first-reads giveaway program. What a great program. What a great book! Thank you to Michael for making this book available.
Fabulous!! Read it twice if you never really learned the truth in school. Many progressive teachers lie about history. Newton's book will open your eyes to why we have to question what's happening in our country today. We don't want to be a few pages in a history book entitled "The Fall of the American Empire."
The book started out a bit slow for me, as getting through the ancient Greeks and the first half of the Roman empire was a chore. From there the book really took off though. Reading this book has inspired me to dig deeper and explore the many resources in the vast bibliography. Well worth the time for those who love our country, despite its government.
The Path to Tyranny literally walks us through a history of tyranny in places like Ancient Greece, Rome and Israel as well as Russia, Italy, Germany and even the United States. It brings to light how, through the ages, many have traded liberty for tyranny when promised wealth and equality.
Mr. Newton takes an innumerable amount of facts and arranges them in a straightforward way making for an interesting, educational and easy read. If you love history, you'll love this book and if you don't love history, this book will change your mind.
I truly wish every American would read this book this week.
It is somewhat of a history lesson- describing various influential nations/governments of the past- all the way from Greece, Rome, Israel, through Russia, Italy, and Germany in the 20th century. Then the last chapter talks about the United States; our history and the direction our nation/government is going.
It is eye-opening. Well-written, clear, understandable (although the statistics and numbers in the last chapter started making my eyes glaze over a bit), and worth reading.
If only enough people would take the lessons of this book to heart....
This book is one of those that is chalked up to learning from the past so as not to repeat the same mistakes in the future. Scary things happen when the few make choices for the many and also at the expense of the many. Too much given away for too little. Interesting read.
Excellent book. Newton lays it out so plainly. The path from freedom to tyranny and the sad consequences. Unfortunately the US is pretty far along the path and it won't take much to push us the last little bit. How do we reverse course? Is it possible at this late date? I hope so!
It takes a little while to get over the initial premature thuses and therefores the author throws in without bothering to make the argument he is eliding. I am even generally receptive to the argument, but it becomes obvious pretty fast that he isn't interested in proving his claims, it's all a pile of assertions.
After that, once he gets into the history, it is mildly interesting. Again it is hard to overlook the transparency of his arguments. Maybe this is ultimately how all historians work, start with the point you want to make and throw in whatever evidence you can (however hard you have to twist it to make it fit), but it is rarely this obvious, and that's what hurts. Again, I'd like to believe the premise, but the arguments are weak and transparently biased in a way that makes me recoil from them rather than nod along. The book undermines itself.
The America section is the weakest part, bringing home all of the problems with the historical chapters but doubling over on itself to ignore those chapters' own lessons. I'm not sure if it's a shame or a subtle mercy that the narrative ends with the Tea Party (which he considered a "positive sign" as opposed to the popular revolts in every other chapter to show what you'd expect to result from it). You know right away from reading this that he's prepared to go full MAGA at the slightest provocation, which proves that those who study history are just as doomed as the rest of us.
The more that People depend on government to support them, the closer we are to socialism and/or dictatorship. Great history and great message for all Americans that care about the future of this country.
Actually quite interesting to read. A lot of historical background. I don't think the main points of the book are very well substantiated. The main point is that big government increases the risk of tyranny. And the risks of concentrating power and the inability of abuse is supported. But the point is stretched to the extreme and it is not supported that small government does not lead to tyranny. Nevertheless, good to know what drives these tea-party supporters.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I think that the author hid behind his 1000+ citations rather than do in depth research. The fundamental arguments might be sound, but most are presented without any rebuttal or counter arguments. It therefore had an unpolished and simplistic feel that left me questioning the author's credentials and basis for writing this work.
This is a must read for anyone trying to make sense out of the craziness taking place in world today. Very well written, and brings a valuable historical perspective to help with that understanding. There is no doubt history repeats itself! The real question becomes, can human beings change it's course?
Not finished with this yet, but really good so far. We are dangerously ignorant of history and our country is definitely sliding towards tyranny based on our current direction/policy. This book uses examples of societies in history to demonstrate how this happens. Kind of like the frog in the slowly boiling water idea.