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Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 14 years ago, in 2010, on the World Wide Web.

Here's a Tyrannicide Day logo, with a cartoon silhouette of a T. rex with a crown on its head and an asteroid hurtling at it from the sky, with the slogan SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS printed on top.

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Today, March 15th, commemorates the assassination of two notorious tyrants. On the Ides of March in 2010 CE, we mark the 2,053rd anniversary — give or take the relevant calendar adjustments — of the striking down of Gaius Julius Caesar — the military dictator who rose to power by butchering his way through Gaul, by boasting of enslaving millions of war captives, by setting fire to Alexandria, and, through years of conquest, perfidy and proscription, battering and breaking through every restraint that Roman politics and civil society had placed in the way of unilateral military and executive power — until he finally had himself proclaimed dictator perpetuus, the King of Rome in everything but name. On March 15th, 44 BCE, a group of republican conspirators, naming themselves the Liberators — rose up and ended his reign of terror by stabbing Caesar to death on the floor of the Senate. By the coincidence of fate, only two days before, on March 13th, is also the anniversary (129th this year, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments) of the assassination of Czar Alexander II Nikolaevitch, the self-styled Caesar and Autocrat of All the Russias. A group of anarchist conspirators, acting in self-defense against the ongoing repression and violence of the autocratic state, put an end to the Czar’s reign by throwing grenades underneath his carriage on March 13th, 1881 CE, in an act of propaganda by the deed. In honor of the coinciding events, the Ministry of Culture in this secessionist republic of one, together with fellow republics and federations of the free world, is happy to proclaim the 15th of March Tyrannicide Day (observed), a commemoration of the death of two tyrants at the hands of people rising up in the conviction of their own equal freedom to defend themselves from violence and oppression, even the violence and oppression exercised by men in the name of the State and its fraudulent claims to authority. It’s a two-for-one historical holiday, kind of like President’s Day, except cooler: instead of another dull theo-nationalist hymn on the miraculous births of two of the canonized saints of the United States federal government, Tyrannicide Day gives us one day in which we can commemorate the deaths of two tyrants at the hands of their equals — men and women who defied the tyrants' arbitrary claims to an unchecked authority that they had neither the wisdom, the virtue, nor the right to exercise. Men and women who saw themselves as exercising their equal right of self-defense, by striking down the would-be tyrants just like they would be entitled to strike down any other two-bit thug who tried to kill them, enslave them, or shake them down.

It is worth remembering in these days that the State has always tried to pass off attacks against its own commanding and military forces (Czars, Kings, soldiers in the field, etc.) as acts of terrorism. That is, in fact, what almost every so-called act of terrorism attributed to 19th century anarchists happened to be: direct attacks on the commanders of the State's repressive forces. The linguistic bait-and-switch is a way of trying to get moral sympathy on the cheap, in which the combat deaths of trained fighters and commanders are fraudulently passed off, by a professionalized armed faction sanctimoniously playing the victim, as if they were just so many innocent bystanders killed out of the blue. Tyrannicide Day is a day to expose this for the cynical lie that it is.

There are in fact lots of good reasons to rule out tyrannicide as a political tactic — after all, these two famous cases each ended a tyrant but not the tyrannical regime; Alexander II was replaced by the even more brutal Alexander III, and Julius Caesar was replaced by his former running-dogs, one of whom would emerge from the abattoir that followed as Augustus Caesar, to begin the long Imperial nightmare in earnest. But it’s important to recognize that these are strategic failures, not moral ones; what should be celebrated on the Ides of March is not the tyrannicide as a strategy, but rather tyrannicide as a moral fact. Putting a diadem on your head and wrapping yourself in the blood-dyed robes of the State confers neither the virtue, the knowledge, nor the right to rule over anyone, anywhere, for even one second, any more than you had naked and alone. Tyranny is nothing more and nothing less than organized crime executed with a pompous sense of entitlement and a specious justification; the right to self-defense applies every bit as much against the person of some self-proclaimed sovereign as it does against any other two-bit punk who might attack you on the street.

Every victory for human liberation in history — whether against the crowned heads of Europe, the cannibal-empires of modern Fascism and Bolshevism, or the age-old self-perpetuating oligarchies of race and sex — has had these moral insights at its core: the moral right to deal with the princes and potentates of the world as nothing more and nothing less than fellow human beings, to address them as such, to challenge them as such, and — if necessary — to resist them as such.

How did you celebrate Tyrannicide Day? (Personally, I got back into town from San Francisco, got down to sorting my books from the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, and gave my wife a Tyrannicide Day gift that I picked up for her while I was out — a copy of the The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, just barely cooled from the presses from the Kate Sharpley Library.) And you? Done anything online or off for this festive season? Give a shout-out in the comments.

Thus always to tyrants. And many happy returns!

Beware the State. Celebrate the Ides of March!

Other Celebrations

See also:

T-shirt: Celebrate Tyrannicide Day

12 replies to Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)! Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Noor

    I hadn’t heard of Czar Alexander being assassinated on this day until now. Tyrannicide Day FTW. (And I should mention I spent a good deal of my day doing temp intern stuff for antiwar.com.)

    How did the bookfair go?

  2. Bob

    Some friends and I went out for a Greek dinner and raised our $2.50 domestic beers to Tyrannicide Day.

    Cheers, Bob

  3. John

    Charles, thanks to you and your multiple Tyrannicide Day posts, I now happily think of the Ides of March as Tyrannicide Day and not just that famous day we read about in the Shakespeare play or my friend’s birthday. Thanks for informing us of the tyrannicide of March 13. Now my dad’s birthday, which he shares with Einstein, is flanked by two other days to celebrate just a little bit.

  4. Louis B.

    Murdering aggressors is not self-defence.

  5. Rad Geek

    Louis B.,

    By definition murder is not self-defense, or any other kind of defense. But my argument is that killing an active tyrant, in order to prevent him from continuing to inflict the mass murder and enslavement that tyrants inflict, is not an act of murder. It is an act of defense on behalf of the lives and liberties of those who would be murdered or enslaved as the tyrant continued his reign.

    Do you disagree? If so, why? Do you disagree that people have the right to use force to defend themselves or others against an imminent threat of violence against their person or liberties? Or do you disagree that tyrants do pose an imminent threat of violence against the persons or liberties of their victims? Or do you think that there is a right to use force in defense against tyrants, but not a right to kill them specifically? (If the last, do you apply the same standards to common criminals who would murder, abduct, rape, or enslave their victims? Or do you think that it’s OK to kill the freelancers in defense of the innocent, but not OK to kill those who do so under the color of usurped authority? If you do make such a distinction, why do you make it? If you don’t make such a distinction, why don’t you believe that the force is justified by its defensive purpose?)

    Argument will get you a lot further here than assertion. Or at the least some bare mention of what premises you’re using to get to the conclusion you want to assert.

  6. Louis B.

    I’m not making a claim that tyrannicide is morally wrong. It’s just that the situation is not as unambiguous and clear-cut as using violence to put an end to a specific act of aggression (self-defense).

  7. Rad Geek

    Louis B.,

    Well, O.K., but in what salient respect is it different?

    I can think of some specific acts of aggression that Caesar was committing habitually, and which he planned to continue committing in the future. He wasn’t committing those acts of aggression anymore after he was dead.

    • JOR

      I’ve been thinking about this lately. It’s sometimes said (by libertarians/anarchists) that killing politicians, cops, etc. is unjustified or immoral because it won’t “change the system”. But that’s always seemed irrelevant to me. If you’re assaulted on the street and you use lethal force to defend yourself, we (as in, libertarians) would not usually argue that your actions are immoral because killing your assailant failed to change the whole world and system which produced him. That act of self defense might well even cause more harm than good, in The Big Picture (as many seemingly good things obviously must) but most libertarians would still defend it. So why not the killing of cops/politicians/etc.?

      That’s also why I’ve always disliked “blowback” narratives about terrorism. Those narratives are true of course, as far as they go. The problem is how far they go. Al Qaeda was just as “responsible” for America’s wars against Iraq and Afghanistan as US policy was “responsible” for 9/11.

— 2013 —

  1. Ross

    I’m thrilled. March 15 is my birthday. I was born in 1959, and I am a long-time anarchist.

    • JOR

      Lucky bastard. I get Flag Day.

    • Rad Geek

      Good news: my wedding anniversary is a state holiday in Alabama, so every year, they mark the event by shutting down the state government for a day.

      Bad news: this guy’s birthday is the reason.

      True story.

    • JOR

      “Historians have criticized Davis for being a much less effective war leader than his Union counterpart Abraham Lincoln, which they attribute to Davis being overbearing, controlling, and overly meddlesome…”

      Heh. That reminds me, a while back I caught some program on the History Channel (I know…) that insisted that the CSA lost the war mostly because they were, essentially, too Austrian. They didn’t use that term, of course, but ‘too much respect for property rights’ (specifically in reference to the land-grabs necessary to build large railroads) was stated explicitly and tight money policy was implied). It’s not just pro-Confederates who put too much stock in the likes of Woods and DiLorenzo, apparently.

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