Government and Power

I have discussed the two previous arguments for anarchism already and have explained by they both fail. This third argument does not fail in the usual sense. We know from experience that power corrupts, and the greater the power the greater the corruption. Government is a particular example of this. The problem with power is a problem that arises from the current condition of humanity. There is no reason to believe that a mere removal of government will solve the problem or decrease it.

The problem with this argument is governments are not the only examples of powerful organizations. Both individuals, corporations and special interest groups can gain power as well. In special cases, each one can gain the power to become governments of their own or to enact powers usually only available to governments. It is for this reason that a lack of government cannot remove the problem of power.

But every individual has the potential to gain power. There are many mechanisms to do so: fame, money, knowledge and skill. Furthermore, power is something that many people desire to achieve their goals. So since there is both potential and desire, a mere lack of government will not prevent an individual from amassing power. But it is not possible to remove the temptation for power nor the potential to gain power. But governments are formed from people and to preserve the common good of those people. So the problems with government have nothing to do with the special properties of government itself. The problems of government exist because human individuals have problems with power. This is enough to show the problem with this kind of argument for anarchism.

In order to reduce the problem of power, there are two things to consider. The first is the ease with which a particular individual may amass power. If this is as difficult as possible, then it will be difficult for any particular person to gain much power. The second are is the desire to gain power. If this can be reduced in any way then the problem of power will also be reduced. Neither of these may be eliminated entirely. There is no way to produce a human society incapable of corruption using human effort. But we can work at minimizing corruption by eliminated the temptation of too much power.

In an anarchist society, there is no way to ensure that individuals, corporations and special interest groups do not come to gain excessive amounts of power. It is entirely possible to have a society without government (yet), but have one rich person who owns all of the food. It is also possible for a number of large corporations to exist, cooperate with each other to eliminate competition and ensure that no individual challenges their profits. Either of these scenarios would result in a world in which powerful people oppressed the majority. Although government does not always act correctly, it does stop at least these extreme cases from occurring. So there is no reason to believe that government is a special cause of corruption.

The true problem with power is how to rightly structure society so that power is distributed widely, remains widely distributed and citizens act to ensure that this state of affairs continues. Such a society would minimize the problems of power. The right ordering of society is a question of justice. Since power is a good thing that may be used for evil ends, the problem of who should receive power is a problem of justice. I will have to discuss the issue of justice in a separate series.

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I have obtained an MA in philosophy from Western Michigan University. Over the years, I have been interested in philosophy, religion and politics. My philosophical interests have shifted to a focus on applying the philosophical understanding of Aristotle and Aquinas to modern problems in philosophy.

One thought on “Government and Power”

  1. From what I read above, I conclude that you haven’t understood anarchism as it is. That’s why I suggest a video from CrimethInc, which is kinda “anarchism 101” put together in less than 8 minutes. You’ll find it here: The power itself is not the problem, but the authority that holds it. If anything, hierarchy is in fact one the main problems, which is the base for governments, corporations etc.

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