As we approach the inauguration, I think of a wonderful insight of John Stuart Mill; everyone loves executive power– when his or her party wins the election.
Back when representative governments were still an uncommon idea, John Stuart Mill—a pioneer of Classical Liberalism– advocated for it. However, in Considerations on Representative Government he put forward a problem that could arise. Specifically, if people began to value their party holding power more than freedom itself.
“Members of parties are willing to abdicate his personal freedom of action into the hands of his general provided his army is triumphant and victorious and he is able to flatter himself that he is one of a conquering host.” (Mill.88)
Mill thought that individuals can be seen as members of an army, and the only thing they would care about was if their general was in charge. Partisans love dominance when their party is the one dominant.
This is why the left did not protest President Obama using what is now a fifteen-year-old Declaration of War to bomb seven countries; Furthermore, they applauded the initiative taken to negotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal despite many knowing it was an overreach of the executive power .
Similarly, this is why those on the right chose to ignore President Bush’s actions in going against the Geneva Convention’s restrictions on interrogation techniques.
Outrage Over Trump
Many people throughout the country have staged vitriolic protests against the President-elect.
Articles of been penned, petitions have been signed, Golden Globe speeches have been made, with the goal of preventing the next president from taking power. Yet the power they fear is the power they bestowed.
With regards to power, Mill wrote that people are “very jealous of any attempt to exercise over them…but they in general care very little for the exercise of power over others” (Mill. 91)
In other words, members of one party do not have an issue with handing power over to a member of same party, nor do they mind if that person uses that power over others in the society. However if another party gains hegemony and that power is used against them they become outraged.
Tiberius is Here: Now What ?
“The despotism of Augustus prepared the Romans for Tiberius “( Mill. 57)
The Augustus was one of the most beloved leaders in the history of Rome. He was a key player in transitioning Rome from a Republic to an Empire. He largely ignored the Senate, keeping the absolute control of the Military to himself, and dubbed himself the first among all Romans. Augusus’ son, Tiberius, following his father’s example, also ignored the Senate, but took his power one-step further and assassinated all of his political enemies.
To be clear, I am not claiming that Trump will hire an assassin to kill Bernie Saunders. However, Americans should be prepared that when they bestow near limitless power on a leader they love, one day a leader they despise will come along and use that power for something they find despicable.
Yet individuals will continue to give up that power for the chance of becoming a “conquering host.“