Sunday, October 30, 2016

Power and Community

One common saying is “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That may not always be true.

One problem is that power is not the only thing that can corrupt. There are all sorts of things that can corrupt. Money can corrupt as well; but that does not mean that money is a bad thing.

Another problem is that power does not always corrupt. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln rose to great power, but neither of them were corrupt.

What is the relationship between power and corruption? Probably the same as the relationship between alcohol and being a bad person. I've known any number of alcoholics, and some of them were bad people and some were not. If someone started out as a bad person, then becoming an alcoholic would make them an even worse person. And then there will be the cases of someone becoming a bad person as a result of alcoholism.

Same is the case with power. Some people start out being bad and get worse when they get into power. There are others who do not start out being bad, but become bad as a result of being in power.

One thing is for sure: Powerful people are not the only bad people. The world is full of all sorts of bad people. Some of them become powerful, and some do not. Nor are all powerful people bad people. Lincoln was a very powerful person, but he never abused his power.

Can power lend to all sorts of abuses? Of course. But it is not the only thing that can lend itself to abuses. Anything that has any kind of appeal to people will have all sorts of people using it for wrong. We see this with money; we see this with beauty; we see this with intelligence. None of these things are remotely bad in themselves. They can all however be used for wrong.

It is therefore important to distinguish power from abuses of power. And, yes, if someone in a position of any kind of power is being a jerk, there need to be checks upon that. This is of course the case with political power; it is also the case with private power, whether such be wielded by corporate entities, academia, media, church or community.

One ideology popular in recent times has been communitarianism. Communitarianism wants power given to communities. The problem with that approach is that such power is unelected, unofficial, unaccountable, unbalanced and unchecked. This means that there is nothing to prevent abuses of communitarian power. When left unchecked, such power can be used for very wrong things – and I have seen this done all around. That it does not come from the government means absolutely nothing to the people who come at the receiving end of the abuses. Whether the government shoots you or whether KKK shoots you, you still are getting shot.

If communities are to be made an organ of power, then it must be power that is official. Their ways and their attitudes must be codified exactly as they are and checked both by people within the community and the people outside the community in case members of community take actions that are contradictory to constitutional law. However mushy you may feel about community living, it is completely different if you come at the receiving end of abuses of communitarian power. Many communities are absolutely horrible. Giving them power empowers only such abuses.

It is correct that there be checks and balances upon government power. But the government is not the only entity capable of abuses; and private power needs to be scrutinized as readily as government power.

Does power corrupt? It can work out in any number of ways. An already corrupt person can come into power and become more corrupt. A previously decent person can come into power and let it go to his head. Or someone such as Abraham Lincoln can come into power and maintain his integrity.

With communities, I see no reason at all that such would be better than either government power or corporate power. Anything human is capable of being used for wrong. If communities are to be made organs of power, then they must be held to the same standard as is the government. Their ways have to be made official and subject to checks. None of these entities are either good or evil. Both are capable of both. If you are a libertarian, you should scrutinize communitarian power as readily as you would scrutinize government power, and you will earn your title as defenders of freedom.


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