Monday, September 20, 2010

The Interests of Power

The true interest of an absolute monarch generally coincides with that of his people. Their numbers, their wealth, their order, and their security, are the best and only foundations of his real greatness; and were he totally devoid of virtue, prudence might supply its place, and would dictate the same rule of conduct.
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter V.
Whatever happened to this idea, I wonder. Now, we're quick to assume that politicians that we don't like don't care about how many of us are left alive, how well-off we are, if our society is stable or if we are secure in our lives and property. There's an entire industry, it seems, devoted to spreading the idea that a President, Governor or even Mayor of the wrong political sect are not only devoid of both virtue and prudence, but that in their eyes, their real greatness comes from how much injury they can perpetrate upon their constituency without being either stymied or removed from office.


Keifus said...

It holds to the extent that the powerful identify themselves with society as a whole.

Relative power seems to be a big motivator. People are interested to conserve rewards on themselves and have other people do the work or suffer the consequences of hard or bad decisions. I'd argue that global quality of life has progressed over the extreme long-term, but in a short lifetime, people would rather not share the wealth and adopt the sacrifice themselves. A casual view of history suggests that power is perfectly happy with preserving slavery, pollution, war, profiteering, colonialism, genocide, sweatshops, serfdom, indenture, inequality, you name it. Especially if it keeps them in the lifestyle to which they're accustomed.

Even for the pure-hearted decision-maker there's a huge temptation to rationalize that the things that have made them powerful are good for everyone. Since the powerful like to claim, or even believe, that their success is good for everyone, it's probably better to address their body of ideas than to just call them all evil.

Aaron said...

Hmmm... I'm still noodling on that.