The perspective I am about to express does not reflect particularly deep political philosophy. It is not about what, fundamentally, justifies political power. It expresses, rather, a perspective which I find most practically applicable. It is a principle which heavily influences the rest of my political perspectives and behavior.
I have one, most fundamental, political instinct:
I am opposed to the concentration of power.
There is, of course, the old saw about the best, most efficient and effective, sort of government being a benevolent dictatorship. There is a point, of course, about the inefficiency of government by competing interests—the inefficiency of different people working at cross purposes to each other. And the majority is hardly always wise. Democracies are often unwise, in fact. But, human nature being what it is, dictatorship is inevitably worse.
The concentration of power is inevitably disastrous for three reasons:
First, those in power inevitably dedicate more and more of their efforts toward simply maintaining or enhancing their own power. And they inevitably succumb to the temptation to stoop to unethical means to achieve their goals. They lose patience. Benevolent dictators inevitably and quickly end up malevolent, in order to maintain their own power, even, ironically, in order to achieve their truly benevolent ultimate goals. Regardless the value of the ultimate goal, however, the end result is always horrific.
The second reason the concentration of power is bad is that the few in power inevitably end up stupid. This happens for two reasons. First, more minds are better than few. The more minds you have working on something, the more insights you are going to have at your disposal, and the fewer important things you are going to miss. The wise compensate for this weakness, of course, by recruiting input from those not in power. But this rarely works well for long. The problem is that the people without power tend not to tell the people with power the truth. They fear, often with good reason, that those in power may respond negatively to things they don’t want to hear. It’s dangerous to speak truth to power. So even when those with power encourage truthful input, what they hear in response tends not to be the truth. So the more power is concentrated in the hands of one or few people the dumber they become.
The third reason why the concentration of power is bad is the most obvious. People with power tend to look after their own interests. They get out of touch with, and even lose interest in, the interests of others. Democracy establishes a quite effective check on this. If those in power do not attend to the interests of the majority, they get voted out.
So the concentration of power is a very bad thing. Power is best dispersed. There is a clear inefficiency to this. But power concentrated has insufficient checks to ensure that that power is used for the good.
Every dictator has thought themselves the exception, of course. Power concentrated in their, exceptionally brilliant and ethical minds, is very safely placed. But that’s part of the stupidity of which I spoke. Human nature is simply incompatible with the concentration of power being a good idea.
This is why I was not particularly broken up about the defeat of the Progressive Conservative party in Alberta in the most recent provincial election. I lean conservative on fiscal and ethical issues. But the PC’s concentrated power horribly. I was glad to see the old boy’s network sent packing.
This fundamental instinct against the concentration of power also guides my other political judgments. This is why I lean toward capitalism and against socialism. Socialism involves more centralized control of wealth, and less economic power spread out among many individuals. This obviously entails a concentration of power in the hands of fewer people. I’m not a purist about this. Going to the extreme in eliminating the concentration of power would lead to laisse fare capitalism, absolute libertarianism, and anarchy, actually. Excessive capitalism has had horrible consequences. And some socialistic programs have been enormously beneficial to our society: the public schools, police forces, and public roads come to mind. But in a well-functioning democracy all of these are kept in check by a voting public with real political power.
I’m also not saying that there can never be a situation so messed up that a benevolent dictatorship is the best one can do. But, thankfully, thankfully, thankfully nothing like that is true today in the West.
This same principle applies to organization as well as governments. Business owners can do what they will with their own property, of course, subject to legal and ethical constraints. And the purposes for which an organization exists supersedes the personal interests of its members. Still, organizations are healthiest when power is distributed widely, when diverse expressions of opinion are actively encouraged, and coherent action is facilitated by a shared inspiring goal.