Inside the human animal, escaping wide notice, lies the drive to dominate. Either we learn to transcend this drive, or we journey toward a world dominated by one power.
We know of "kill or be killed" and its concomitant redress: "Thou shalt not kill." We do not know of "dominate or be dominated." We have no affiliated remedy: "Thou shalt not dominate." We should.
We do have "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," Leviticus 19:18, and Matthew 7:12, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." These are superior to "Thou shalt not dominate," but they also are more challenging.
Either we live free or we live under domination. If our nation’s leadership ever succeeds in dominating everyone else, it will surely also dominate us. Even without dominating the world, that leadership is driving to dominate us and succeeding.
The more that we unite, assist, cooperate and support our leaders’ efforts to dominate others, the more we forge our own chains. Tyrants abroad are tyrants at home. The American people are finding and will find themselves just as much the slaves and subjects as those whom they subjugate.
Let us therefore supplement "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" with "Thou shalt not dominate." If men cannot at present love one another, maybe they can curb the drive to dominate.
Despite its tremendous importance, the drive to dominate escapes our attention. Searches on Google reveal the following for the exact phrases in quotes:
"Drive to dominate" — 14,200 results.
"Dominate or be dominated" — 1,210 results.
"Kill or be killed" — 355,000 results.
"Love and be loved" — 507,000 results.
Alternatively, searches for the single words find:
Dominate — 31,000,000 results.
Kill — 112,000,000 results.
Love — 493,000,000 results.
To find love in first place over kill is heartening. Yet we ignore the drive to dominate at our peril.
One cannot fail to notice the complexity of historical outcomes. One can reel off innumerable factors at the individual and social levels, such as ignorance and error, intent (greed and idealism), human weaknesses, cultural conditioning (education and religion), emotions (fear and hope), technology (the means to conquer) — all working interdependently.
There is one underlying driver, “Dominate or be dominated,” that is too important to ignore. The drive to dominate is writ large in many nations and empires. It is so pervasive that we overlook and forget it. We take it for granted.
Dominate or be dominated is not only an American motivation, behavior, and flaw. It has been a flaw of Mongols, Turks, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Mayans, Aztecs, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, English, and many, many more peoples. Empires rise and fall throughout mankind’s recorded history.
Behind all the many conquests and expansions, behind all the many wars over religious differences, behind all the oppression and tyranny, behind all the motives of greed for wealth, or land, or gold, behind all the wars over injustices, lies the drive to dominate.
Ideology is important, as Robert Higgs suggests. Ideology plays into the inculcation of values in schools and elsewhere that builds a foundation for the drive to dominate. When people willingly give up their treasure, their lives, and the lives of their children for the cause of domination, we know that ideology is playing an important role.
The drive to dominate is both rational and a passion driven by other flaws such as fear and pride. It can be inside us because of evolutionary or cultural reasons of survival that may now be less useful or even counterproductive. The most important ideological foundation is the idea: dominate or be dominated. This is the unspoken rationale that sways masses. It is the idea: us or them.
But whether the thrust to dominate be called drive, devil, sin, or passion, whether it is inborn or learned or some of both, ideology dresses up and conceals that which is inside us or takes hold of us. Ideology gives it other names. We fight to conquer in the name of the true religion, or the true freedom, or peace, or democracy, or communism, or against capitalists, or the superiority of our race or clan, or for national security, or our nation’s survival, but in the end the aim is to conquer and dominate.
The drive to dominate is easily aroused by any notable incident in which self-defense seems at stake, such as the Lexington massacre, firing on Fort Sumter, Remember the Maine, the Lusitania sinking, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, or 9/11.
Reason is abandoned when these incidents occur. Sometimes the masses spontaneously arise. Sometimes the yellow press eggs them on. Often, leaders and others exploit the incidents.
These are times when, no matter how horrible or seemingly clear or one-sided the events are, we even more should control our passions and consider matters calmly and deliberately. Lives have been lost, but they are lost. Rash actions will not bring them back. Natural catastrophes and accidents claim far more lives than these events.
This may sound callous and cruel. It is not. It makes no sense to leap into conflicts blindly, perhaps sacrificing thousands and thousands more. It makes no sense to tear up the fabric of one’s society and laws to save that society. It makes no sense to move ahead without knowing what we are doing.
The fact that other human beings may have caused such events should not override our rational faculties. We usually do not know much about the details of these incidents, little to base important decisions on. We may not know why the events happened, or what their instigators intended. Events may be accidents, their sources shrouded in mystery. We may need time to understand the meaning of intentional events and accidents. In some cases, our leaders withhold or manipulate important information and mislead us. An event may even be concocted or fabricated so as to arouse opinion.
Tacitus, the Roman historian (A.D. 54—117), wrote "Cupido dominandi cunctis adfectibus flagrentior est." Lust of power is the most flagrant of all the passions, or the lust for power inflames the heart more than any other passion. St. Augustine (A.D. 354—430) wrote of libidio dominandi, or the lust of rule: "The lust of rule, which with other vices, existed among the Romans in more unmitigated intensity than among any other people, after it had taken possession of the more powerful few, subdued under its yoke the rest, worn and wearied."
When the drive to dominate is distilled into its purest and most potent essence via social constructions called States or Empires, the result invariably is large-scale destruction, excess and error. The State can grow into such a powerful and power-hungry organization, helmed by men who thirst for power, that the drive to dominate becomes large-scale folly, an amplification of the character flaws of a few individuals with outsize power.
Empire-building, a manifestation of the drive to dominate, under-estimates the difficulties (costs) of domination. It seeks conquests that cannot possibly benefit those in the empire. At the same time, empire-building is excessively fearful that external enemies are massed to destroy the empire. Power paradoxically leads to insecurity. It over-estimates the ease with which someone else can dominate it. Then, by trying to control too much, it generates its own demise.
Domination taken to excess results eventually in the empire’s having to retrench. This has happened to every empire in memory, and it will happen to the U.S.
In the last few thousand years of failed empires, there seems a basic irrationality when the idea of dominate or be dominated is expounded through conquest. It seems that mankind keeps repeating the same error over and over. The ultimate drive is clearly toward world domination — that’s what each empire is striving for. That’s what’s inside people and what ultimately appears when aggregated into powerful States. But success that ever beckons never materializes. In its place comes the destruction of those who are avaricious and overreach.
The drive to dominate is basic and dangerous in an age when powers can mobilize huge force. Mankind either controls this drive and places itself on a surer footing, or else it struggles along as it has for thousands of years with first one group, then another trying to dominate.
Perhaps finally one group will dominate the whole world. But no empire has succeeded at this goal and, I dare say, this is improbable. Unlike Orwell, I cannot conceive that the spark of free will and thought inside every living soul can ever be completely extirpated. Long before that ever happens, free spirits will throw off their chains.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.