Freedom and PowerPosted: August 28, 2008
The paradox of freedom and power:
While freedom for everybody is a universally accepted goal — at least by lip service — it is less often pointed out that freedom requires empowerment: the power to exercise that freedom. When this is discussed, it tends to be in terms of the good, wholesome, creative activities in which free people aspire to engage — or so goes the implicit assumption. It is curious that the encouragement to such creative endeavors often comes with the battle cries of “breaking the rules”, or “thinking outside the box” or “pushing the envelope” — in unspoken but — to the perceptive listener — quite obvious contrast to the pious admonition that freedom of course must be restrained at the point where it infringes upon others’ freedoms. As if this were not a rule, a box, an envelope. Do we not know from childhood on that it is precisely against such rules and boundaries that freedom will be tempted to test itself? Indeed: is it really freedom if it is constrained by such rules, however plausible and reasonable? What power does empowerment confer that is limited to such limits — that have been drummed into the child and the reasonable citizen by parents and authorities? And that all too often have been show to be not only “reasonable”, “respectful of others’ freedoms” but also indisputably to the advantage of those in power to impose such exhortations?
So, Abbé Boulah suggests: must we not accept the truth that there is a paradox here? Freedom requires power. And power manifests itself most clearly, some would say only, in the power to break precisely those rules that reasonably would limit it, for the sake of others’ freedom. It is precisely this rule that makes breaking it the most tempting of all the temptations of power. Power will be tempted to break even the rules of reason; to break precisely, most definitely, the rules of reason. This is the temptation that has beset all human institutions, that has driven powerful men and women to push the envelope of their power into madness.
Is it not enough to encourage freedom and power to direct itself to beneficial and wholesome activities? Surely there are enough problems and shortcomings in the world that could occupy seekers of power to the end of their days in the pursuit and invention of remedies and solutions?
Sure, if it were not for the fact that implementation of such solutions, no matter how well-intentioned, more often than not impede others in their freedom to implement their own solutions to the same problems. They thereby become each others’ restrictions of their power and freedom, and as such inevitably will be perceived to be the very rules that must be broken, the boundaries that must be overcome.
Humanity has always known this, even when it was not openly acknowledged, and usually kept under careful wraps by established powers. Human institutions such as hierarchical organization (which allocate power to be exercised ‘downward’ while being constrained by the power of people higher up in the hierarchy in very controlled ways) or the ‘checks and balances’ in governmental arrangements, all demonstrate this implicitly.
The problem becomes the more acute, the higher up in such hierarchies and government it occurs. The ultimate problem is therefore this: how to effectively constrain the power of the highest officials, the highest courts, the highest enforcer of the rules that supposedly bestow liberty on all?
Abbé Boulah suggests that just as the most effective parental manipulations of children’s willfulness are those employing what is called ‘reverse psychology’, so the most effective means for keeping the various branches of government focused on beneficial and rational and wholesome endeavors might be precisely the advancement of various weird and irrational proposals, which the other powers then must prevent from being implemented. He sees no problem regarding the supply of such irrational ideas, they are in apparent abundance in all bureaucracies, though often sorely lacking in creativity, interest and style. The problem, rather, becomes that of orchestrating the balancing activities of each of the three, say, branches of government in alternatingly producing wild and crazy ideas for the other two to contain, while simultaneously preventing the irrational proposals of the other two from being implemented.
This, so various followers of the good Abbé contend gleefully, would keep these governing bodies busy enough to let other folks pursue their own freedoms and projects without too much government interference. And thus become a major boon to humanity. Other friends are, however, becoming increasingly worried that the very power of this idea is driving its originator himself insane.