“Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.” – Plato
The Greco-Roman tradition provided an educational algorithm that has never really been improved upon. In fact, every major movement of educational reform in the Western world began with a reassessment of the template crafted in classical antiquity and ended with a realization of how far off of that standard they had fallen.
The liberal arts tradition, that is, the course of study which was originally designed to set the stage for the development of virtuous, truth-seeking leaders capable of preserving liberty, is an effective prophylactic against the cancer of tyranny in a well-crafted democratic Republic. I say well-crafted because even the finest constitution risks circumvention by individuals whose minds are governed by vice.
Our remarkable constitution is a yolk-sac bequeathed by our forefathers. It has proven to be an effective bulwark against the historically difficult to resist gravitational pull of tyranny, but at a certain point it will no longer counterbalance those forces if there are insufficient numbers of citizen-leaders whose central concern is the pursuit of truth and whose overriding goal is the preservation of liberty.
Tyranny is a cancer in that it is a disease which starts within and manifests outward. The threat to liberty is typically framed as being external – be it the Visigoths or the Huns during the Roman Empire or the Soviets or terrorist networks like al Qaeda in our era – but the truth of the matter is that we are more at risk from forces at work inside the body than we are from factors beyond it. When it comes to the fall of civilizations, internal corruption loads the gun and external antagonists pull the trigger.