Power Singular And Plural

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Libertarians attract and confound me. I get the whole “individual freedom” thing. I grew up in mundanely repressive religion community where whatever you wanted to do was probably sinful. So a creed that focuses on personal autonomy is enticing.

But I am often disappointed by the limits of libertarian analyses of power. The greatest threat to freedom is “The Government”. Whatever limits the power of the government is good for the rest of us. This analysis is not wholly wrong. Governments can and do attempt to control their subjects and citizens. This is sometimes nakedly predatory but it can also be clothed in paternalistic weeds – “We know what’s best for you. We are simply looking out for you. Let us take care of you.”

However we do not live in the world of Hobbes’ Leviathan – where the sovereign wields absolute power. We live in a world far closer to the quote at the start of this post. It is Ephesians 6:12 and the author writes of not a single “power” but “powers” and “principalities”.  A world with many sources of authority, of power, and of control. The world we live in is the world of Ephesians. It is a world dominated by multi-national corporations, semi-feudal petrostates, technology evangelists who only want the best for you (and the best for you just happens to involve their technology platform). It is a multi-polar, multi-dimensional world.

Are these rulers all dark? Is there only spiritual wickedness in high places? I think that viewpoint is excessively bleak. However the rulers of this world are not so much evil as amoral. Their logics of profit and personal enrichment and growth and influence propel along certain trajectories that may be inimical to others. There’s no malice from the driver to the roadkill. We wrestle not against flesh and blood.

So libertarians rail against the state cramping their style but they have little say about the power of non-government actors. Business people are simply entrepreneurs to admire. And they might just be the ones funding your think tank if you want to lobby for laxer regulations.

The extreme individualism that libertarians evince militates against collective action. Hey. You. Get off of my cloud. Politics is born in the acknowledge of collective interest furthered by collective action. You cannot do it by yourself.

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