Having just seen a film about Idi Amin- not the last king of Scotland but another that I shall review soon- and reading John Pocock's analysis of the way that Tacitus contributed to the history of Rome written by Gibbon, a thought struck me about the nature of tyranny. What Pocock highlights and what the film obliquely suggests is that at the door of the tyrant public rhetoric stops. That is true because politics is discussion- there is no point in having an ideology unless you have an argument. In Republics and Democracies, argument is key: it is the way that you convince others to support your cause. In a tyranny that is not how the political system works- rather than working out what your argument is, rather than adopting a rhetorical structure to embody the virtues of your position- you have the task of adapting to the tyrant's moods. Your political activity turns from a study of political argument into a study of a personality. Consequently the study of courts- from Tacitus to Castiglione- emphasized the way that a courtier had to behave in accordance with his master's wishes. Optimists like Castiglione beleived that the King could be twisted towards a rational argument, pessimists like Sir Thomas Wyatt thought that that was impossible and the court was just a struggle for preferment (Sir Thomas More's position in Utopia is curiously poised between the two). But the point is evident- in the quietness of the court, as opposed to the loud hubbub of the public fora, something happens to the way that political arguments are couched. They become less rhetorical, more personal and in the minds of the great republican theorists, less political. The words of the tyrant are the expression of the law- not the contribution of one individual to the forming of a collective mind- and in that system it is the personality of the tyrant that governs the nature of the argument, not the truth or the fallacy of the propositions advanced.