Power v. rule of law
Molineaux is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and president/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
Power is a tool – it can create new innovation or destroy a culture. When we are empowered, we have the capacity and ability to do something effectively. Who has the power to fix democracy? The U.S. Constitution sets up a power-sharing rule of law to mitigate the consolidation of power by monarchs and oligarchs.
There are two sets of laws that people live by. The first are the primordial Laws of Power. These are the rules of the jungle; eat or be eaten. The second set of laws undergird a democratic society; a mutual agreement to live by the Rule of Law. These two sets of rules are in absolute conflict with each other. The Rule of Law is a relative newcomer, where the Laws of Power can be traced back through human history. I propose that the Rule of Law was developed to thwart the Laws of Power and level our playing field. The Rule of Law is a prerequisite for pluralism to survive and flourish in a democratic republic.
I’ve been listening to the 48 Laws of Power. It’s a 25 year old book that resonates today as a dystopian social game, increasing human cruelty and suffering, while privileging a few. Yet still, these laws are widely used by people who seek power. Chronicling conflict throughout human history, the book shares lessons that can inform how the game of power is played. In the game of power, domination over others is the measure of success. And like any good read, it filters my view of the world in a new way. Everywhere I look I see elements of the Game for Power which is fueling the breakdown of our societies, worldwide. To be clear, I do not like this book about the game of power.
The game of power does not lead to peace and contentment. It leads to power. Power to do what? That depends on who holds it. This is where the Rule of Law is more helpful.
Personally, I reject a philosophy or society that is based on the Laws of Power as outlined by author Robert Greene. Yet I see aspects of his work in the world around me, including every authoritarian regime on the planet. Freedom for all is only possible if we mutually follow the Rule of Law earnestly.
My interest in the Laws of Power is to quickly identify and thwart the tactics and power moves that do not serve the public or humanity. These are the laws exploited by psychopaths and sociopaths, con artists and cult leaders. It’s one of the most requested books in prisons; subject to book bans. And yes, I’ve used some of these tactics myself; it made me feel ill. It is the game of domination, where the will of a few is forced upon all is a primitive form of governance. Do not fool yourself; if you compete in the Game of Power, you are sowing the seeds of our collective destruction.
Ultimately, a collaborative and cooperative society is healthier and more sustainable for all humans. This means electing steward leaders as outlined in our representative democracy. We the People, by adhering to the Rule of Law, strengthen our democratic practice. In general, the Rule of Law in the United States still functions. If We the People fail to believe in evidence, sworn testimony and jury verdicts, the authoritarian tendencies in those among us are strengthened.
One of the many reasons the Laws of Power are so effective, is that the dehumanization of others is central to the game. Division and isolation of “enemies” are tactics. We have a loneliness epidemic in the United States and other western countries. If you want to see the results of “winning” the game of power, you only need to look around you at what isn’t working for We the People. And in this new age of artificial intelligence, dehumanization of others may emanate from despots and autocrats and also from machines.
For example, when examining the tactics of former President Trump, he clearly prefers the Laws of Power to stay dominant in “the game.” For instance, we’ve seen him deploy:
- Law 6: Court Attention At All Cost
- Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim
- Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
- Law 21: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker - Seem Dumber than Your Mark
- Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult Like Following
- Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies
Let’s be honest here. Trump uses most of the 48 Laws of Power. I picked those that seemed most obvious to someone who is not in the MAGA community.
To preemptively negate power-seeking through politically motivated investigations, there are DOJ policies to follow. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, a special counsel must have “a reputation for integrity and impartial decision making,” as well as “an informed understanding of the criminal law and Department of Justice policies.” to fulfill his or her mandate to investigate and possibly prosecute an individual. This certainly gives the individual significant power and they will undoubtedly be accused of playing politics. Not every special counsel finds corruption. This is how it should be.
From media coverage, it appears that Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation is also using the more subtle Laws of Power, such as:
- Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions - no leaks to the media
- Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary - let the facts speak for themselves
- Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument - act through the court, not the media
- Law 22: Use The Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness Into Power - allow Trump to continue making public appearances and speak about the case
- Law 29: Plan All The Way To The End - allow the courts to do their job, scenario-planning all the possibilities.
Smith’s success very well might come from refusing to play the game of power in a way that Trump would win. Instead, he chips away, point by point, using the rule of law.
How might we employ the Rule of Law in healthier and more equitable ways? If the U.S. Constitution was drafted to defend common people from the Laws of Power, how might we better enact and live into that intention?
One way would be to embrace a multicultural, pluralistic society. To actively engage in our communities despite our disagreements. Democracy is the process by which we settle our differences and live peacefully. Without the Rule of Law, the game of power will reassert itself. As we have lived through these last few years. It’s harder to engage and debate and argue. But it’s even harder to regain democratic values once an authoritarian has “won” the game of power.
Let’s thwart the power-games by believing in and upholding the Rule of Law.