Nicely Put

Even in the freest society power is charged with the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata. When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual – the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker – and that every device they employ aims at turning man into a manipulatable ‘animated instrument,’ which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.

On the other hand, every device employed to bolster individual freedom must have as its chief purpose the impairment of the absoluteness of power. The indications are that such an impairment is brought about not by strengthening the individual and pitting him against the possessors of power, but by distributing and diversifying power and pitting one category or unit of power against the other. Where power is one, the defeated individual, however strong and resourceful, can have no refuge and no recourse.

There is no doubt that of all political systems the free society is the most “unnatural.” Totalitarianism, even when it goes hand in hand with a modernization of technique, constitutes a throwback to the primitive and a return to nature. It is significant that the “back to nature” movements since the days of Rousseau, though generous and noble in origin, have inevitably tended to terminate in absolutism and the worship of brute force.

Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

13 thoughts on “Nicely Put”

  1. Hoffer had more pertinent political and social philosophical insights in his little non-credentialed finger than the entire faculties of philosophy in current academia can muster in all their obscure, unreadable treatises combined.

    He is scorned by the profrssorate precisely because he is comprehensible.

  2. Let’s not forget that the “nature” the “back to nature” crowd would have us return to is Hobbesian, where life is nasty, brutish and short – unless one belongs to the enlightened, favored class of philosopher kings.

  3. “… the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata.” See James Scott, Seeing Like a State, to see how literally true this is.

  4. Hoffer is spot-on. I have been “meaning” to reread the Federalist Papers; undoubtedly the Founders anticipated the tendency for the consolidation of power (hence their 3 branches “overseeing” (well in theory) each other. But what else did they discuss – or implement?

    People with Power rarely say they “have enough” – or want to return some back.

    One exception was George Washington, who refused to be President for an indeterminate amount of time. But such leaders are few and far between.

    I believe it is ab uphill battle trying to keep the men of power at bay – between those who are apathetic and those that receive the material “benefits”.

  5. As we discussed here, Woodrow Wilson was opposed to the whole idea of separation of powers, based on his simplistic reasoning about the “organic” nature of government and his assertion that an organism could not have “organs offset against each other as checks, and live.”

    But at least Wilson knew what the separation of powers WAS, even if he didn’t grasp why it was important. In Obama’s case, the whole thing seems to have come as something of a surprise. “Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes” he said about a week ago.

    It turns out??

  6. It turns out??

    Well … not only an arrogant potential dictator, but a mis-educated fool as well.
    Do you think we have made this administrations’ enemies list yet?

  7. Sgt – if I haven’t I will continue working for it

    David – I must reread the Federalist Papers again. Somewhere in my hazy memory they were discussing the type of person who would run for President – and what was desirable.

    But this was all 40 years ago – almost to the month. And I will read your link, my being a “latecomer” to this list.

  8. Hoffer’s assertion that “of all political systems the free society is the most “unnatural” reminded me of Hayaks’ assertion that a free society is the result of a form of “cultural evolution”. That “an atavistic longing after the life of the noble savage is the main source of the collectivist tradition”.

    Philosophically, he points even further back than Mr Hoffer (Rousseau), to Aristotle’s “taxis, the result of deliberate organization of individual action by an ordering mind”.

  9. I would include George Marshall in the Washington/Cincinnatus club. No other military leader in history would have stepped aside and allowed a minor pol like Truman to succeed FDR in the midst of a massive conflict like WW2. He tried to retire repeatedly, and was called back simply because his stature could not be equalled when it came to the complex political tasks required at war’s end.

    I hope and pray that someone with that level of devotion to the Constitution is nearby as we head towards national bankruptcy, and the turmoil here and around the world that will certainly follow.

  10. Veryretired – they are out there but few and far between. We had a representative who, upon running for the first time – told voters they we would serve 2-3 terms (I forget which) and low and behold – left with the promise intact.

    No “I didn’t realize how bad things were and the country needs me more than ever” – he left office, even though he could have won reelection.

    Most of them buy a house in DC and try to become embedded.

    That is why term limits would be so good and why so many in Congress fight them. With term limits they would not be doing things that aided their reelection and might actually focus on more things that helped the country.

Comments are closed.