Conversations have to start with perspective. Too small or too large a box placed around a conversation leads to conclusions that, respectively, have little impact or no practical application. A failure to understand the reason an argument exists is perhaps even more detrimental to useful conclusions and leads to emotional, uniformed decisions that tend to repeat old, and frankly, stupid mistakes.
I’m of the belief that our current political arguments are suffering from a severe lack proper perspective. The current philosophies of the left and the right side of our US political continuum on the surface seem radically different. The arguments are heated and the view points seem irreconcilable. On the other hand a trend of power consolidation seems to be occurring despite the seemingly dramatic political differences. In the context of a Republic, this should sit very wrong in our collective stomachs. The fact that it doesn’t points to our skewed perspective of the politics of our government in particular and politics in general.
When discussing any political system the very first question we should ask ourselves is, “Who holds the power?”. The question of power is the basis of all politics and must be the foundation of any discussion on the subject. Political conversation without this foundation is either meaningless or blatantly misleading. The strange nature of human political power is that it must always be given by a group of people. Only a rare few times in history and for only short periods of time has a small group of individuals held power through overwhelming physical superiority. A few individuals with guns versus many with bow and arrow is one example. In all other cases power is held through the people willing it, as a result of fear, loyalty or belief to those who hold it. With this mindset let’s look at the possible forms of political power.
The graph above describes the three basic forms of organizing society throughout history. The three curves represent the extreme forms of each basic type. Every political system is some variation of one of these extremes. When absolute power is increasing concentrated in fewer and fewer people a political system trends towards an Oligarchy. When absolute power is concentrated in every individual a society trends towards Anarchy. When power is balanced and no person or group of people holds absolute power the system is a Republic. Republics are able to exist because power consolidation is held at bay by holding the entire society accountable to the Rule of Law. The laws are kept in check by opposing forces; one side pulling toward government power and the other toward individual power.
These are the basics, the fundamentals of the discussion. Unfortunately we seem to have removed this basic understanding from our political conversation and have instead allowed the seeminly divergant rhetoric, to lead us to the same dead end. When we look at many of the arguments put forth by either side of our political perspective and see how they curve the power graph we find they both curve it the same way. For example, on the right we see modern conservatives looking to place power in government to enforce moral agenda or military power, while on the left, modern socialists seek to place power in the government to enforce social agendas and economic policy. Instead of creating a balanced politic, they both curve the power graph, in all areas of life, further toward concentration in a small number of people.
This is obviously not the original intent of our Republic. By creating two opposing political parties, the founders intent was to create constant balance, our straight line on the graph, with one party pulling toward power concentrated in each individual person, while the other party would pull toward power concentrated in government. In other words, the law makers would keep the laws in check with one side pulling toward no laws and Anarchy, while the other would pull toward totalitarianism and Oligarchy.
With both parties pulling the Rule of Law toward totalitarianism through excessive law and the consultation of political and monetary control, our Republic is quickly drifting toward Oligarchy. Each party puts a different mask on its form of totalitarianism but underneath the face is the same. While this seems to be the natural progression of nations, the consequences are dire. As I discussed in the previous blog, consolidated power always leads to bloody succession and instability.
To avoid these consequences we have to get back to the basics in our political discussion, reorient our perspective and ask the fundamental question when it comes to policy: “Who holds the Power?”.