Guest Blogger: Chieke E. Ihejirika
"When you know you act”
Conservatism simply means sticking to the past, the norm or the status quo. It is an aversion or reluctance to change. For conservatives change is seen as a risk, which must be, at best, avoided or, at worst, managed. Violent or rapid change, that is, revolution, must be avoided at all cost. Conservatism betrays a sense of false or real contentment with the present. More often than not it is a minority position, because the majority of the people in any given society are always in tenuous conditions that need improvement and advancement. Yet those conditions rarely change mainly due to ignorance of what to do and how to do it. This is followed by apathy, pessimism, alienation, resignation and so forth.
When you know you act and action brings change, and every change is political, just like every human action done in concert or directed towards the other. Edmund Burke, the British conservative, argued that man is endowed with two essential traits, namely: reason and passion. The rich have reason and the poor passion. Hence the rich should rule, according to Burke, because unlike them, the poor in their passion are incapable of logical analysis which is necessary for decision making. For Burke, the rich are more rational. This seems to be the justification for perennial elite’sclaim to leadership.
Although this claim seems to make sense prima facie, it is based on serious misconceptions and false assumptions. First, people are not always born poor or rich. Most people achieve wealth later in life. More often than not, wealth comes out of sheer luck, such as when fortunes smiles at someone as the saying goes. So at what point does one acquire reason if the one suddenly becomes rich? It is true that some people also fall from grace to grass, due to certain accidents or unforeseen circumstances. Do such people suddenly lose their rationality as soon as they become poor? What about all those who simply inherit wealth from their parents? Do they also automatically inherit rationality in similar proportions? All this is doubtful!
Instead, what is indubitable is that knowledge is the key to life. Knowledge and ignorance make all the differences in life. Knowledge is power; it is the canon of empowerment. Ignorance some say is bliss, but others more accurately say it is a disease. The Ethiopian Eunuch asked Philip, “How would I know if no one taught me?” The apostle Phillip taught him and he changed.
Knowledge is awareness of something or a situation. It inspires control and confidence. It emboldens, leading to action and ultimately to change or at least improvement. To know something is to know of its benefits and deficits, its advantages and disadvantages. To know generally is to be aware of one’s imperfection and to accommodate other views and perspectives. It leads to an intellectual humility that compels reflexivity, that is, self-examination of the accuracy of one’s own assumptions and propositions. It requires constant introspection and self-evaluation seeking inter-subjective disposition. It requires a curiosity.Knowledge leads to articulation, and explication of the extant wisdoms and conventions.
The link between knowledge and change is action, and actions are manifest in mobilization or what E.E. Schattsneider referred to as the ‘socialization of conflict’ or making it collective or public. Morgenthau defines politics is the struggle for power, which is conflict par excellence. But in a social contract context, the struggle for power is defined as the relationship between the government and the governed. It is a system of rights and obligations. The parties must meet and satisfy mutual expectations. Support of the ruler or a political party in power, for instance, must come with commensurate compensations or rewards. The values to be distributed must reflect the patronage system of support and rewards. Those who know this will derive maximum benefits from the state.
So what is the problem with a situation whereby a people supports a government and gets nothing from that support? The answer is simply a lack of concerted action. Power is a stubborn phenomenon. It is arrogant. It is self-directed, and it only responds to only one thing, namely power. When power meets power it seeks compromise. Otherwise, it can run away. Lord Aston said that: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What is corruption? Cicero defines corruption as using public good for private purpose.
Power is clearly in the business of corruption; that is why it must be checked all the time. Power belongs to the public because the Leviathan is the creature of the people. The people are sovereign. Rousseau says the sovereign is the “general will.” If the general will is sovereign, then the leader is simply the custodian of public power. The leader is only the servant and never the master. Leadership is a privilege not a right. The privilege to leadership only comes under specific conditions according to John Locke, namely the protection of the people’s right to life liberty and property.
So what caused our politicians to shut down our government with impunity? They have taken the people for granted. We can open our government in less than twenty-four hours if we really want to do so. All we need is to show outrage. No one is speaking of violence; we are too civilized for that. But we can make the country ungovernable, and demand that they reopen our government or quit. It is ironic that the most paid and wealthiest officials of our government can act in absolute disregard for the most vulnerable in our society.
This is no longer a democracy; it is an oligarchy. We may have made a collective mistake by electing and reelecting President Obama for his affordable health care program. But guess what? It is the people’s prerogative to do so. Elections do have consequences. As a matter of fact, only self-discipline prevents one from categorically calling this a hate crime against the president, but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be a duck.
Only yesterday, we lived through the most egregious abuse of public trust for which this country is yet to recover, namely: the reckless and unprecedented squandering of American resources in unwarranted war to the tone of one trillion dollars. Yet we tolerated President George W. Bush until it was time to install an alternative. Two elections and Supreme Court approval notwithstanding, some bigots are holding the nation and President Obama hostage and unleashing all manners of terrorism, the kind we would not even tolerate from enemies of America. What a shame, indeed! Why can’t they let the healthcare policy rise and fall on its own merits or weaknesses? That is the way of democracy.
Colleagues, as we teach The Lincoln University students for tomorrow’s leadership, we must make sure they are empowered enough to know that change comes only with true knowledge followed by positive actions. There is no other way. Inaction leads to dereliction by those we are paying to do things for us. We must always put our elected officials on a short leash. Otherwise, we will always live in self-inflicted frustration.