I have spent most of my professional and personal life helping people realise that the issue of intent, or deeper motive, forms a golden thread accounting for success or failure in all areas of human life. One of the most interesting areas to talk about is the role that the intent to serve plays in good governance.
Governance and Power
Good governance is one of the most pressing problems of our time, particularly with the consequences of poor governance so blatantly clear in our current context. In the first instance, governance is about authority. Authority plays an important role in our lives and it is appropriate for us to subordinate ourselves to the authority and power of a governing body. But, subordinating to authority comes at a price and that price is, by definition, the loss of individual freedom.
This loss of personal freedom has a very important role to play in our lives. If we had absolutely no sense of authority, the human being could not survive. If you look at the relationship between the parent and the child, then it becomes clear that it is the authority of the parent that is responsible for developing the child into a responsible human being.
We are designed in such a way that we cannot survive very long without nurturing. It is physically impossible for the human being to survive childhood without an authority overseeing the growth and development, at least out of infancy. Without authoritative intervention it is certainly not possible to become a socially adapted and responsible adult, because without the imposition of authority in your life and a sense of limitation you do not develop an ego or persona. You don’t develop the first rules of language and you can’t engage with others.
Legitimate Power and Good Governance
The human condition requires power. But power or authority has one of two ways of manifesting. It either manifests in a way where the powerless, the subordinated are here to serve the powerful or it manifests in a way in which the powerful are here to serve the powerless, the subordinate.
Legitimate power is what happens when the big one is there for the little one and illegitimate power is when the little one is there for the big one. Tyranny is concerned with the weak serving the interests of the powerful. Legitimacy is concerned with the powerful serving the interests of the weak. A governing body is therefore legitimate when that body exists to serve the interests of those governed. You only have good governance when those that govern, do so for the interests of the people they govern.
Legitimate Power and Good Governance Should Produce Excellent People with the Intent to Make a Contribution
If the government is there to serve the citizenry, does that mean that the powerful must acquiesce to all the demands of the citizenry? If the powerful are there to serve my interests, then some might say that they supply me with everything I want. This is clearly not true.
So, what should a legitimate government do for us, if its job is not to give us everything that we want? Well, what would a parent do? A good parent doesn’t allow the child to get away with murder. This is because it is not in the interest of the child. If the parent gives a sweet every time the child asks, you will have an unhealthy and ill adjusted child.
With legitimate governance, very often it is perfectly appropriate for the governed to experience authority as negating. However, that negation is in their interests. The powerful are there to serve the weak, the powerless. This serving is concerned with empowering the weak, just like good parents turn out well-adjusted adults, not needy and dependent children in adult bodies. To achieve this the parent does not acquiesce to every demand of the child.
So, this is why I say that good governance is concerned with enabling the best in the citizen. This means that at the end of a legitimate political establishment the average citizen will be functioning at a higher level on the continuum of intent than was the case when that establishment came to power. Conversely, illegitimate governance will finish with the citizen functioning at a lower level along the continuum of the maturation of intent than was the case when it started.
Making Powerful People
The empowerment of every human being is about cultivating the intention to serve because those who are here to give are powerful. It is about cultivating people who take charge of the contribution they should be making. This is in fact what it means to cultivate good citizens, it is to cultivate people who are here to contribute to society.
This is in fact in the best interests of the citizen. We know that if you want something from somebody else, that person’s ability to withhold what you want gives them power over you. You are weak and they are strong. If you want to give something to somebody else, they have no power over you. People trapped with a focus exclusively on what the other must do for them actually give away their ability to affect their own condition, they become victims.
This means that when you grow or empower someone, you are cultivating the propensity to serve. A legitimate political establishment cultivates powerful people who are in the world to serve. An illegitimate political establishment will produce a population who is needy, weak and whose fundamental average engagement with the social other is about their own personal interests rather than the intent to serve.
The Failure of the Current Establishment
My greatest frustration with the current establishment is not primarily the resources that are being misappropriated, though this is frustrating and damaging enough. My primary frustration is the damage being done to the psyche of the citizenry in the process. Legitimate governance must help us realise the best in ourselves, not lead us to the worst in ourselves to further self-serving ends.