POLITICAL POWER CHOICES

Which would you choose for a brave new world?
Browse the options and cast your vote.


The exercise of political power by rulers, kings, dictators and governments is as old as the human race. Many different systems have been tried and tested – most found wanting. This is a list of options so far tried and explored. Which one would YOU choose?

Starting at what would seem to be a good beginning, ANARCHY comes from an-arkhos meaning 'without rule'. Anarchists believe that no person has a right to rule another. Fine. But if we don't have laws and people to administer and enforce them, your anarchist will be ruled by his or her fellow citizens. Without laws and their enforcement, people would be free to rob, cheat and kill one another. It may on reflection, be better to be ruled by laws, however tiresome, even at times oppressive, than be robbed or murdered by anyone you pass on a dark night.

Moving on to the early power structures, we have four options here.

An ARISTOCRACY means rule by the best people ('aristos' = best or superior). In the Middle Ages few outside the clergy and nobility could even read or write, so government by those with some education would be inevitable. But in view of the old and well-proven adage that 'power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely', perhaps power should be either a little more widely spread or at least subject to rules of conduct. In fact subjecting power, by whomsoever exercised, to superior disciplines was a concept introduced into English legal custom at a very early stage, developing into what would later be known as 'constitution'.

An OLIGARCHY comes from the Greek 'oloi' meaning 'few' – simple enough: rule by a few, a small group of the powerful and influential. Much the same comment applies as to the aristocracy.

Any privileged ruling minority would most probably be wealthy, so PLUTOCRACY, from the Greek 'plutos' meaning 'wealth', would fall into the same category.

We should not be deceived into thinking that forms of rule or government such as Aristocracy, Oligarchy, Plutocracy are purely historical. We need not look far today, to see clear cases where government is very much influenced by 'powers behind the throne', influential men in administration, secret services, defence, as well as big business corporations and banking.

An AUTOCRACY is rule by a single person, king or dictator. It is derived from the Greek 'autos' meaning 'self'. There may be, somewhere in the world or in history, a genuine autocrat – a king or dictator. But in practice most autocrats rely on support from the wealthy or influential. In some cases visible today they may also rely on a loyal military, an African dictator for example, who makes sure that his personal bodyguard is large, well paid, well fed and well armed. In one particular case, the printing of banknotes in large quantities in the Palace basement to pay loyal soldiers and friends is producing percentage inflation rates in the thousands.


Now we move into more familiar territory. In fact, to the political icon of the modern age: DEMOCRACY. It is a most interesting concept, for it is given such god-like status, held in such high regard and given such an aura of sacro-sanctity that no one would ever think to question it, either its meaning, or its viability. Certainly no one would ever think to question its very existence, though closer examination shows that in reality it is but a figment of our imagination.

DEMOCRACY is derived from the Greek 'demos' (meaning 'people') and kratos' ('power'), literally 'power to people'. But which people? All the people? In fact 'power to the people' is impossible. It would be possible, if all the people were of one mind. But they are not. There is a fundamental confrontation of political interests so familiar today: Left and Right, Poor versus Rich, Workers versus Managements, Welfare Spending versus Tax cuts on Profits. No, 'The People' are not of one mind. So 'power to the people' is simply an ideal, unrealized and unrealizable. Democracy is a non-event. It simply doesn't exist – at least not right now, in our present economic and social climate.

But democrary has its benefits. Democracy gives us CHOICE. This in turn means that the focus now is on POLICY, the set of ideals, or more likely the class-interests of the various political parties offering themselves for election and governance. Choice also means that Government becomes subject to a form of competition – if a Party fails to deliver either on its promises or just plain competence, we can throw it out. In fact many elections in the Western world may be called 'negative voting' – we're not voting the other lot in, simply voting the present lot out.

Or here's another choice both of name and of more accurate description. Under a Democracy, we have rule, not by the people, but by a majority of the people. And since we have no word for 'majority rule', we need to invent one, drawing on the familiar territory of Greek roots. For 'power' we have the old favourite: '-cracy'. And the Greek for 'majority' is 'pleiopsia'. So we can create a new word: PLEIOCRACY for 'rule by the majority'.

However, we may also question whether even 'majority rule' or 'PLEIOCRACY' is a correct description of the system we currently know as DEMOCRACY, especially if we look beneath the surface to discover exactly how the majorities which vote for our legislators are actually created.

The facts are, roughly speaking, 40% of voters are committed to one side, say the Left, 40% are committed to the other side, the Right. This leaves 20% undecided, and they of course are crucial, they are the vote swingers. So how, and by what means, do we 'swing' them? The answer in a word is 'money'. Does that mean that a modern, so-called democracy is in fact a plutocracy, rule by the wealthy? Quite possibly, yes. But it goes deeper than that, and requires yet another new word: CREMATOCRACY, derived from the Greek 'chrematia' or 'money'.

We need first to digress momentarily and make an observation which is so obvious we take it for granted. If you think that legislators are 'makers of laws' forget it. Debating and formulating laws is boring, boring, boring. It's no fun. It lacks any kind of prestige, power, influence or charisma. It's just a boring routine task, reducing the stature of our political masters to little more than pen-pushers – or rather keyboard punchers to update the expression. No. The fun in the parliaments and great debating chambers of the world lies in taxing, then spending (after taking a handsome handling fee of course). The modern legislator deals in money, not laws.

Money influences laws in two ways. First, legislators push for funds to be directed into projects of popular benefit to their potential electors (swinging the swing vote). Second, as an inter-linked process, swinging the swingable, the undecided, requires campaigns, expensive campaigns which in turn rely on donors or contributors. And these are not philanthropic institutions, they are major corporations with their own clear interests. If the candidate they support with their money is successful, they will expect their just recompense, possibly in the form of laws favourable to them, but more likely in the form of – yes – money, financial gain in the form of government contracts in areas like defence, medical drugs, and in the case of the USA in Iraq, contracts nominally financing reconstruction.

The position of involvement and influence which money holds in modern democracies, especially the united States, can leave little room for doubt that it is a working example of a CREMATOCRACY. One might also add that in the United States' political makeup there is more than a touch of OLIGARCHY – shadows in the background who have more than a passing influence on the conduct of Affairs of State.

So. Where do we stand thus far? We have defined:

ANARCHY – a country without rule of law
ARISTOCRACY – rule by the 'upper crust' of the educated and literate
OLIGARCHY – rule by a select minority
PLUTOCRACY – rule by the wealthy
AUTOCRACY – rule by a single president, dictator or king
DEMOCRACY – rule by the people, which on examination is an impossibility
EPILOCRACY – rule by choice or selection, in which the majority wins
PLEIOCRACY – rule by the majority, however the swing-voters may be swung
CREMATOCRACY – rule by money, money to win votes, money to finance campaigns

That's it so far. Are you ready to vote yet? If so, which one do you choose?


DEMOCRACY is the favourite so far, being the best of a dubious bunch. The problem with Democracy is that we simply don't have it. It is not an option. What we have is rule by the majority, PLEIOCRACY. Is that good? We live by the law that 'we are the majority, therefore we are right'. But is that really true? Majorities can be, and are, oppressive of minorities. Majorities can be irresponsible too, by irresponsibly over-spending to gratify present wants, thus laying up debts and more debt which future generations will have to deal with. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: "A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."

Is the majority always totally and infallibly right? No, we cannot say that. Which in turn leads to two conclusions: first, a PLEIOCRACY, rule by majority, is not ideal, and second… well the second conclusion opens up a whole new field of debate. For if we can say that the will of the majority is not necessarily right, that statement implies that there is a 'right and wrong' in law, in the conduct of human affairs and government. And if there is a right and wrong, then what is right, what is wrong? Is there some kind of morality which, if called upon, would produce right laws? The Greeks thought so, as also did the Romans.

The Roman philosopher Cicero wrote in The Republic:

"I find that it has been the opinion of the wisest men that Law is not a product of human thought, nor is it any enactment of peoples, but something eternal which rules the whole universe by its wisdom. Reason has always existed, derived from the Nature of the universe, urging men to right conduct and diverting them from wrong-doing; and this Reason did not first become Law when it was written down, but when it first came into existence; and it came into existence simultaneously with the Divine Mind.

"There is in fact a true law – namely, right reason – which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men, and is unchangeable and eternal. By its commands it summons men to the performance of their duties; by its prohibitions it restrains them from doing wrong. To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally right, nor is it permissible ever to restrict its operation; and to annul it wholly is impossible."

So, somewhere out there, a right and wrong in law and social conduct must presumably exist. But where? And how do we set about finding it?

An unanswerable question? Possibly. But let's try looking at our history and the problems which we have faced and continue to face despite, or even because of, our political systems.

Our history is plagued with disputation and war. And that in turn makes for dissension and destruction, which then creates poverty and holds us back from the co-operative creativity which could bring us peace and prosperity. Why does this happen? The answer is relatively simple. In our search for betterment of self and the personal environment in which we live, we apply our talents of intelligence and labour. So far so good. But when some seek to improve their own welfare at the expense of others, to enrich themselves by impoverishing others, then cooperation turns to disputation.

And here we have the history of politics: since the beginning of recorded history those with the mental or physical power and influence to do so, have ordered the world in such a way as to gain for themselves wealth, power and advantage at the expense of others. Governments permit injury and exploitation of some by others through inaction, and they create it through their own cronyism, secrecy and corruption.

In our everyday lives, in personal relationships, in our use of natural resources, in our business and commercial affairs, it is possible for some to gain benefit at the expense of others, to impose their own wishes and interests upon others. This is the essential feature of political conflict. Conflict is initiated by actions which are beneficial to some and harmful to others, actions which create imposition by some over others. Herein lies the fundamental injustice, or 'wrongness' in political and social relationships.

As long as government permits imposition to continue, or as long as government itself creates it, we will not live in the peace and justice which derives from 'right law'. Laws are not 'right' when they permit some to gain at the expense of others' loss. Conversely therefore, 'right law' may be defined as law which prevents us from harming or exploiting one another.

Observance of this law requires in our personal relationships, in business and commerce, and in our use of natural resources, that we respect others as if they were ourselves, that we respect others as we would have others respect us. It is a Law as old as human conscience, and it will be recognized by anyone familiar with the Sermon on the Mount. It is the Law of fundamental rightness. Its observance would end political and social conflict. And as a result we would prosper as never before. For collaboration is infinitely more productive than conflict.

This is the Eternal Law of right social conduct: that each should pursue his or her own advancement, but in ways which respect the right of others to do likewise; that each should seek his or her own growth, but in ways which do not diminish others. It exists within the conscience of every one of us, for we all know what is right and wrong in social conduct – if we ever bother to ask ourselves. It exists as the fundamental basis of English common law; and it has been expressed by political thinkers, writers and philosophers for thousands of years.

Most people of the Anglo legal tradition (Britain, many Commonwealth countries and the United States) object in principle to any excess of regulation. We dislike meddlesome government; we find unnecessary regulation tiresome and annoying; we abhor oppressive government. Yet few would object to being told they may not do something, if it can be clearly shown that their action is injurious to others. And when a person is suffering injury at the hands of another, we would all accept that person's right to remedy and protection in law.

The idea is well summarized by one of the great figures of British justice, Lord Denning, in his book The Family Story: "Each man should be free to develop his own personality to the full; the only restrictions upon this freedom should be those which are necessary to enable everyone else to do the same."

If we then seek to apply this principle in government, we will find that the guiding policy is clear and simple: the purpose of government and law is the identification and prevention of exploitation, harm or injury between people.

This guiding principle has been expressed in many forms through the centuries; it is stated clearly and concisely in the words of Thomas Jefferson: "the purpose of government is to prevent men from injuring one another".

It is worth considering this proposition in detail, for it has implications far beyond its apparent simplicity.

Clearly, Jefferson was not confining injury to grievous bodily harm, any more than he was confining the term men to the male gender. The purpose of government in this view is to prevent people from injuring one another, and injury can take many forms which grow in number and complexity as the world develops.

One can harm one's fellow citizens by making and selling a machine which is unsafe in use; or through incorrect labeling of a food product which results in a user consuming an additive to which he or she is strongly allergic. There are many ways in which we can injure one another, in our personal activities, in commerce and industry, in our use (or misuse) of natural resources. In Jefferson's view it is government's job to identify and define those actions leading to the injury of others, then to prevent them through appropriate laws and enforcement.

When we seek to apply this fundamental law to the complexities of our daily lives, we arrive at conclusions which ensure fair rewards relative to work contributed, a stable monetary system, quality goods and services, a shared and respected environment with minimal waste, footprint and pollution, laws respecting civil liberties, and government which observes its own commercial laws of openness, accountability and productivity.

If the purpose of government is accepted as the prevention of injury and exploitation, this gives us yet another political choice:

PROLEPOCRACY – the prevention of injury,
from the Greek prolepses – prevention.

So it's back to you. Have you made your choice yet? Maybe you will side with Jefferson and Lord Denning and vote for PROLEPOCRACY – the prevention of injury. That's our choice.

But whatever you choose, we're not done yet, because the most likely outcome will be, as it is now and always has been, a CLEPTOCRACY, from the Greek kleptos – a thief. Government today is widely regarded as corrupt, as votes are bought through massive advertising campaigns, as politicians and their minions at all levels are open to "influence", and even in the more "honest" regimes, governments tax and spend without any regard to productivity - the relationship between cost and quality of service.

Whatever style of government we may choose, ultimately it is only an over-riding, pre-eminent Constitutional Framework, should such exist, which can ensure justice, liberty and cost-effective governance.

Perhaps we should be looking, not at government governing people, but effective means of Governing Government.


The Art of Good Government