(November 22, 2013)
This pathology is not the result of individual psychology or character; it is the result of centralized, concentrated power itself.
It’s little wonder so many sociopaths end up in positions of power: power attracts the ruthless unencumbered by empathy. No wonder the phrase pathology of power resonates: The Federal Reserve and the Pathology of Power (November 18, 2010).
There is an ontological darkness in centralized power, and it flows from the disconnect between authority, responsibility and consequence. A leader with vast centralized powers–a president, an emperor, a dictator–has the authority to send young citizens into combat in distant lands, but he does not carry an equal responsibility to ensure their lives are not lost in the vain glories of Empire. The consequences of his decisions do not fall on him; he is far from the combat and the loosed dogs of war. His concern is the domestic political squabbles of the Elites who support his centralized power.
All centralized power carries the same pathology: those with the authority are never exposed to the consequences of their authority, nor do they have any responsibility for the consequences. The president who launches an unwinnable war that chews up the nation’s youth and treasure leaves office to fund-raise for his self-glorification, i.e. a presidential library.
The CEO whose strategies fail to revive the corporation and indeed send it to the brink of insolvency leaves with a “golden parachute” worth tens of millions of dollars.
This pathology is not the result of individual psychology or character; it is the result of centralized, concentrated power itself. Giving any individual or small group this kind of power–over war, over the nation’s money and credit, over its healthcare–distorts the field of perception; even people who were once non-pathological become pathological once power takes hold of their being. Soon they believe they have god-like powers to “fix things;” indeed, they feel a responsibility to wield their god-like powers “to do whatever it takes.”
But since there is no personal consequence of their rash policies, nor any responsibility for the devastation their powers unleash, the power becomes pathological.
When the multiple bubbles burst and the financial house of cards comes crumbling down, Ben Bernanke will be comfortably secure, far from the consequences of his policies. It is worth recalling, on today of all days, that only two U.S. presidents in the past 50 years had any experience of combat: John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush. Both men acted with care and restraint in matters of war and both sought a peaceful resolution to the Cold War. Was this merely a coincidence, or did experiencing combat inform their humility and sense of responsibility for the consequences of their choices?
The more power devolves to those who actually face the consequences of their actions and authority, the less pathological it becomes. This is the power structure of liberty: each person carries the responsibility and consequence of their actions, choices and words.
“But we are told that we need not fear; because those in power, being our representatives, will not abuse the powers we put in their hands. I am not well versed in history, but I will submit to your recollection, whether liberty has been destroyed most often by the licentiousness of the people, or by the tyranny of rulers.
I imagine, sir, you will find the balance on the side of tyranny. Happy will you be if you miss the fate of those nations, who, omitting to resist their oppressors, or negligently suffering their liberty to be wrested from them, have groaned under intolerable despotism!
Most of the human race are now in this deplorable condition; and those nations who have gone in search of grandeur, power, and splendor, have also fallen a sacrifice, and been the victims of their own folly. While they acquired those visionary blessings, they lost their freedom.” (Patrick Henry)
“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people…. [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and … degeneracy of manners and of morals…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” (James Madison)
CORRECTION: Correspondent Jeff W. reminded me that President Gerald Ford served multiple combat tours in the Pacific Theater of World War II as an officer on an aircraft carrier. President Ford’s wise caution in foreign affairs further supports the notion that combat experience provides an irreplaceable context for decisions of war and peace.