Tyrants’ dilemma: do they want us productive or dependent?

Recently, Zachary Marschall wrote an analysis at Campus Reform of the Left’s “fascist fitness” message. You probably have heard of, if not read yourself, MSNBC’s late March editorial, “Why the far right is really into fitness” (quickly re-titled). Probably my favorite response when it first came out was Saagar Enjeti’s take-down:

What I found most intriguing about Enjeti’s rant were his observations about the author’s background. Here’s MSNBC’s blurb for her: “Cynthia Miller-Idriss is a professor in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Education at American University, where she directs the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL). Her most recent book is "Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right."). Enjeti adds some more detail, but the point is clear from the blurb: she’s a professional intellectual for the political class.

While Zachary Marschall makes salient points linking Miller-Idriss’ piece to various identity politics movement and “fat acceptance” propaganda in academia, the roots of Miller-Idriss’ hostility may be mostly an expression of any tyrant’s dilemma.

What does a tyrannical government want?

It wants people to rely on it, and fear independence. It wants them to mistrust their own judgments, and instead depend on the wisdom of its “experts.”

But it also wants a supply of competent people to get things done.

Potiphar wanted a slave who would run his household for him so the didn’t have to worry about anything. But he wasn’t happy when Joseph did that so well that his own wife became erotically fixated on this slave, because he was effectively master of the estate.

Saul wanted someone to fight the giant Goliath for him. But when David did so, Saul became enraged with jealousy, because people praised him for competently carrying out Saul’s wishes.

“A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers”(Proverbs 17:2 ESV)

That sounds good, but it means that a father who wants to keep it all in the family will feel threatened by a wise servant. In a large country with a large governing class, some will only care about keeping the populace weak and compliant, while others will be aware they need a populace that is competent and self-reliant. For example:

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be driven by the needs of the political class for a “governable” populace. If you want to be in a happy and productive society, you need to be a happy and productive person. That way you can contribute more to society and encourage others to do the same by your example. While it’s not my place to tell you where physical fitness should rank among your priorities, it definitely should be considered. Capable people get more done.

Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for

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