The Purpose of Power is Power

You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion. This power struggle permeates the training, educating, and disciplining of the orthodox community. Because of this pressure, the leaders of such a community inevitably must face that ultimate internal question: to succumb to complete opportunism as the price for maintaining their rule, or risk sacrificing themselves for the sake of the orthodox ethic.

– from “Muad’Dib, The Religious Issues” by the Princess Irulan

– Frank Herbert, “Dune”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of power. What it’s good for, what its limits are.

It’s increasingly clear to me that power, used in ways that are not compatible with the maintenance and continued existence of that power, tends to expend itself. Power that persists usually concerns itself with itself and its perpetuation. But there are inherent trade-offs that cannot be avoided.

Wealth is a tool of freedom, but the pursuit of wealth is the path to slavery.

– Frank Herbert

What is power to be used for? What goal is the end to which power is the means? Those who have purposes for their power will sometimes find that purpose in conflict with the perpetuation and increase of the power itself, and so must choose. Those whose purposes include the use of power in a certain way will face even more conflicts and more choices. But those who seek power only for the purpose of possessing and exercising power will not be conflicted, and will be forced to no difficult choices.

Maintaining a democratic system and keeping it functionally in touch with reality is an example of having standards for the use of power. Demagogues and popular tyrants – the most obvious threats to any democracy – are examples of seeking power for power’s sake.

I don’t think this is a conflict we can win.

3 Responses to “The Purpose of Power is Power”

  1. “Wealth is a tool of freedom, but the pursuit of wealth is the path to slavery.”

    Excellent observation!

  2. Who is “we”? And have you read Bertrand de Jouvenel’s “On Power”?

    Off-topic, but given your previous post on crop monoculture, I thought you might be interested in this.

  3. Thanks for that link. It’s interesting, but I’m not deeply convinced by their arguments.

    A lot of varieties that were thought lost were tracked down and at least partially located. For example, gourdseed corn used to be grown on a massive scale in the South. Then it was abandoned completely when hybrid corns were introduced. It was saved from extinction when a family in south Texas was located who raised turkeys – they grew gourdseed corn, then let the turkeys run wild in the field and fatten themselves on it. So a single variety was salvaged.

    Also keep in mind that seed catalogs sometimes name new varieties after famous old varieties that are now extinct.

    Many catalogs sell ‘Lakota’ squash and talk about how the Lakota Indians grew brightly-colored, sweet-flavored squash. Yes, they did – but that variety is completely extinct. What is now sold is a variety that was selectively bred to resemble the descriptions of that old variety, and has little if any culinary value. It’s edible, but supposedly not particularly delectable.

    In regards to your earlier questions: ‘we’ is all of the people whose goals for power include strictures on how power is to be used. Advocates of democracy, scientific inquiry, and reason are among them. Their goals are not all compatible, but they are all more like each other than they are like people who merely have goals for power, or people whose goal is power alone.

    I have not read that. I should probably look it up.

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