Today, I discuss the importance of self-tyranny, how self-tyranny prevents external tyranny and the best ways to control yourself.

What Is Self-Tyranny?

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.” – G.K. Chesterton

Self-tyranny is self-control or your ability to direct your actions and contain your misbehavior. Self-control is crucial for individuals to function. If you cannot say “no” to unhealthy food or poor habits, you will become unhealthy or waste your resources on distractions. And without crucial resources, such as time, you will struggle to accomplish the goals you set for yourself.

For Society To Function, Self-Control Is Non-Negotiable

On a societal scale, self-control is necessary for a functioning, peaceful society. If the average person cannot control his spending, vices, and bad habits, then he will act in poor ways that are destructive.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Poor health habits such as smoking or overeating create preventable health issues. These issues cause the price of healthcare to increase for everyone. Additionally, these preventable health issues take medical resources away from treating and averting unavoidable diseases such as cancer.
  2. If people cannot overcome their drug addiction, their lives will crumble. Drug addicts become erratic, violent, and destructive when their lives deteriorate. Thus, they will hurt others for more drugs, abuse family members during withdrawals, and steal to pay for their addictions.
  3. If a man cannot overcome his addiction to pornography, he contributes to the growth of an industry with ties to sex trafficking, abuse, and trauma. The inability to regulate his vice means he gives legitimacy, time, and money to an industry that damages the stability of his society.
  4. A lack of emotional control means you will hurt others when angry or depressed. You can’t control your emotions, so you snap at family members or flounder when facing challenges.

In each scenario, a lack of self-control creates rippling dysfunction throughout society, a community, or an individual’s life.

Self-Control Prevents External Tyranny

battle | man with sword and shield

Controlling yourself is the most brutal battle you will ever face.

When we control ourselves, we do not create dysfunction. Dysfunction undermines societal stability as resources are diverted to unproductive behaviors, good people are hurt by those who are dysfunctional, and progress is halted to address people’s vices and lack of self-control.

Unfortunately, either individuals control themselves or a strong force will. And “force” means other individuals, government, and nature. For example, mathematics will become a tyrant if people ignore basic economics. Or the state will enforce order if people are unwilling to control their behaviors. Or reality will enforce itself, and your body will fail because of poor health habits.

You cannot solve personal responsibility. Individuals control themselves, or an external force does it for them, typically through violence.

How To Practice Self-Control

Since self-tyranny protects against instability, we need to ensure individuals practice it. There are two main ways to ensure you become your own tyrant:

1) Be Clear About Your Goals

If you have no long-term desires, you cannot excel in the ways you wish. You will waste your resources if you are unclear where they should go. For example, you will waste time on social media if you have not thoughtfully planned your day.

But if you know your goals and have set clear deadlines? Then you can ruthlessly set yourself back in line when you start to stray. Why? Because you have defined what you should be doing and know what is “right.”

Be clear about what your goals are, so you can compare your actions to what you are looking to achieve and become.

2) Understand Your Vices – Then Start Culling Them

battle your vices | woman punching air

Your vices are not your friends. See them for what they are and attack them as viciously as they attack you.

The more vices you have, the less happy you can be because vice steals your resources and undermines your virtue.

To cull your vices, start by listing what they are. What do you do that wastes your resources? What are activities that cause shame? What activities do you aggressively need to “justify” to yourself and others?

Determine what vices you cannot live with – start culling them aggressively. Find resources online to help you overcome your addictions and live a more fruitful life.

Overcoming your vices is a crucial step in self-tyranny. If you don’t control your vices, believe me when I say something or someone will restrain them for you. And they will not be merciful.

Accept That You Will Always Experience Discomfort

“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.” – Joseph Pulitzer

To me, you can either experience the discomfort of controlling yourself or the horror of something else regulating you. Life has many ways of getting you back in line; none are pleasant.

External tyranny is dangerous. It is never forgiving, and it lacks nuance. Do you think the state cares about your traumatic childhood? Does mathematics care about your eventual plan to control your spending habits?

Of course, some external control is necessary. This regulation is not external tyranny, but a community focused on helping you achieve your virtuous ends. Your community will help you control your more hidden vices and hold you accountable for misdeeds.

But ultimately, you need to control yourself. The best way to improve your life is to manage what you are and how you live.


  1. Where is one thing you lack self-control? Despite everything, I still struggle with emotional control. How would your life look if you could control every action you take and aspect of your character?
  2. Do you know someone who has excellent self-control? What are they like? Do you know someone who lacks self-control? What are they like?
  3. What laws, rules, and regulations have been enacted by the government that negatively affect your life? How does regulating the poor behavior of others always come back to hurt you? And how does the dysfunction of other people negatively affect your life?

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.