The Dangers of Power and the Glory of Liberty

Power Martin van Staden rightfully stated about the nature of government that “that those who are inevitably attracted to government are people who seek power. This is an absolute rule.” Sure, and people going to a steak restaurant are attracted to meat and people entering a liquor...

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Martin van Staden rightfully stated about the nature of government that “that those who are inevitably attracted to government are people who seek power. This is an absolute rule.” Sure, and people going to a steak restaurant are attracted to meat and people entering a liquor shop are attracted by alcoholic beverages, with me especially champagne. Politics won’t go without power but also not without law, constitutionalism and institutions.

Power is the capacity of one, a pair, a group or an organisation to command the behaviour of others without the necessity to convince them.

Power is not only related to political rule and force. We find it everywhere: in the family, in labour relations, and in schools. For the purpose of this article I concentrate on political power. That leads to the question of what the essence of politics is. The essence of politics is the distinction between friend and foe. Friend and foe and the criteria may change through the times, it can be republicans vs. monarchists, segregationists vs. integrationists, command economy vs. the free market, and today politically-correct totalitarian governesses vs. supporters of freedom and individuality.

Sometimes we wonder what in the past people thought worthwhile to fight against. But the political foe will always be the alien against whom in extremis a fight must be organised. That does not mean that it is always about war. Maintaining and choosing peace are also political decisions and the greatest danger to law, liberty, constitutionalism and institutions are never-ending wars without limits, borders and even a properly defined enemy as we see it since 2001 as ‘terrorism’ is in most cases one ill-defined term and not a concrete enemy.

If you wage war against an ill-defined term you will have war. But rulers do not always have to use the instruments of power, in many cases persuasion and convincing through debate and public discussion is an appropriate way to rule. Brute force may be the standard of all kind of tyrannies but even the most liberal and modest state cannot exist without institutions enforcing law and order; even an anarchic-capitalist one includes the concept of an order.

Everyone before starting to construct his “Weltanschaung” (worldview or ideology) must make the decision if man is fundamentally ‘good’ or ‘capable to become and do evil’. Utopian  ideologies like all kind of socialism maintain that man is basically good and only circumstances make him evil. The reign of terror and genocides this concept produced since the French Revolution is evident, but the Jacobin scum will never give up .

Power is an essential instrument in politics. As all instruments it can be used carefully and constructively, or abused.

A sceptical (in the sense of Karl Popper) view on the human being and his nature makes us recognize the need for law, constitutions and institutions.


Law is the exact opposite of arbitrary behaviour. But we often see arbitrary decisions veiled in the dress of formal law. This is poisonous. Law is only ‘law’ if it is reasonable (measured on the basic believes and assumptions which led to its formulation), predictable, constant, measurable, reviewable (by courts) and generally valid. ‘Rule of law’ can never mean that the law makes itself efficient without a moderator. This moderator can always only be man. Rule of law is only secured if man consciously follows due process and rules. “Stick to the rules” if you win or lose is a most essential attitude and the essence of just rule. At present, in Germany, parliamentary rules were suddenly changed as they may benefit a new opposition party, the patriotic and pro-free market Alternative for Germany. That is the first step towards arbitrary and tyrannical rule.


Carl Schmitt remarked that every state is a state of law and every state is a constitutional state. “Das Recht ist im Staat and der Staat ist im Recht”, a quip that cannot be translated without losing the sardonic sense. We may interpret this sentence in a libertarian but also in a very etatistic sense. For our purpose we should only speak of constitution if it is the fundamental law of a state, if fundamental rights are recognised, if the separation of powers is secured, if (most, I am a monarchist) office bearers can be voted in but most importantly, also be voted out, if the courts of law are independent, if powers are distributed between federal and regional, and if the rule of law is established in all institutions of the state. That still does not give us complete security against crass abuse of power.

Most important is that the citizens see themselves as such. This means they consider themselves courageous people endowed with specific political rights and duties, ready to exercise them and not vote as cattle or serfs. Finally, it is the freedom-loving  citizen who protects the law and guards the constitution. Tyranny only comes into being with ‘yes’-men. We must have the courage to say ‘no’ and ‘without me’.


A realistic, meaning a sceptical, view of human nature leads us to recognise the necessity of institutions. “Institutum” in Latin means an establishment, a custom, a way of life. Institutions support the human being, they serve him and preserve both his liberty and his independence.

The opposite of a legitimate institution is bureaucracy: the dominance (in ancient Greek language “cratos“) of administration, in reality the dominance of a self-serving, greedy, tax-consuming, incompetent, cancer-like growing bunch of suckers good only at chicanery and turning citizens into serfs. The development from the Roman principat, a monarchic order respecting liberty and the rule of law to the dominat, a bureaucratic, tyrannical, even totalitarian order is a warning. We may see this most dangerous tendency in all highly-developed states and especially in the European Union.

Bureaucracy, which in essence will always be socialist, is so dangerous that it finally consumes the whole body politic, society, culture, and economy. As the great Austrian writer Heimito von Doderer said:

“Socialism as a tremendous expense for the welfare of humankind which consumes itself so completely  that finally everyone has the remaining. Nothing.”

Bureaucracy is libertarians’, liberals’, and conservatives’ ultimate enemy. It’s very existence destroys constitutionalism, the rule of law, and law and order itself. It is the most arbitrary and stupid, inept, suspect and debile abuse of power. In fighting this monster, we are fighting the good fight.


Hans Strotzka, Macht: A psychoanalytic essay, Paul Zsolnay, Vienna, 1985

Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 1932

C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s law, Houghton Mifflin Comp, Boston, 1957

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