On Power, Its Nature and the History of Its Growth

On Power, Its Nature and the History of Its Growth

On Power, Its Nature and the History of Its Growth

On Power, Its Nature and the History of Its Growth

Excerpt

In these ominous times, when the pressure of events makes calm thought difficult and when the apparent need of drastic measures makes hesitation, scepticism, criticism seem a form of petty treason, a book like M. de Jouvenel's may seem to need some justification. For it is a plea for hesitation and scepticism; it is an argument for not letting necessity, "the tyrant's plea," have all its own way. Or, rather, it is an argument for a repeated stocktaking, for the scrutiny of every new proposal for extending the power of the state or of any other power-monopolizing body. And so it can be made to seem an argument that will weaken the will to action of the government and the will to obedience of the governed.

It is not that: M. de Jouvenel has too acute a sense of the world and age in which we live to ignore the necessities of that age. But his book is an argument--and a powerful argument--against leaps in the dark when they can be avoided, and an argument against the popular pretence that the darkness is in fact well lighted and the cliff merely a slight declivity.

In this book our attention is called, first of all, to what is, at any rate, a striking coincidence: the power of the state has steadily increased and the power of the human race for deadly mischief has increased at the same time. Written as the book was before Hiroshima, the most striking example of this parallel progress was not to the author's hand. But it is worth noting that when we regard with legitimate fear the potentialities of mischief inherent in modern science, we should continually remind ourselves that potentialities have only been actualized by the will of the state. It was not a spontaneously acting group of "scientists" who made the atomic bomb. It was a group of employees of the government of the United States who made the bomb, and the most important of them were scientists. But the decision to make it was the decision of President Roosevelt, as the decision to use it was the decision of President Truman. To state this is not to impute wickedness to either statesman; it is merely to call attention to the fact that only the state is powerful enough to do damage on this scale--and that the state always means politicians, whether they be politicians in the White . . .

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