Checks and Balances

10:14 Sun 04 Nov 2007. Updated: 11:15 04 Nov 2007
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Arguments about checks on power often elicit the claim that the checks are unnecessary because whoever is in power is clearly trustworthy and would never exercise the power without some compelling reason. This naturally makes almost no sense, because if they have a compelling reason, the people in charge of the checks will recognize this and go along with it. The claim is then made that those in charge of the checks will “play politics” and/or “move too slowly”—establishing a conflict between a leader who needs to act quickly and decisively in a crisis and some faceless committee of bureaucrats who don’t care about resolving the crisis.

In reality, the danger is too much power concentrated in the hands of too few, and those commanding the awesome powers of the state should have many checks on their authority in order to make sure they don’t have the opportunity to become tyrants. That argument, however, seems to have little impact, particularly in the US.

I think that one of the reasons for this is because it’s easier to believe that anonymous or unknown people will behave terribly. Everyone knows who the President is, but very few people know who the various committee members in charge of regulating the President’s power in different areas are. Therefore it’s easy to believe that those people are obstructionist and self-serving than it is to believe that the President is power-hungry (or corrupt, or a tyrant, etc.).

Another reason is that, following from the last point, most people simply don’t consider too much authority held in the hands of a few is a real problem. I suspect they underestimate the extent of this power, or the freedom with which it can be authorized. I think they overestimate the remaining controls, believing that obvious injustice simply wouldn’t be allowed.

That belief, that faith, is of course inculcated by what can only be viewed as pro-State propaganda. You live in a free country, our system of government is composed of checks and balances that ensure that power doesn’t get out of hand, the agents of the state are all honorable and dedicated to freedom. Exposure to that since infancy is one side of the coin. The other side is fear.

Fear of The Enemy. Communism, drug dealers, terrorism, religious fanatacism (of non-white-skinned people, of course). All these things are dangerous, and devious, forces that seek to destroy the great and noble state you’ve been hearing about your whole life, and to take away your freedom, your security, your way of life.

People are used to being afraid of some threat, fear being a major product of media outlets, and used to faith in the state, patriotism and jingoism being other major media products. This lays the foundation of why it’s much easier to believe that the real danger is in too many restraints on the noble leaders, and not in too much power in their hands.

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