We all know the cliche about absolute power corrupting absolutely but we think about it too little.
That’s the thing about cliches. In general they are true but overused so we tend to ignore them.
I’m currently re-listening to The History of Rome Podcast. I’m up to the Crisis of the Third Century when emperors are barely lasting a year on average. Each time a new fellow makes a treacherous grab for the purple we wonder, ‘Why?’ Few of them had a bold plan for rescuing the Empire. Most just wanted power for its own sake, despite the danger of holding the throne being greater than that for 1960s cosmonauts.
Today, it’s hard for us to understand the allure of power because in our society there are no comparable positions. For example, the few times I’ve had a position of responsibility thrust upon me it’s been the rock-and-hard-place situation perhaps familiar to my readers: I cop all the accountability of getting a project finished by the deadline without any of the authority to force people to do things they don’t want to do, like complete their part of the project.
That’s as close as we get to power in modern times. As Eisenhower said, in the military you pick up the phone and issue orders confident they’ll be carried out instantly and to the letter; as president you bark orders down the phone and nothing happens.
Rome was different. The Augustus could command torture and execution on a whim; raise a man up or seize all his property; move legions, eliminate populations, print currencies or institute sweeping laws upon his say-so alone.
None of us know what that’s like.
To see the effect of this sort of power, we must look beyond our own life experience and observe the impact on others.
A certain type of man would do anything to become Emperor, and would then do anything to hold on to power. Even the decent Emperor Tiberius grew paranoid by the end, hobbled his intended successor and wiped out Senators who he suspected of plotting against him. And as for the worst Emperors – well, listen to the episode on Caracalla.
We see the same in other totalitarian leaders. Stalin is the classic case of a man who would kill thousands or millions rather than risk losing power.
It’s interesting to note that power does not have the same effect on all men. Marcus Aurelius is the archetype of Stalin’s opposite – a man who wields power only out of a sense of duty and who would much rather be somewhere else.
It’s amusing how many Emperors slaughtered their way to the top only to find that running a government consists of boring committees, briefings, tedious details and endless strife. Some gave up this power to a trusted deputy so that they could return to fighting on the frontier or wallowing in debauchery.
Even the mediocre amount of power on offer in today’s world can be too much for those most vulnerable to its malign influence. We’ve all seen the perfectly nice colleague who turns into a hyena upon getting a promotion and becoming the boss.
And so we come to the Little Emperors of the 2020s. The politicians, bureaucrats and medical experts whose authority used to be tightly bound by strict accountability, but which now has been unleashed beyond their wildest dreams by public terror.
A leader in the West never before could have locked down a whole country. Even during the Spanish Flu it rarely happened. Restrictions on travel like those at the present were never previously imagined. And there are the facemasks, of course.
If the medico-honcho says it should happen, the pollies make it happen. Resistance has been minimal and our overlords have noticed.
It’s important to emphasize the lack of accountability. Where lockdowns or other mandates proved less effective than they were cracked up to be, have any leaders been held responsible? What about the ever-shifting criteria for imposing and ending lockdowns? What research is being done into the side effects of lockdowns and who will be punished if these turn out to be worse than the disease?
With protests (for some causes) banned due to social distancing, our rulers need not even fear the most basic blowback normally expected in a free society: the disaffected yelling about it. In Victoria, for example, the Premier has instead felt the touch of kingship as he watches illegal protesters get muzzled and dragged away by police.
In the US, total domination by the Democrat/MSM/MegaGloboCorp/Cuckservative axis has had a similar impact. Freed from all restraint, ruling overlords are censoring enemies on major platforms and colluding to destroy minor platforms that dare defy them. They’ve done this sort of thing for a long time but now they have no self control. Watch them screech in delight as they ban dissidents from planes, close their bank accounts and banish them from the internet. Even minnows making tiny donations to Emmanuel Goldstein are exposed and harassed.
Again, this has been done without accountability. The old balance of powers is way out of whack – individual agencies like the TSA can make arbitrary rulings so long as they are supported by the oligarchs, and courts dare not declare anything unconstitutional if it comes from these rulers. With Trump gone, the last potential opposition to the Uniparty has been vanquished and America’s elites, liberated from the scrutiny of commoners, are free to bicker amongst themselves about trivialities as they muscle for rank.
That there is confusion about why tyranny is taking hold shows how long it has been since the West has permitted anyone to access unfettered power. Some, including myself, suspected it might be populism. Others like Steve Sailer are always trying to uncover the hidden profit motive.
These might be involved but in a situation like this, understanding the primary motive is very simple.
Why does a heroin addict burgle his own parents’ house? Put aside Freudian and Marxist theories. He is doing it because he wants money for drugs. Everything an addict does is to score. That is the meaning of addiction.
So, too, with addiction to power. As we see from history, once tasted, few can resist the impulse to preserve their power, to use it in ever new and extreme ways, and to constantly expand their despotism.
Remember: in previous cases, those drunk on power have been willing to kill millions upon millions in order to secure their position. They have murdered their closest friends and family members upon the slightest paranoia. As with heroin, the person suffering the addiction begins to disappear as the power motive completely takes over every thought and action. In the end, only the power-madness is left.
And here you are patiently waiting for lockdowns to end. After we’ve flattened the curve, expanded contract tracing, immunized everyone, sorted out vaccine passports, given booster shots or whatever the goalpost is this week, there’ll be some new problem requiring us to extend or resume lockdowns, just like Stalin could always find new traitors needing a good purge.
Our overlords will never give up their power voluntarily. They will always discover a disaster to justify restrictions even more tyrannical than those that came before.
They will not stop until they are stopped.