Why the Wolves Rule
July 25, 2002
All power tends to corrupt, wrote
Lord Acton. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I love Lord
Acton, but I wish he were remembered for more than a single aphorism. In
fact, I wonder if this famous aphorism is quite right.
Here is my
counter-aphorism: those who seek power are already corrupt.
Put otherwise, politics
naturally attracts criminal types. Put still otherwise, most people are
sheep, cooperative herd animals. That is why they are doomed to be ruled
Look at Israel, ruled by
the bloody Ariel Sharon. His predecessors include the terrorists Menachem
Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. And this is a democracy, of sorts. But look at
the Arab states around Israel. Most of them have been ruled by dictators,
some of them very rough customers indeed. We should keep our distance
from the whole region. There are no good guys there.
Come to think of it,
when have good guys ever ruled? Good guys seldom want to rule. Flip
through the roster of twentieth-century rulers, some of them still in
business. You find names like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Mussolini,
Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Lyndon
Johnson, Bill Clinton, and many others of similar quality. Criminals rule
with suspicious frequency.
What does this tell you
about the nature of the state? My short list may seem unfair to politicians
as a group; but can you honestly say that any other occupation would yield
so many killers, predators, frauds, and liars? They seem to have the skills
suited for the acquisition of power. The state, after all, is organized
force, and it will be headed by those who dont mind using force.
you think this is something new in history, I recommend that you study
Shakespeares history plays. Richard III is an obvious
monster. Henry IV and his son Henry V are far more subtle; so
much more so that Henry V is usually mistaken for a national hero.
A thriving society
isnt built by force. Its built by countless free cooperative
acts, which the phrase free markets hardly expresses.
Those acts include not only commerce, but family life, friendships,
worship, courtship, charities, sports, and countless other transactions we
take for granted.
Thomas Hobbes had it backward. He thought life in the state of
nature that is, life without the state would be
a war of every man against every man, which he described
as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
It sounds plausible
when you read it, but Hobbess psychology was naive. He saw human
beings as essentially predatory individuals, bent on sensory pleasure and
avoiding pain, whose social life would be naturally violent and selfish
without a state to keep them all in awe.
It works the other way
around. People are naturally cooperative, capable of loving each other and
usually driven by loves of various kinds. Making all allowances for Original
Sin, their average level of humanity and honesty is far above the average
for rulers of the force-systems we call states or governments.
So why do they submit
to the state? Chiefly out of fear. They fear what the state will do to them
(if, for example, they dont pay taxes) and, at the same time, the
bogus fear of anarchism. They have been told that the great predator is
also their protector. And most of them deeply believe that
their state is the only thing protecting them from hostile
foreign states. Fanning fears of foreign states is one of the most
efficacious ways of keeping a population loyal and submissive.
But ordinary people
arent saints, either, and they too can be corrupted by power. They
wouldnt rob their neighbors, but if the state will do it for them,
they may accept a government check, without inquiring too closely into
where it came from. They wouldnt murder people either, but if the
state sends soldiers abroad to kill and conquer, calling it
defense, they wont usually object. The state spares
them the pain and risk of committing crime, while sharing the profits
Thus dependence on the
state corrupts millions of otherwise decent people. If they hold
government jobs, they may even flatter themselves that they are
contributing to society when they are, in fact, parasites on
society like the state itself.
aphorism? Trying to clean up politics is like trying to
clean up an extortion racket. Because thats just
what it is.