Thursday, March 03, 2011

The morality of power

Robert Kaplan, Financial Times:

The moral differences between one dictator and another are as vast as those between dictators and democrats. There is such a thing as a benevolent dictator –- and we should not turn our back on all those that remain.

Vision, perceived legitimacy, the existence of a social contract and the ability to make society more institutionally complex –- and thus ready for more freedom –- are the distinguishing characteristics of good dictators.
This legitimacy [of dictators] depends on a social contract that treats the population as citizens rather than subjects, and has as its primary goal the economic and social advancement of society.

Once we accept power as an established principle, the political "dictator" really isn't that different from a CEO or your garden-variety household patriarch.  The issue is no longer what they are -- one who rules  -- but rather what they do; and, moreover, whether or not we agree with the outcome.   This explains how the author can glide effortlessly into performance-style appraisals of people who regularly use the army to make their societies "ready for more freedom," by his standard.

Furthermore, the distinction between the "citizen" of the republic and the "subject" of autocracy is a lot like the difference between the "team member" of today versus the "worker" of yesteryear: a status in name only.  The material concern in any hierarchy is always one's proximity to the bottom.


Anonymous said...

This brought to mind your post about the parliamentary notion of left and right whereby only the left and right of those at the top of the hierarchy matter to those below (as opposed to their own views). When looked at this way, the autocratic state is not that different from the republican one, especially if one accepts that it has as its primary goal the economic and social advancement of society.

Todd S. said...

the existence of a social contract

So, they are tangible now? Personally, I'd like to see the one that I allegedly agreed to.

Abonilox said...

This insidious concept of "good totalitarianism" is becoming dangerous. At its root is a fundamental misconception of value that is a logical consequence of the monetization of the masses. So long as there is economic growth, the legitimacy of force is not even questioned.

Also, what the hell does institutional complexity have to do with more freedom? I would argue that the opposite is true.

Anonymous said...

JRB, in a weird synchronicity, a conversation I had with a friend yesterday touched indirectly on this subject. I just finished writing a post about it, the one called "Yoonie Farms." Would be interested in your thoughts on the subtle workings of power-modeling in the subject I'm discussing there. I have my own thoughts on it which aren't really fleshed out in the post, but I'd rather express them in a thread conversation.

If you have the time, etc., that is.

Others who read here certainly are welcome to comment too.