On the nature of power

Posted on September 11, 2010


Power is the use of force to injure someone without being retaliated against. States cultivate power by making themselves invulnerable to retaliation. The key to restoring freedom is to make the state vulnerable to a society independent within its borders.

To answer a frequent question such as “why wouldn’t a gang take over” it is necessary to have a clear idea not only of what force is but what power is, a disequilibrium of force. Power comes in three classes of increasing disequilibrium.

The first class of power is a force equilibrium between two individuals or groups of individuals. It is also known as freedom. In a force equilibrium, both sides have the ability to injure each other without any defensive measure being able to neutralize such an action. In other words, both sides are vulnerable to each other’s force. Thus any attempt to aggress on the other results in a loss as the other retaliates. This is the kind of equilibrium that characterizes, for example, two men stranded on a deserted island. It is also the equilibrium that characterized the nuclear standoff between the US and the SU. Neither side could use its nuclear arsenal on the other without being destroyed, thus victory, the end sought by war, was impossible.

The second class of power is a force disequilibrium where one side has the power to destroy anything that the other side possesses without retaliation. This is the form of power that the U.S. military has traditionally cultivated. Once intelligence has been obtained as to a valid target, the U.S. Air Force can strike this target and obliterate it. The power to destroy allows limited exploitation and threats to take effect as the fear of destruction coerces weaker parties into surrendering part of their wealth. There is a limit to how many threats will be accepted before the prospect of loss through destruction becomes preferable.

The ultimate power is a force disequilibrium where one side has the power to take whole anything the other side possesses without retaliation. This is typically the power that states wield over their own people. An example of such power is a nationalization. A state which is so motivated can take everything that any single subject owns, up to even his body.

In this case, how is ultimate power created and maintained? Through egalitarianism. By destroying or co-opting every institution capable of wielding force at a scale larger than the individual, the state preserves the most extreme force disequilibrium possible, where only the individual can strike back, usually at the loss of his life. Some states even go further as dispossess individuals of arms, thus making themselves even less vulnerable to a retaliation. Despite that, the state does suffer the occasional “lone nut” suicide attack by people who have nothing left to lose. Rarely is enough harm done to compel a change of policy. (One exception was the masterfully executed September 11 terror attack.)

If one wants to re-establish freedom and an equilibrium of force, how would he proceed? Obviously, attempting to make oneself invulnerable to the state is hopeless, as both the Soviet Union and the United States failed to do so at the peak of their power. Instead, any organization seeking freedom should structure itself to maximally exploit the state’s vulnerability by striking back against violation of rights with equivalent force. This means that the “standoff fortress” type of situation where survivalists entrench themselves into a compound is hopeless, since the state can take as much time as necessary to amass overwhelming force against it. What could be successful in this case is to surrender the fortress and escape to fight another day, while forcing the state to surrender one of its own assets in retaliation. After enough of these counterattacks succeeded, the state would have to cease its repression of the organization. This is largely what the Mexican drug cartels have achieved in Mexico by executing government officials tasked with destroying them, and bribing those who are inclined to remaining alive. This has forced the Mexican state to employ against them the only state organ that has never engaged the cartels, the Navy Marines. Mexican Marines can be seen wearing ski masks in operations to conceal their identity and prevent retaliation.

In a society where the state can no longer succeed in preserving its extreme disequilibrium of force, it is obvious that no other organization can recreate such a situation, no matter how wealthy. It will always be vulnerable to a retaliation if it attempts to wield power on others.

You only have power over a man so long as he still has something to take. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he becomes free again. – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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