August 28th, 2010

eyes black and white

What if you were given Power?

In an online discussion, Steven Feldman narrates:

I was asked last night by my best friend's girlfriend if "I'd sooner be President or King". After insisting that I'd pick neither and her insisting I had to pick one, I said "President, and then I'd shut down the government" to which I got a blank stare from my best friend and a questioning look from his girlfriend. MUAHAHAHAAHA! (evil laugh)
To which my friend Jim Davidson adds:
You can also pick king, and immediately abdicate. That'll show 'em.
However, Jim's second proposition is wrong. If given power, you can't abdicate. If you merely abdicate, the would-be slaves and masters will quickly nominate someone else to replace you as king. Or they'll hold elections for a president, which amounts to the same.

Moreover, if you're good enough to abdicate, your successor, who is bound to be someone worse than you are, will probably kill you because as long as you live you provide a Schelling point around which opposition may gather. Once you ride the back of the tiger, you can't just dismount it, or you'll end up inside. Kill the tiger, or be killed by it.

Abdicating kingship is the wrong thing to do for all involved. What you need to do is to uproot kingship itself. And that's much harder. "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." — Thoreau.

Therefore, when offered The Ring, you're given the responsibility not just to not relinquish it, but what more, to destroy it. Until it is completely destroyed, your sacred duty is to keep holding it, and to defend it with extreme force or extreme ruse against all those who lust for it, and will stop at nothing to get it. If you're unable to defend it, you may be the most honest of men, you'll end up like Pertinax or Didius Julianus. The Ring is no toy for wussies.

Which reminds me of yet another quote: "A true conservative is someone who explains to you that government doesn't work, gets elected and then proves it!" — Milton Friedman

More concretely, if offered Power, what should you do? First, you must destroy the superior Power that could put you into place. If the Praetorians acclaimed you, you must not just bribe the Praetorians, you must dissolve them, in such a way that they will not want to resist while they can. If you were elected, you must not just satisfy the voters for today, you must make the ballot irrelevant in the future; making taxes and monopolies unconstitutional may be a good start, but a solemnly signed piece of paper is only a temporary stop gap at best: you must uproot or subvert the democratic ideology itself. Destroying the other, lesser established powers is the easy part in comparison. You may just dissolve the bureaucracy, abolish privileges, etc., revoke charters and monopolies, and otherwise cancel all powers that were once delegated by the State. Where some people were enjoying personal advantages that they will cling to, you may formalize these advantages and pay those rational enough to be bought off. As for crazy profiteers who can't see their interest, there is nothing but to use force against them; actually, showing them that you are willing to use superior force will quickly make most of them reasonable again and accept the bribe.

What is harder, you must arm the citizens and allow them to organize, while at the same time controlling the army and defending the country against the would be invaders, usurpers, revolutionaries, until a culture of liberty has developed that covers defense, too. You may similarly bribe your rapacious neighbors with their claimed share of oil money, but only after having clearly displayed that you're able and willing to fight and not just capitulating to their claims — and only under conditions that preserve your and your wards' sovereignty if not your "national" riches. Meanwhile, you may have to crack down on those demagogues, fanatics and communists who actively conspire, often with foreign allies, to replace the Power you are destroying with their own. And you must repress those wannabe mass criminals without destroying anyone's freedom to spout nonsense that only calls for legitimate action within one's own property: may mystics live as they please in religious communities and kibbutzim.

Being granted Power is receiving a poisoned gift. You must hold on to it without actually using it. You must deploy force against force, and force against treachery, without ever falling into injustice.

But you haven't been granted Power. Odds are extremely low you will. What you can do, however, is erode Power by denying it your sanction, and spread this denial wide and large. And if you are successful in teaching the Truth about Power, maybe next time Power fails and falls into honest hands, those honest hands will know what to do with it.