Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mao Tse-Tung on Political Power

Not posting on the PRC today.

"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

Thus Mao Tse Tung was quoted, and how true it is. I am amazed, however, by how many people look at that and say, "Well, that's not true. There are a lot of ways to achieve political power." We've been living in a representative/majoritarian republic for so long now many people simply can't imagine what power means. Lysander Spooner in "No Treason" referred to the ballot as, "a mere substitute for a bullet." People have forgotten this.

One fellow said argument and "power plays" are alternate routes to political power. I would love to see other examples of ways political power are established other than force, the threat of force, or fraud. The kind that is genuinely based upon the consent on those ruled can evaporate rather quickly--a few bad decisions, and people stop listening to you. Favor trading is a way to accumulate influence, but like in The Godfather, it's the threat of what will happen if the other party doesn't honor a favor owned that ultimately does the job. People are probably more honorable than some might think, but in a system with no penalty for dishonesty, the dishonest do get ahead.

No, political power is ultimately the power to confiscate property, to imprison people, to kill people who don't go along with what you say. One can make reasoned arguments, indebt people to oneself morally and economically, or keep one's reputation clean when everybody else is mired in corruption. Ultimately, however, one's power is based in the compliance of those who have the ability to enforce one's will upon others. There are many countries in which the military rules, because the military is an entity unto itself, and the military has the guns.

This is why the ability of the People at large to keep and bear arms is so important to a system of distributed power (ie. democracy). In a system where the general public is not considered to have a right to arms, there are two groups of people who hold the real power: police, and criminals. One's life is regulated largely by whichever element is closest to home, and on the border, one must walk a fine line between the Laws of the State, and the Law of the Streets. Each side encroaches on the freedoms of the "ordinary citizens," one side through theft and extortion, the other through more direct means.

When everybody has access to weapons, crime becomes a much riskier occupation. The chances of getting shot during a robbery go up considerably. The chances of getting shot while attempting to extort people go up considerably. And the government can never be sure which of their more oppressive policies will result in a few, or perhaps even many, people deciding to fall back on their guns, rather than just putting up with encroachments.

Mao was right. Power does flow from the barrel of a gun. And only a people that has guns has power.

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