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Once again, I have been thinking. This time, it is about politics, mostly because the politics in the United States are more polarized than they have been in a long time.
The biggest thing I am worried about is the culture of removing free speech and other freedoms in favor of “community” or individual safety. You see, removing freedoms in favor of safety doesn’t work. The only way to do so is to remove the agency of the citizens because as long as people can choose, they will make mistakes.
I am also a student of history, so I know how that story goes. If someone evil manages to rise to power, they will use the excuse of safety to crack down on the citizens of the nation. And then, no one is safe because neighbors are encouraged to snitch on each other, and the government/dictator uses broad powers to catch all dissidents.
And as I thought more about this, I realized that there are reasons why the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World, whose power is checked by Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States, is still more powerful than dictators or kings with unchecked power in their own nations.
It’s because of the liberty of the citizens.
From here on out, I will refer to any ruler with unchecked domestic power, whether a dictator, king, queen, or supreme leader, as a king.
The King’s Choice
Every king faces the same basic choice for every decision: should he take the choice that increases his power, or should he take the choice that increases the liberties of the people?
Rare is the decision with choices that are neutral with regard to the king’s power and the liberties of the people, but it does happen. For the rest of this post, I will not consider such cases.
An example of such a decision: crime is going up, so maybe the government should increase surveillance, or they could try to address the root cause of the crime rate increase.
The thing about most such decisions, which I will call “power decisions,” is that the easy choice is usually the one that increases the king’s power. In the previous example, increasing surveillance is easier than addressing the root cause, which could be the absence of fathers in the home, especially since the root cause may, in fact, be caused by bad government policy in the first place.
Add on top of that the innate desire/drive for power, and kings have two big reasons to choose the easy route of increasing their own power and decreasing the liberty of the people. And they generally do, which gradually increases their power until it is unchecked.
But the President of the United States generally does not have the luxury that kings do; there are people he must convince to change laws, implement policy, and allocate funds. This prevents him from just taking the easy route when faced with a decision because it’s not so easy. Hopefully, it becomes easier to do the right thing.
Sometimes, because of perverse incentives, the easy way is still the bad way. That means that something went wrong.
So the President neatly finds his power checked, while kings have unchecked power in their nations. Obviously, domestically, the President has less power than kings do.
But what about internationally?
There is no doubt that the United States of America is the most powerful nation to ever exist on the Earth, with the power to wipe humankind off of the face of the planet and, more importantly, the power to enforce its will everywhere.
And the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, meaning he is the head of the most powerful force that has ever existed. Because of this, the President is considered the most powerful person on Earth, and that is why the President has the nickname “The Leader of the Free World.”
So there is no dispute: the President of the United States is the one with unchecked power in across the world.
Liberty Makes a Nation Powerful
Of course, the President himself is not powerful; it is the nation that is powerful.
But why is the United States powerful? It is because of the liberty of its citizens.
When the USA was founded by wise men, chosen and raised up to that purpose by God, the Founders spent an entire summer in a stuffy hall hammering out the details of how such a nation would be run, and they did it in order to ensure the liberty of the citizens. That is why the Bill of Rights exists, especially the Second Amendment.
And they succeeded; the citizens of the United States became the freest people on Earth.
Now, the United States was not the most powerful nation right away. That took time. But with time, the United States was able to halt the most powerful nation on Earth (War of 1812), take land from another nation (Mexican-American War), gain territory from another nation (Spanish-American War), and save the free world, twice (World War I and World War II).
That last war saw the United States emerge as the most powerful nation to ever exist. At the time, it could level entire cities. And the US has, for the most part, gained even more power since then.
It took 150 years, but the liberty of the citizens of the United States made it the most powerful nation ever.
Thus, the very checks on the President of the United States, the ones that prevent him from increasing his domestic power, are what makes him the most powerful person on Earth.
And that is the King’s Paradox: the more oppressed the people, the more power the king has domestically, but the less power he has internationally. And the freer the people, the more power he can gain internationally.
Influence Can Be Power
But if that was the end of the story, kings would, by and large, choose to be oppressive whenever they are faced with a power decision, so it’s great that it is, in fact, not the end of the story.
If a king keeps the interests of the people in mind, they will notice. It will be obvious to nearly all that they have a good king; he will be a popular and well-loved king.
And as anyone in politics knows, popularity translates into influence, which translates into power.
A friend of mine made me aware of an apt metaphor, so I will quote him here:
There is an analogy from a Brandon Sanderson book that I really like: the course of the world is like a boulder rolling down a hill. Some people run behind the boulder and pretend to be pushing it. They claim that they are directing it, when in reality they are not. Some people stand in front of the boulder, and demand that it stop in its course. The boulder rolls over them and crushes them. The third type of person runs beside the boulder, and nudges it here and there when they see an opportunity. These are the people who usually make the most change.
The people running beside the boulder are exercising influence. They are not exercising pure power, but they are still managing to change the boulder’s course. This shows that influence itself is power, even if it is not pure power.
And we see this with Presidents. The popular ones have influence and can change the course of the boulder, the opinion of the American people, more than the unpopular ones.
So if a king can still gain some power through influence by doing what is best for the people, which of his two choices would maximize his power?
The answer is obvious: the freer he makes his people, the more he maximizes his power.
So why don’t more kings do this? Probably because they don’t understand the King’s Paradox. They see domestic power more readily, whereas international power is harder to see, and influence is even more difficult. It’s also counter-intuitive to give up power in order to gain it.
If you are in a position of power and want to increase your power, you should actually actively increase the freedom and liberties of the people you serve.
And if there is no better reason to do so than to remember that you do, in fact, serve the people, not the other way around.