Sunday, December 30, 2012

Power Warps The Human Mind

By, Chris Rossini

EPJ is known for keeping a sharp eye on politicians who gradually take the road of compromise away from liberty. To others, it seems innocent, and is justified as necessary, but here, we preach that once that road is chosen, it quickly becomes a very slippery slope. The politician (who originally may have had good intentions) often ends up doing tremendous harm.

Power is unnatural and very seductive. It warps the mind.

A perfect example is the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson.

Here was a man, who when out of office, was a GIANT for the cause of liberty. Yet, in the political arena, and while President, made decisions that were as far from liberty as you can go.

One of Jefferson’s major blunders was the Embargo Act. In an effort to harm the warring powers of France and Britain, the this Act prohibited virtually all U.S. commerce with the rest of the world. It also banned all land traffic with Canada. The law required, among other things:
  1. American vessels were prohibited from landing in any foreign port unless specifically authorized by the president himself.
  2. Trading vessels were now required to post a bond of guarantee equal to the value of both the ship and its cargo, in order to insure compliance with the law.
This disaster hurt the U.S. tremendously. Exports fell from $108 million to $22 million, and imports declined from $138 million to $56 million. Black markets, smuggling, and loopholes were discovered.

In an effort to combat the loopholes, Jefferson doubled-down and passed another Embargo Act that:
  1. Prohibited, for the first time, the export of any goods, either by land or by sea.
  2. Subjected violators to a fine of $10,000, plus forfeiture of goods, for each offense.
  3. Granted the President broad discretionary authority to enforce, deny, or grant exceptions to the embargo.
  4. Port authorities were allowed to seize cargoes without a warrant, and/or to bring to trial any shipper or merchant who was thought to have merely contemplated violating the embargo.
Remember this is Thomas Jefferson, author of The Declaration of Independence!

Power is unnatural. Once you give in to're sunk.

After his Presidency, Jefferson returned to his old self. A look at his tombstone gives a great indication that he knew of his errors. There is no mention of being President of The United States. The only accomplishments listed are those that are admirable:

Libertarians must realize that power is poison to the mind. Even Thomas Jefferson couldn't handle it. Let that be an instruction.

If a libertarian decides to enter the den of vipers, he/she must stick to libertarian principles, without compromise.

Ron Paul did it. He refused to step foot on the slippery slope.

His choice made him a hero.

Follow @ChrisRossini on Twitter


  1. Power isn't binary. It is a spectrum. If power "warps the human mind", then every single human on the planet has a warped mind, because every individual on the planet has SOME power, however small or large it is, over their surroundings.

    You Chris have more power over your surroundings than many impoverished people in Africa, and so to that extent, your mind is more warped than their minds. Similarly, those who have more power than you, have minds that are more warped than your mind.

    The least warped mind would seem to belong to he who has the least power. A slave in a cage would seem to have the least warped mind. A world dictator would seem to have the most warped mind. Everyone else would have varying levels of mind warp-ness.

    In other words, since you have a self-declared warped mind, I can only take your mind to be warped to some positive degree.

    But if that is the case, if your mind is warped as you are implying it is, then I must take your claim that power warps the human mind to be itself a warped claim. I must take it as the product of a warped mind. Why should I take your claim seriously seeing as how it is a warped claim, i.e. a produce of your admittedly warped mind?


    Power does not warp the mind. Minds are warped through choice of philosophy. If a man has a strong philosophy, say Ron Paul, power will not warp his mind in the way you say. Congressmen have lots of power, and yet his mind hasn't been warped by it.

    You are wrong Chris. Lord Acton was wrong. Power does not corrupt. Bad philosophy corrupts. Power can be used for good by good people.

    1. "You are wrong Chris. Lord Acton was wrong. Power does not corrupt. Bad philosophy corrupts. Power can be used for good by good people."

      Please tell me that was sarcasm. If not then this is THE most ignorant and naive statement I have ever read.

    2. Geoff, perhaps a clarification is in order. Power refers solely to the power to violate the Non Agression Principle, a power held only by politicians and their enablers and patrons.

      A billionaire with no political power, and no desire to seek it, has no more "power" than you or I. A criminal with a badge has far more power.

    3. Wow. This article went completely over your head.

      It's almost as if you didn't even bother to think about what Chris actually wrote. Did you even read it?

    4. Mike: It wasn't sarcasm. I reject the absolutism inherent in the claim that having power necessarily affects everyone's mind in the exact same way, e.g. "corrupts."

      Dale: If you define power as violating the NAP, then it is awkward to say that power warps the mind. For such a definition would instead suggest that power is the product of a warped mind, since one has to choose to initiate violence.

      Tony: Yes, I read the article. I think it is wrong. Obviously you did not read the article, or else you would not have said that what I wrote is a product of not reading the article.

      Frank: What an incredibly ignorant article. There is nothing wrong with hierarchies, provided they are voluntary. Not everyone has the same ability, and people can improve each other by organizing themselves hierarchically. I did it all through school, where I chose to listen and be quiet during lectures, rather than try to run the classes myself. I was able to be educated by those more intelligent than me. Carson is making an absurd claim when he says hierarchies are systematically stupid. Communications are improved in hierarchies, because hierarchies filter out the garbage of the type Carson writes.

    5. @ Geoff

      You think your weak attempt at a "tu quoque" fallacy negates the fact that you seem ignorant of what Chris was obviously trying to say?

      First of all. it is quite obvious Chris was talking about POLITICAL power, and not the broad and meaningless leftist interpretation you gave it. He was talking about the power one has from being part of a legal monopoly on the use of aggressive force.

      Second of all, your nonsense about "bad philosophies" is clearly proven false by Chris' example of Thomas Jefferson, who had a great philosophy UNTIL he had power. If bad philosophy is the problem, Jefferson would have had it even BEFORE he had power.

      Third of all, Chris actually used Ron Paul as an example of what one needs to do IF one does have power, and called him a hero. Your use of Ron Paul as an example is therefor meaningless since Chris himself already used him as an example of an EXCEPTION and therefor a hero.

      Here's a question for you. If you think POLITICAL power (since that is what we're talking about) is not a corrupting influence, why don't you give us a list of politicians in the last 200 years - besides the exception of Ron Paul - that used power to do good.

      If you even TRY to mention the likes of Rand Paul or Justin Amash, we can disqualify your entire argument right there.

      If you can't, then your whole point is entirely moot since history has proven that power only serves to do evil. The notion that we don't need to condemn it because of one exception to the rule of 200+ years of immoral and evil politicians, is too absurd to even debate about.

      In all, it seems you did not really think about Chris' point at all, read it uncarefully, and were merely interested in coming up with a quick justification for your own continued belief in political power.

      Your response to Dale: The article's mention of Jefferson proves his mind was warped AFTER he got power, since he had "good philosophy" before that. Alan Greenspan was a fan of Ayn Rand until he got power through the FED. Another example. Ronald Reagan spouted off on libertarianism; after he got power he GREW the state.

      Now its your turn.

    6. "There is nothing wrong with hierarchies, provided they are voluntary."

      Hierarchies depending on political power, or anything that derives "rights" from political power, are never voluntary.

      "Not everyone has the same ability, and people can improve each other by organizing themselves hierarchically. I did it all through school, where I chose to listen and be quiet during lectures, rather than try to run the classes myself."

      Did you CHOOSE to go to school? Was it public or private? The question is not whether you CHOSE to listen, but whether you had any choice in going at all, or whether you had any choice in paying for it. If you didn't, your argument is moot, since even if you didn't like your education you would have been demanded to pay attention and required to pay for it. Just because you accept dominance, doesn't mean power did not corrupt the dominator. We see plenty of people that accept the dominance of big government because they actually it is good. That doesn't mean it is.

      "I was able to be educated by those more intelligent than me."

      That's a matter of personal and subjective opinion. The question remains whether you would have had a choice. Since force is by definition immoral, it doesn't matter if the teacher was teaching you anything valuable.

      "Carson is making an absurd claim when he says hierarchies are systematically stupid. Communications are improved in hierarchies, because hierarchies filter out the garbage of the type Carson writes."

      What an incredible NON-argument. Why don't you try to actually refute what Carson writes. You may satisfy yourself with a smart-ass response like this, but you'll impress nobody else.

    7. @ Geoff

      "Communications are improved in hierarchies, because hierarchies filter out the garbage of the type Carson writes."

      Beyond the obvious fact that this is just ad hominem, the argument is also otherwise irrational.
      Top-down decisions by those in positions of power to filter out undesired messages is obviously not the same as "improved communication" or ANY "communication" in the slightest. As a matter of fact, it is anti-communication; it is censorship.
      The fact that you seem to think that censorship and "improved communication" are the same speaks volumes.

      Of course, in a voluntary hierarchy those in higher positions have some sort of right to filter out undesired messages, but first of all it doesn't change the fact that it does most certainly NOT improve "communication", and second it is highly unlikely Carson would ever be part of a hierarchy of a *voluntary* type. So how could his "garbage" even be filtered?

    8. @Frank - Thanks for the interesting link. Kevin Carson is an interesting thinker, with some serious flaws. I just can't get over his love of the labor theory of value, which indicates to me that his whole philosophy is built on a deck of cards. Take this sentence, for example, from his wikipedia page: "Carson’s thesis is that under an authentic free market economy, the separation of labour from ownership and the subordination of labor to capital would be impossible, bringing a more egalitarian society in which most people could easily choose self-employment over wage labor." This illustrates a complete misunderstanding of the structure of production and the time preference of laborers. Nevertheless, he provides some good insights into the nature of power.

    9. @Ed...

      My suggestion would be to read Carson before forming an opinion. I have yet to find a thinker who I agree with 100% of the time (Voltairine de Cleyre comes closest) but much of the criticism I see directed at Carson takes the form of a straw man (especially when it comes to the LTV). A straw man that more often than not seems to have been constructed by someone other than the person doing the criticizing.

      Many that do read Carson come to the conclusion that when he talks about the labor theory of value, it's not what they consider the genuine labor theory of value. The way Carson describes the LTV, it doesn't contradict and is not mutually exclusive from the subjective theory of value. He sums it up as, "the equilibrium price toward which reproducible goods tend over time reflects embodied labor, insofar as a free market is allowed to operate without artificial scarcities".

      It's another example -- like "capitalism", "socialism", "libertarian", etc. -- of people debating labels instead of the ideas behind them.

      IMO, "under an authentic free market economy", the "subordination of labor to capital" would be much more difficult and lead to "a more egalitarian society in which... people could easily choose self-employment over wage labor." I say this with an understanding not only of the structure of production but also the severe distortions in the structure of production caused by the state (or lack of an authentic free market economy).

  2. Chris, I really enjoy your articles. Please keep it up. There are too many Boromirs in the libertarian movement. We need more Frodos.

    1. Yes, it's a good thing when good people have power, because good people aren't corrupted by it, and use it for good.

      However, your example of Frodo is off, because Frodo was in fact finally corrupted, when he refused to throw the ring into the fire in Return of the King. The ring was destroyed through corruption (Gollum fell into the fire accidentally), not willful good.

    2. We need more gay hobbits?

      Nah I'm just pulling your leg, I get what you're saying ;)

    3. @Geoff - Notwithstanding the fact that we are arguing about a work of fiction, you are kind of proving Chris's point. Even Frodo, the character that is supposed to be the most good, the only one with moral strength to do what needs to be done and destroy the ring, ends up being seduced in the end. Nevertheless, at least he set out to destroy the ring, rather than try to control it and "use it for good."

  3. "I was able to be educated by those more intelligent than me."

    I was forced to be brainwashed by those less intelligent than me. Fortunately, I stumbled upon LRC, Anti-War, Mises, and EPJ. Now I know true history and understand economics and NAP. For that, I will be forever grateful.

  4. Federal spending under the Thomas Jefferson presidency was less than 2% of GDP.