To those who invest their brothers with arbitrary and unrestrained power, to those who believe in the goodness of any earthly ruler or man of power, to those who place their destinies in the hands of men who act without being called to account, be warned. To those who wish to understand the failings of power, attend. To those who apprehend the destructions wrought by power and wish to delve further into its workings, give ear.
Who sits atop a pyramid of power can’t hear voices below. He is isolated. He listens to himself and goes astray. He fails to learn and does not understand. He surrounds himself with sycophants, bursting with their own importance and arrogance. They wall him into their own fantasies. He fancies himself a man above men, a man in communication with deep spirits, insights or deities. He turns inward. His mind wanders to great things he will accomplish. Wherever he goes, he is insulated from those below. The voices of those below are brought to him by his servants who hear from their servants who hear from theirs, and so on to the masses far below.
The voices of the ruled are a clatter of disunited echoes and yearnings that no earthly power can sort out even if he walks among them, much less sits far above. Each person being one and single, the multitudes cannot be made into the one. To pretend that one man speaks for many is pretense. It cannot be so. No man can hear the many nor assimilate to himself their motley variety.
For a subject to think that a ruler above himself hears his thoughts and desires, that the ruler knows what lies inside his mind, is likewise pretense. It cannot be that a ruler hears and speaks for all, except in the most shallow way, via a superficial communication of subject with himself and ruler with subject. No one who looks inside himself with any depth can remove himself into a ruler’s words or passions.
The longing for community or unity of thought and mind that may lie in the human breast cannot be satisfied by any earthbound being. That is pretense. In such a satisfaction one soon discovers a deeper unhappiness both in failing to discover one’s own being and in emptying one’s hopes and dreams into another.
To give one’s will up to another man, to place oneself into his power, under his dominion, whether king or president, is either to lose a portion of one’s being or to identify with the depredations of power. Can man worship man without destruction following? When man worships man, he unleashes power, and power, a narrow and ignorant thing when wielded by one or a few, can only set fire to everything in its path.
Those who would live, beware those unrepentant souls who enjoy seeing people crushed, even within their own nation, who fool themselves into seeing enemies at every turn, who relish destroying others and seeing them destroyed. Walk not in the way of people who glorify power.
There is no treasure of this earth that does not bring its share of bitterness and sorrow, no thing that does not fail to measure up, no thing that does not end. The worship of man the powerful is no different.
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,"
"We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,"
"We, the undergraduates of the University of California Riverside, bestow governing authority to the Associated Students of the University of California, Riverside, an autonomous and unincorporated student government,"
"We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common destiny on our land, asserting human rights and liberties, civil peace and accord…"
Grand hopes and dreams, grand pretenses, grand pyramids of power that crumble sooner than pyramids of stone, but not before first bringing about their opposites: misery, unhappiness and destruction.
The powerful make, they take, they overrule the boundaries, they move and shake, they upheave and overturn. They are feared and venerated. They break and dissolve. They arouse and provoke opposition. They destroy. They construct false monuments. They rule. They lie. Their word prevails. They kill. Power is suppression and oppression. Power overcomes the wills of men. Power is against those ruled. That is what power is and means: control.
I do not speak of the power or force used to defend, control or restrain unjust incursions. No, that is not my subject. Nor is it the power of God I speak of, nor the apparent and misnamed power that men rightfully earn in their peaceful relations and exchanges with others. I speak of the political power that sets some men above all and frees them from their restraints.
This is the unjust power of men who trample on others. This is the power of those who claim the right to wield it, who claim the right to speak for all because there exist political mechanisms designed to cover their actions with legitimacy. This power has no right but calls itself right. This is the power that strives to overcome both the bounds of man’s conventions and rules and those of Nature herself.
The harder it is to reject, overturn or change the rulings of power, the worse off we are. The less accountable the ruling power, the worse off we are. The greater the pyramid of power, the less accountable the ruling power.
Pyramids are built stone by stone, from city to region to province to nation to world government, which is the ultimate political tyranny. Leveling the pyramids of power frees mankind. Living in freedom takes skills and learning like anything else. Will we seek freedom or will we forge stronger chains for ourselves?
Pyramids of power are built on controlling those who are ruled, absorbing their voices, their arms and legs, their property, their weapons, their wills, their cities, regions and states. The forms of these things may remain but their substance is trucked away. The tricks of power are legion. It promises and deceives. It feints and gives in, only to grow suddenly when least expected. It coddles and mollifies and suddenly restrains. All the time it gains in strength.
Whether those in power intend to expand it or not, however clever or stupid they are, whether consciously or unconsciously, those in power attempt to hold their power and to make it grow. Those two goals are uppermost. If men of power dispute one another and the system of power collapses, that is because of their attempts to gain power. If they dispute one another and one ruler rises to the top, that too is to gain power. If they loosen the reins of power and give the ruled some room to breathe, that is to retain power. If they bureaucratize human activity, that is to keep and gain power. If they create a tangle of laws and regulations, that gains them power. If they create dependence, they gain power. If they manufacture crises, that is to gain power. Every speech the powerful make has the same aims, to hold and gain power. Behind their words of praise, encouragement, hope, and unity lie their own calculations of power. We can expect nothing else of men of power because that is the nature of power.
If the powerful lose power, it is because they miscalculate and misjudge, or because they lose out to a greater power.
Power opposes peace. Power cannot bring peace. Wherever a peaceable kingdom may be found, there it will be found that power has been restrained or, rarely, that the king is a man of peace who has loosened the reigns of power. There is no peace in slavery. External quietude or stability are not peace. Power conflicts with the manifold, uncountable, and unknown yearnings and desires of the many. It conflicts with the spontaneous pathways of association and activity. It imprisons and frustrates human wills. It conflicts with them, and there is no peace in conflict. Power is essentially a war of ruling wills against wills of the ruled. There are silent wars in which men of power tear apart other men’s lives. There are open wars in which powerful men aim their bombs, bullets, shells, rockets and missiles at men, women and children to tear their bodies apart.
The powerful are prone to error, to miscalculations, oversights, to failures of judgment. They cannot see or hear. They are too distant. They are too far removed, too high, too mighty.
The powerful are prone to greater error than any mere mortal because they control far more than any one man. Their schemes are grand, beyond believing. They will calm the oceans and conquer the stars. They will build great cities and edifices and control the atmosphere. They will even bring peace to mankind, salve all wounds, and heal the sick. They bring a United Nations into existence
"To promote social progress and better standards of life in freedom…to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples."
Since power, again the power of the relatively unrestrained and unaccountable, the arbitrary power, brings conflict, not peace, and since such power is deaf to the realities of those whom it controls, and since it answers only to its own aims of keeping and gaining more power — all such high-sounding goals, even assuming they can be said to be meaningful and understandable, transmute into disappointed hopes and dreams. Political goals on behalf of the ruled become worse than hollow promises. They are destructive of the goals they supposedly set out to attain. The agenda of the powerful is otherwise. The powerful wish to rule, to consolidate power, not to better the lot of the ruled at the bottom of the pyramid.
Any given power prevails for a time. Then both man and Nature, slow to speak, speak back, and that power collapses. Recorded history shows that power falls only to be resurrected in new forms of hope, desire and seeking, aided by men slow to learn the lesson that power ravages, and abetted by men seeking power for themselves.
Eventually we will understand that power pyramids are the bitter fruit of impostors, both the ruled deceiving themselves and being deceived by their rulers. They are inherently defective. We will learn to associate with one another without power. We will form groups, associations, companies, churches, families and clubs that have the flexibility to allow anyone to disassociate, and they will help us accomplish many things we asked for from a power pyramid. But not all, because men are not Gods.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.