The containment of poer

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  • Publicado : 28 de noviembre de 2011
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EIGHTEEN

THE CONTAINMENT OF POWER AND THE DETHRONEMENT OF POLITICS

We are living at a time when justice has vanished. Our parliaments light-heartedly produce statutes which are contrary to justice. States deal with their subjects arbitrarily without attempting to preserve a sense of justice. Men who fall under the power of another nation find themselves to all intents and purposes outlawed.There is no longer any respect for their natural right to their homeland or their dwelling place or property, their right to earn a living or to sustenance, or to anything whatever. Our trust in justice has been wholly destroyed. Albert Schweitzer

Limited and unlimited power
The effective limitation of power is the most important problem of social order. Government is indispensable for theformation of such an order only to protect all against coercion and violence from others. But as soon as, to achieve this, government successfully claims the monopoly of coercion and violence, it becomes also the chief threat to individual freedom. To limit this power was the great aim of the founders of constitutional government in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But the endeavour tocontain the powers of government was almost inadvertently abandoned when it came to be mistakenly believed that democratic control of the exercise of power provided a sufficient safeguard against its excessive growth. 1 We have since learnt that the very omnipotence conferred on democratic representative assemblies exposes them to irresistible pressure to use their power for the benefit of specialinterests, a pressure a majority with unlimited powers cannot resist if it is to remain a majority. rrhis development can be prevented only by depriving the governing majority of the power to grant discriminat-

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THE CONTAINMENT OF POWER

ory benefits to groups or individuals. This has generally been believed to be impossible in a democracy because it appears to require that another willbe placed above that of the elected representatives of a majority. In fact democracy needs even more severe restraints on the discretionary powers government can exercise than other forms of government, because it is much more subject to effective pressure from special interests, perhaps of small numbers, on which its majority depends. The problem seemed insoluble, however, only because an olderideal had been forgotten, namely that the power of all authorities exercising governmental functions ought to be limited by long run rules which nobody has the power to alter or abrogate in the service of particular ends: principles which are the terms of association of the community that recognizes an authority because this authority is committed to such long-term rules. It was theconstructivistic-positivist superstition which led to the belief that there must be some single unlimited supreme power from which all other power is derived, while in fact the supreme authority owes its respect to restraint by limiting general rules. What today we call democratic government serves, as a result of its construction, not the opinion of the majority but the varied interests of a conglomerate ofpressure groups whose support the government must buy by the grant of special benefits, simply because it cannot retain its supporters when it refuses to give them something it has the power to give. The resulting progressive increase of discriminating coercion now threatens to strangle the growth of a civilization which rests on individual freedom. An erroneous constructivistic interpretation of theorder of society, combined with mistaken understanding of the meaning of justice, has indeed become the chief danger to the future not only of wealth, but of morals and peace. Nobody with open eyes can any longer doubt that the danger to personal freedom comes chiefly from the left, not because of any particular ideals it pursues, but because the various socialist movements are the only large...
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