The Imminence of Tyrannical Rule

The Potential Downfall of Stanford University’s Excessive Freedoms

Perspective on Stanford’s policies inspired by Plato’s “Republic” (from Leo Strauss ®).

Whilst reviewing The Republic’s section on the origination of tyrannical rule, I could not help but attempt to apply the concepts explored by Plato to our local ‘Stanfordian’ setting; at least personally, I believe that the current atmosphere in our university resembles Plato’s description of a democracy that has incorporated excessive freedoms, thereby prompting the ultimate question of whether we could eventually face a tyranny of sorts within our localized scholastic setting.

Plato argues that a democracy’s insatiable desire to maximize freedom ultimately leads to its dissolution (and thus the imposition of tyranny). Particularly within Stanford, I have noticed a widespread motivation — amongst students — to seek greater independence from the university’s administration. Whenever the administration attempts to impose a restricting regulation — such as the proposed bans on hard alcohol and Full Moon on the Quad — students, chafing “impatiently at the least touch of authority”,[i] proceed to label administrators as “cursed [self-interested] oligarchs”.[ii] Moreover — in cases such as that of the planned Western Civilization core curriculum — the administration is even unable to impose its will, given the severity of the student outcry against its proposed action. Thus, the inability of the administration to enforce its propositions creates a situation where “subjects [students] are like rulers [administrators], and rulers are like subjects”.[iii] Cries of injustice and calls for defiance (e.g. students already planning how to “hide” hard alcohol if — and when — the ban is imposed) have found their “way into private houses [dormitories, fraternities, etc.]”,[iv] thereby “infecting” a substantial quantity of students with the anti-administration sentiment. The sheer magnitude of the anti-establishment discontent drives a substantial portion of the student body to “have no respect or reverence” for the university’s directors, thereby prompting the latter to “fear” and seek to flatter said students.[v] The destruction of the formerly hierarchical relationship betwixt students and administrators strengthens students’ willingness to “compete with [the administrators] in word or deed”,[vi] as manifested by the ‘Who’s Teaching Us’ movement’s list of demands for the policies that the administration should endorse. Moreover, certain factions within the student body are compelled to “cease to care even for the laws”,[vii] as illustrated by the ‘Fossil Free’ movement’s illicit sit-in in the Main Quad (in protest for the university’s continued investment within the fossil-fuel industry). Evidently, Stanford’s students are more than willing — and actually feel entitled to — question the administration’s policies and actions. Is this a by-product of the extensive freedoms granted to the university’s students? If such is the case — and Stanford’s students continue to demand even greater freedoms at the expense of the administration’s power — Plato’s recounting of the factors leading to the development of a tyranny forebodes a frightening future for our localized community.

Plato asserts that “the excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction”;[viii] thus, in the case of Stanford, the lavish freedoms granted to the student populace would ultimately foster the development of tyrannical rule. Now, I find it hard to digest that Stanford is nearing the origination of a tyranny, especially since students do not seem to agree upon who should be their populist protector. Although I concede that an anti-establishment organization like ‘Who’s Teaching Us’ could potentially assume said role, is it not more likely that the backlash as a result of the excessively-free university policies originates within the administration itself? Hence, could not the very Stanford administration respond to the greater uncertainty induced by the university’s grand freedoms by adopting more tyrannical measures (as it appears to be doing, at least in the eyes of some students)? Overall, the excessively-free nature of Stanford is unquestionable, but it is yet to be seen whether or not said phenomenon will ultimately bring about the imposition of tyrannical rule.


[i] Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The Republic. Cleveland and New York: World Pub., 1946, p. 3.

[ii] Ibid, p. 2.

[iii] Ibid, p. 2.

[iv] Ibid, p. 2.

[v] Ibid, p. 2.

[vi] Ibid, p. 2.

[vii] Ibid, p. 3.

[viii] Ibid, p. 3.