A Theory on Power: Illusions of Government Hegemony
By Peter Augelli
Government is only as powerful as the people allow. More broadly, people are only as powerful as those around them allow. Certainly it makes sense for government. Democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people. So naturally the people must allow government to have power. But does this apply to any situation where power is a concern? Certainly, power is more ethereal more immaterial than those with power would have you believe.
Power can largely be grouped into 5 categories: reward, coercive, referent, legitimate and expert. Looking at these, the first 4 are what I would consider external or consent powers. In other words, they require the acknowledgement of those it is being exercised over. Think about a situation in which I have the ability to reward or punish someone. Perhaps at work. I have the ability to promote or fire an individual if I so choose. Now if I want that individual to do something for me I could entice them with a promotion, or threaten to fire them. This is only affective if the individual cares about those outcomes. If they had one foot out the door, or had another job lined up, my power suddenly diminishes. With both referent and legitimate power, it requires the other individual to recognize either the societal norm, or formal agreement that bestows that power. We can again use the example of a work environment; why do we do what the manager tells us to? Partly as mentioned above, we might have career aspirations and want them to view us in a positive light, or perhaps we fear the consequences of ignoring them, but there is also a certain amount of legitimate power, we give them power simply because of the title they hold. Once again that assumes we recognize that title. Only expert – knowledge is internal something we can directly control, If I want to increase my expert power, I must do something to increase the knowledge within myself.
If we apply this knowledge to government this means that for government to persist above the people it is only because the people give it that power consciously or unconsciously; we must freely give up that power or at least passively not resist as it is usurped. What if as a nation, overnight, we decide to stop listening to congress, stop paying taxes. They could use coercive power, send the military, but that only works if we the people are not willing to die. It also requires the military be willing to follow the president’s or congress’ orders. The only true power we can give them is expert power, giving them our information, relinquishing our right to privacy. That is why our founding fathers insisted on protecting those rights. They are crucial in tipping the balance of power to the people.
The government should be transparent, its people opaque. For expert power once given is very hard to retake. That is why some oppose a gun registry. It seems like a good idea, shouldn’t we have knowledge of people that own fire arms, doesn’t that make the nation safe. It may when the government wishes to uphold the legitimate power our constitution gives to its people, but what if they decided they no longer wish to honor that contract? The people are powerless. The issue is power is easily given not easily taken back. Why is upholding the 2nd amendment so important, why is a gun registry so concerning to those who wish to protect the second amendment. Because this knowledge can all too easily be used to harm the very people it purports to protect.
This is not unfounded paranoia, there is actually a fairly recent example of this. In Germany the Weimar Republic created a complete registry of all firearms within the nation. When government is good it is not an issue, but what of when it turns deleterious to your freedoms? History shows that often we can only take power back through blood shed. Those of you not familiar with history, it was the registry implemented by the Weimar republic that allowed the Nazi party and Hitler to remove guns from the hands of those he would latter oppress and kill. Look at our modern day politics, what of laws like ones that prevent mentally ill and those on no fly lists to purchase weapons, sounds reasonable in practice, but who decides what criteria make you mentally unfit? Our founding fathers would have been considered terrorists to the British empire. People fail to realize that all the atrocities of people like Hitler and Stalin were 100% legal.
If Expert power – knowledge is the only internal power, the only one we cannot take back through refusal to acquiesce, we should neither allow government to have it nor relinquish it willing through pacifism. The government is there to protect and serve the people, it need only the limited power we intentionally and willingly give it to protect our freedoms. Giving the government more power than that will only lead to oppression and tyranny. So I urge the people of this country to hold onto your freedom, for once it is lost the price to regain it is incalculable. We must remember laws are not just in and of themselves, it is only when just people are behind them that we see justice. Too often in history the unjust gain power and make criminals of the just; Anne Frank was a criminal after all.