The totality of mankind’s history is dominated by two common yet opposing desires. This has been the case ever since humans began to form the first social units and common bonds to satisfy common economic needs. It has been there since the divisions of labor according to skill began to develop as individuals began to self-select the roles they would play in these common social and economic units. These two desires have delivered results that would have been impossible for an individual to achieve but they have also been the root of civil unrest, interpersonal and societal conflict and war. This is an aspect of human nature that can unify or divide.
These desires are the fight to concentrate power and the corresponding fight against the concentration of that power.
Just as the domestication of humans became commonplace and they started to form societal associations and organize governmental units to control them, the tension between the collective and the individual began – but if the individual voluntarily participates in creating such organizational structure, why is there this tension, why is there friction?
That answer may be summed up in one word: power – more precisely, the seductive allure of power over others.
Every organizational unit has a leader. Whether by public acclamation or individual assumption, a leader will emerge. The effectiveness of any group of people depends on its capability to remain true and focused on its goal and to that end there must be some form of leadership advanced to assure that the energy of the group is directed toward the ends agreed upon by that group. In the absence of such leadership, the group will splinter as every individual tries to act on their individual ideas in pursuit of the goal – many times it means that the individual will even redefine the goal because there was something about it they disagreed with in the first place.
With every assumption of power there is implied that the leader will use that power in a just manner – but that isn’t always the case. Simple human nature and the frailty of the human condition prevent it. Power is a very addictive drug. To recognize this is nothing new – Lord Action famously said:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”
Another not-so famous quote of his is this: “Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.”
There have been many attempts in western history to stop this concentration of power – the Magna Carta, the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are examples – and out of those, only the Constitution was effective in forestalling what John Adams called “avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry…” and “human passions unbridled by morality and religion”. Through its definition of specifically enumerated federal powers, it was the most effective method ever devised to protect a people from the concentration of power.
Note that I spoke of the Constitution’s effectiveness in the past tense. I did so to indicate that we have lost those controls on the very same unbridled human passions that Adams wrote of. From the TSA “security” permitting air travel, to the erosion of private property rights by the EPA to simple confiscatory taxation to a “deep state” bureaucracy, these “passions” are in control. We have shifted from a government of the people based on the rule of law to a concentrated government based on the emotional priorities of the powerful in charge.
Where the rule of law is consistent and proactive, emotional responses are always inconsistent and reactive – and that is no prescription of the maintenance of liberty.
James Madison wrote of the eternal challenges faced by America in Federalist #51:
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
And in that same section, he provides the answer to the problem:
“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
This is why the oath of every elected official includes the admonition that they are to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America – it is the only protection a free people have against tyranny.