Power doesn’t corrupt – we’re already corrupted
Spencer believed that equal freedom as a political arrangement would promote the greatest human social progress. Progress to him meant the greatest individual happiness which could be measured in less suffering (less poverty, less hunger, less sickness, less war and so on).
A society filled with happy people (people not suffering) is by definition a “fit” society. He believed this would occur naturally through greater specialization (division of labor) and social heterogeneity until a point of equilibrium is reached. Equal freedom would maximize the potential for accomplishing this natural process while government interventions would inhibit it – thus “progressives” are actually “regressives.” Spencer spent most of his life explaining why to us.
What Spencer didn’t do is take the political implication of his ideas to their logical conclusion. If he had, he would have concluded that equal freedom is only possible with equal power sharing. He understood that each of us are dual beings – the evolving moral self and the primal self. He called our moral nature the Moral Sense.
Our primal self though is inescapable – it is encoded in our genes. Power is an elixir to the primal self. Lord Acton famously stated that, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” But he got it wrong. All humans are born corrupt – it is in our nature.
But what we call “corruption” is really a manifestation of our primal self. Murder, theft, cheating, assault, rape, bullying are all primal impulses. But for us to live in an evolved society, we are required to cooperate and deal with each other in good faith. We understand rationally that this arrangement leads to our greater happiness but it is constantly threatened by the urge to regress into primalism. Fear of negative consequences keeps our primal self in check but with political power that regression occurs with impunity.
All political systems in the world today are primal. They are arranged to have power held by a few to exercise over the many. It should be no mystery that politicians seem corrupt and do despicable things. But we wrongly blame them for being bad people. What we need to understand is that any human will likely act badly when possessing power.
If an individual, group or class of humans possess disproportionate power, they will abuse that power. This is not an “if” but how the abuse will occur and how many will suffer as a result. There can be no doubt that under all current political systems, equal freedom is an impossibility. And in the absence of equal freedom, those who have “freedom” do so at the expense of others through the abuse of political power.
Only with equal power sharing can equal freedom be attained and sustained. And equal power sharing can only be possible in a political arrangement designed to distribute power equally.
The democracy of ancient Athens (the only actual democracy in history) came closest to accomplishing this with sortition and the elimination of executive power (no one person held power). If we want a free society – which must by definition be based on equal freedom – we can start with rediscovering classical democracy to help us devise a political system that will promote equal power sharing.
Plenarchy is a political model that is intended to promote what I call the Spencer Equilibrium – equal power, equal freedom and equal justice in perpetual steady-state. Plenarchy adopts sortition and council-based power structures (no executive power) among other devices for the purpose of distributing power as evenly as possible across society. Without equal power sharing, a society simply cannot be free or free for very long.