Rick Warren and tyrannicide
- The Tyrannicides, statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Naples. Roman copy of the Athenian version by Kritios and Nesiotes
I've seen posts everywhere about Evangelical minister Rick Warren's statement that it would be ok for the US to assassinate Iran's president, based on the Bible .... the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped.... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers ... (hat tip to the Episcopal Cafe).
I don't know enough about the Bible to know if it does indeed say that or not, though I'm pretty sure God doesn't sign off on murder, even the murder of bad guys. Still, tyrannicide has quite a history, and some of the same people who are freaked by Rick Warren's statement might be admirers of someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who tried to assassinate Hitler. My own opinion is that both Rick and Dietrich are wrong, but first lets look more at tyrannicide.
The assassination of a tyrant, tyrannicide, was (occassionally) considered a noble deed in the time of the ancient Greeks and what student of Roman history will forget the Ides of March? It fell into disrepute in the middle ages (divine right of kings), and was taken up again by the French Huguenots (Monarchomachs) during the Protstant/Catholic religious wars. As Wikipedia writes ....
The Monarchomachs also claimed that if the sovereign persecuted true religion, he would violate the contract concluded between God and the people, who were thus granted a right of rebellion. They inspired themselves of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas*, and the School of Salamanca on the killing of "bad kings." This legimitization of tyrannicide may have inspired as much the friar Clément, who assassinated Henri III in 1589, as Ravaillac, who assassinated Henri IV in 1610. Rebellion against tyranny was considered not only as necessary, but as a divine right.
The Catholics were for tyrannicide too - Pope Gregory XIII considered it a moral duty for believers to assassinate Queen Elizabeth of England. More modernly, when John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln, he believed himself to be following in Brutus' footsteps, and contemporarily, the US government since WWII has considered knocking off unwanted foreign heads of state without breaking much of a sweat (Allende/Chile, Castro/Cuba, Hussein/Iraq, etc).
I don't know much about politics or religion either, but as one of the articles I linked to mentions, there seems to be a fine or non-existent line between terrorism and political assassination, and I believe that the ends don't justify the means, that tyrannicide is murder, much as it may be in some ways deserved.
* I turned to St Thomas Aquinas who, in the Summa , echoed Cicero's praise of tyrannicide, albeit on four strict conditions: 1) that the man to be killed had usurped power violently; 2) that he had broken the divine and the natural law and was a threat to the lives and morality of his subjects; 3) that there was no other remedy; 4) that his killing would lead to some better state of affairs. It must not be done for vengeance or for punishment - those matters were in God's hands. - from When is it 'laudable' and 'lawful' to kill a tyrant?
A good discussion of why Rick Warren is wrong on the Bible ok-ing assassinating Iran's president can be found in a post at Religion Dispatches - Rick Warren's Biblical Blowback
Check out THE HISTORY OF TYRANNICIDE. - John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates