Sunday, March 10, 2013

Caleb C. Colton, regarding power and it's corrupting influence

I ran into some interesting quotes the other day, and I wanted to make it easier for people to find.

Most people have heard the phrase "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". That comes from Charles C. Colton in his book "Lacon", page 113.

What I found interesting enough to go looking for was this:

POWER will intoxicate the best hearts, as wines the strongest heads. No man is wise enough, nor good enough, to be trusted with unlimited power; for, whatever qualifications he may have evinced to entitle him to the posession of so dangerous a privilege, yet, when posessed, others can no longer answer for him, because he can no longer answer for himself.

From the same book, "Lacon", page 216. He makes an interesting point, in that power acts like a drug in a lot of ways, driving those who wield it mad. Tolkien's presentation of "Gollum" is not so far off the mark - "my precious".

Also from "Lacon", page 24:

"POWER, like the diamond, dazzles the beholder, and also the wearer; it dignifies meanness; it magnifies littleness; to what is contemptible it gives authority; to what is low, exaltation. To acquire it, appears not more difficult than to be dispossessed of it, when acquired, since it enables the holder to shift his own errors on dependants, and to take their merits to himself. But the miracle of losing it vanishes, when we reflect that we are as liable to fall as to rise, by the treachery of others; and that to say "I am," is language that has been appropriated exclusively to God!

Did you notice that in both quotes, he doesn't say a word about money, wealth, or riches? That's because the pursuit of power can and often times does stand alone. This flies in the face of what a lot of people these days think, but it's true. There's a phrase which animates this line of thought: "follow the money", which is 100% true. But it's only half of the picture. Another phrase which should further highlight what Colton is getting at is the following:(Its attributed to Saul Alinsky, but I cannot find the source it)

Power goes to two poles: to those who've got money and those who've got people.

Regardless of attribution, the phrase is accurate in that money and power do not have to come together. They can come separately. There are plenty of people out there with plenty of wealth who do not seek power, even surreptitiously, and there are plenty out there who seek power even though they don't have money. It's like age and wisdom. Sometimes age comes alone. What this quote does is highlight one way you can gain power, without having any money whatsoever. Have people.(and by extension, organization)

Our Founders also recognized the duality of human motivation: On the floor of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin originated the following ideas:

Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money. Separately each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honour that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it. The vast number of such places it is that renders the British Government so tempestuous. The struggles for them are the true sources of all those factions which are perpetually dividing the Nation, distracting its Councils, hurrying sometimes into fruitless & mischievous wars, and often compelling a submission to dishonorable terms of peace. And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable pre-eminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate; the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your Government and be your rulers. -And these too will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation: For their vanquished competitors of the same spirit, and from the same motives will perpetually be endeavouring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.

There's plenty of this which is applicable to today's progressives, but the point of focus is the dual passions of men. Franklin is right, in that when the two are put together you have a very dangerous mix. But it can be very easily demonstrated how the two do not have to mix to be relevant. They can stand alone.

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