Wednesday, January 14, 2015


(Don Boudreaux)
… is from page 206 of Michael Huemer’s brilliant 2013 book, The Problem of Political Authority:
First, given the existence of a powerful government, the people who are most likely to wind up in control of that government are those who (a) have the greatest drive for power, (b) have the skills needed for seizing it (for example, the ability to intimidate or manipulate others), and (c) are unperturbed by moral compunctions about doing what is required to seize power.  These individuals are not in the game for the money.  They are in it for the pleasure of exercising power.
One myth, as dangerous as it is common, is that because power exercised by democratic governments seldom is as arbitrary, as total, and as gruesome as is power exercised by totalitarian governments (Uncle Sam is not the North Korean state), power exercised by democratic governments is not really ‘power’; instead, it is on most occasions merely the carrying out of The People’s will.  Such ‘power,’ therefore, (the myth holds) is not to be feared.  It is, indeed, to be celebrated as The People acting in unity, as one, in furtherance of their common interests.  (If you read a lot of “Progressive” literature, as I do, you’ll discover that by far the chief abuse of power on the domestic front that “Progressives” fear is the state’s failure to intrude into private market relationships as heavily and as thoroughly as “Progressives” think appropriate.  Perversely, “Progressives” see as the greatest instantiation of abusive power in democratic societies the alleged success of oligarchs and corporations bribing government officials not to exercise power that The People, in their wisdom, really want those officials to exercise vigorously and widely.)
But of course actual, flesh-and-blood, self-interested individuals exercise government power, even in democratic societies.  That their power in democratic societies is seldom, if ever, as absolute as that possessed by the likes of Stalin or Mao or Castro emphatically does not render that power sweet and good.  It is still to be feared, not least because it is widely mistaken, both by those who hold it and by many who are subject to it, as being justified and guided in all of its detailed applications by the good and glorious voice, and attentive supervision, of The People.


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