This article, as in my earlier articles on power, refers to aggressive power; epitomized by how states use power. It does not refer to power used in defense of one’s life or justly acquired property.
As attested to by a voluminous and growing literature, the state’s power is evil. My goal remains to lay bare the general rules by which this power works so that we might more easily avoid its temptations and instead be drawn to the opposite path of diminishing the presence of state power in our society.
An earlier article of mine lists a dozen theorems about politics and state power. This one adds several more.
Criminality of political means
In any society, we expect that some human beings will attempt to accumulate power. In Oppenheimer’s terms (employed to good effect by Albert Jay Nock), they will try to exploit the "political means" rather than the "economic means." Political means focus on theft of property, conquest, seizure, and coerced wealth redistribution. These oppose the liberty to use one’s rightful property, peaceful production, and exchange, which are economic means. The state embodies political means; they are its essence. Carried down to the personal level, the political means are seen to be the same as those of common criminals: power is used in both cases to take.
We should be mindful that the state, whether nascent or full-blown, is a dynamic, not a static organization. The powers wielded by those who head it wax and wane, the general thrust being augmentation and concentration of those powers. The worst states combine power concentrated in the hands of one or a very few men with widespread police and other bureaucracies that monitor and control life throughout the population. But in any state, the conformity between the state’s use of the political means and the operations of criminals never fails to be present.
Examples of the criminal exercise of the political means are legion. Wiki matter-of-factly tells us that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), dating from 1947, engages "in covert operations at the direction of the President." From its inception, the CIA has engaged in a range of secret activities that included mind-control, front organizations, assassinations, political overthrows, media control, cultural control, financing of sympathetic organizations, kidnapings, torture, stabilization and de-stabilization of foreign governments, support of death squads, drug operations, anti-union activities, and lethal operations affecting the politics of many foreign nations and the domestic U.S.
Attractions of secrecy
I venture the hypothesis that no empire of any magnitude can control large territories and peoples without analogous secret police organizations that spy and carry out similar control and violent activities. The Roman Empire had the Frumentarii, Ottoman Sultans had the hafiye, the U.S.S.R. had its Cheka, NKVD, and KGB (among others), and the Nazis had their Gestapo. The U.S. has its CIA and FBI (among others) and now the Department of Homeland Security (DHS.)
But many states that are not empires have or have had such organizations to effect their foreign and domestic activities of control. Ghana has its Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), China its Guoanbu (Ministry of State Security), Venezuela its DISIP and DIM, and Turkmenistan its Ministry of State Security. The list of secret state police organizations is far longer than these few examples. Their presence is a powerful signal of the state’s equivalence to a large-scale criminal gang. The Cosa Nostra had its secret assassination bureau known as Murder, Incorporated, mimicked by the CIA’s nickname "The Company."
Funding the CIA with a secret budget, the Congress instituted a secret police with the world as its beat. The CIA’s extended powers were a quantum leap over the previous activities from which it sprang. Since its beginning, its accumulated power, activities, and budget have grown and grown. We can fully expect the U.S. state to continue to extend the powers used by the CIA to domestic matters, and if not the CIA, then other bureaucracies and secret police agencies such as the FBI, the DHS, or newly-invented or transformed bureaus of control.
Former CIA officer John Stockwell has written: "It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize and teach the American people to hate and fear, so we will let the Establishment spend any amount of money on arms," and "Enemies are necessary for the wheels of the U.S. military machine to turn."
These observations lead me to propose
Theorem 13: Power-accumulators and power-users prefer secrecy.
In broader economic terms, I restate Theorem 13 as follows:
Theorem 13 (alternate): The cost of accumulating and using power rises as transparency of the political system increases. Conversely, the cost of accumulating and using power falls as transparency of the political system decreases.
However, I do not mean to state this theorem as merely a law derived from empirical observation. I mean to prove that this theorem is always true. The proof goes as follows. Any accumulation of power leads to a use of power, or else it would not be accumulated. Any use of power must harm some people, whom we can call the victims. They will object and make known their grievances. They will point out the injustice of the harm inflicted upon them. The actions of the wielders of power may or may not find general support among the population they rule; in other words there will be those who applaud the domination of the victims and those who do not. There will usually be a significant number of people with a sense of justice (a moral interest) who will sympathize with the victims. In addition there will be those who have economic, political, cultural, ethnic, religious, and other interests in supporting the victims. For example, they may fear becoming the next victims. Hence, any use of power whatever leads to resistance to its use. This is so important that, in passing, I state it as a separate theorem:
Theorem 14: Power begets opposition to its use.
To complete the proof of theorem 13, note that since power begets opposition to its use, the wielders of power have an interest in minimizing the opposition. Secrecy facilitates this process in many ways. Clearly, if there is perfect secrecy, then no one knows who is using power to inflict harm and the victimizers can get away with their crimes without reproach. If there is imperfect secrecy, this is better than none. Then there is confusion and uncertainty about who is responsible for what. This makes it easier to shift the blame. Even if people know, for example, that the CIA has done something, the powers-that-be in various government branches can claim that they were not directly responsible for its shadowy operations or can’t control them. Secrecy encourages terror and fear among other potential victims. Secrecy leads to less publicity, or distorted publicity, and this helps defuse the resistance against its use.
In short, secrecy makes it all the harder to pinpoint the perpetrators, shine a light on their crimes, and bring them to justice. It raises the costs of stopping the power-users. This is why those using power want secrecy. They are criminals doing criminal acts, and criminals want to act in the dark. They don’t want people to know what they are doing. They don’t want to be caught.
Extensions, exceptions, and illustrations
Since the accumulation of power leads to its use, secrecy becomes important in this process as well. The accumulation of power means that the state, in some way or by some action, enhances its ability to impose harm; that is, an act occurs that makes it easier for the state to impose power in the future. The state’s costs of imposing power decline.
When a state accumulates more power, it can use more aggressive force and get away with it. The criminals grow stronger with impunity. For example, Chavez (and the Venezuelan state) recently gained new dictatorial powers. The U.S. presidency has been gaining power for decades. The U.S. government gained power over the states when direct election of Senators began, and it gained significant power when the Constitution was amended to allow the income tax. A legislative law that muzzles speech prior to elections gains power for incumbents and the state. The U.S. Constitution (drafted in secrecy) strengthened the national government.
These cases go beyond extending a given power to new areas. They represent altogether new powers. But the extensions of given powers to new areas also accumulate power even as they implement the existing power. For example, the state has a great deal of power over the education of children; and this has already been made legal by various courts. As time passes, this power is employed and extended to control education in more and more detailed ways. The power already present is extended.
In both these instances, gaining new powers and extending old ones, new harm is being done. This, as I noted at the outset, is a given and a known fact. It is recognizing this fact and accepting it as a given that allows us to move on to analyze the crafty methods by which harm can be imposed with a minimum of opposition aroused by those who are harmed and those who raise alarms over the harm.
Secrecy is one such method. Other things equal, the rulers generally favor a lack of transparency within the political system. A law or an executive act cannot help but become known at some point; that is not the issue. The point is that if the public knew what was going on in lurid detail beforehand, the resistance to the law would be stoked. Hence, the preparation for the law, the logrolling, the payoffs, the lobbying, the manipulations, the side deals, and the machinations that go into the making of the law are kept behind closed doors as much as possible. A last minute flurry of activity sometimes results in obscure but important provisions or slight but significant rewordings that even voting legislators know little about and the general public knows nothing about. The kingpins or lead legislators making a law benefit from holding their cards close to the vest and not revealing what they are really after. They may never reveal their purposes, and they have an incentive to stay mum until it is too late for opposition to coalesce and speak out against them. The power game is like playing two games of chess at once: a shadow game on an open board, and a real game on a secret board inside one’s head. Feints, sacrifices, and other maneuvers on the shadow board are tools to win the real game.
There are apparent exceptions to the use of secrecy. There are sometimes brutal and naked exhibitions of open power, such as mass executions, that are designed to instill terror and solidify power over an occupied population. There is the guillotine in the French Revolution. There are the policies of the Russian Communists to kill significant segments of the population. There is the Final Solution of the Jewish Question of the Nazis. These kinds of events usually occur during wars, conquests, revolutions, or large internal transformations when the exercise of power is already open. And even in some of these instances, the criminals prefer secrecy and cover stories so as to gain compliance and defuse resistance.
Like most properties of human actions, secrecy can be used well or badly. I do not mean to leave the impression that secrecy itself is bad. Jesus at times kept his own counsels. He said to pray and fast in secret. "A talebearer revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter." (Proverbs 11:13) But "A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom [a bribe] to pervert the ways of judgment." (Proverbs 17:23)
My point is that since the state’s power is evil and the state commits perpetual crimes, its leaders have the strong incentive of every criminal to conceal them. Therefore, secrecy and a lack of transparency are hallmarks of the accumulation and use of power.
The lack of transparency goes much further than the making of laws and use of power. It also extends to the after-effects of the power. The power invariably causes harm, and the powers-that-be benefit from controlling and influencing the measurement or non-measurement of that harm. Indeed, if they can claim or "show" that there is no harm but a net benefit, their position is enhanced. They therefore attempt to control governmental accounting and reporting so as to minimize reported costs and maximize reported benefits.
In other words, in the effort to accumulate and use power, there is an important place for pseudo-transparency. The wielders of power understand that their laws will become public and create resistance. They know that opposition must be defused, and they know that secrecy and obscurity have their limits. The next steps they take are to feign openness and transparency and to use communications to obfuscate the real purposes and effects of their acts of power. This suggests another theorem:
Theorem 15: Cover stories and false rationalizations facilitate the accumulation and use of power.
While cover stories and false rationalizations can be seen as a special case of the drive for secrecy, they are important enough to warrant their own theorem.
Since people can foresee the effects of power, any attempt to gain or extend power is aided by obfuscation. Propaganda and disinformation have two faces. One face is clouding and confusing the issue as a form of keeping its true ends secret. The CIA works through disinformation campaigns and media control. One well-placed story or video can sow a great deal of confusion and provide cover.
The other face is spreading stories about the supposedly positive aspects of the use of power. This method is exceedingly important. Hearings, if they are held, are simply tools to develop and orchestrate sound bites favorable to laws in the making. Tales of catastrophes, frauds, illegalities, threats, and enemies of all sorts awaiting a remedy by law play into the hands of law makers.
No society is uniform in the beliefs and values of its members, but there is often a dominant ideology that is then reflected in the state that the society creates and tolerates. If the state is powerful and expansive, which necessarily means it is unjust, then its actions are supported by the iniquitous values of those who dominate the society and state.
We in our land are confronted with these works of secrecy and falsehood. Many false teachers find ready ears as they spread the message that the state’s evil is good. Their works add to this world’s and our suffering. They cast us downwards. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20)
We are confronted in our land with those who love and support power, knowing that it is evil. Jesus said "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19) To paraphrase, all the deeds and works of this unjust state power are evil; but many of us love this power. Even when the evil is made known and no longer secret, many of us choose this evil and support it with all our heart. The verdict for such a love is guilty, and the sentence is heavy.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.