What are the ends and means of power? In fact, what is power? And how to break it all down and make it clear in under 2000 words?

Human action finds two vital expressions explained by Franz Oppenheimer (not in terms of human action, Oppenheimer was no praxeologist) the economic and the political. Power could be described as freedom – the exercise of rights or entitlements – over other people as though they are, in some diffuse form, your property. This is the marketplace of the political means, where, as opposed to the positive-sum game of economics, everything must be zero sum, every winner must be counter-balanced by a loser. If my minions rob you of your castle and lands in battle then that castle and those lands are mine, along with any of your minions who survived and didn’t flee. So it goes, on and on ad infinitum until death.

I must live at the expense of others if I am to wield political power. Indeed, wielding political power and living at others’ expense are one and the same. Even to use a plural seems fallacious, but grammar compels me. Political means and ends can become blurred in the halls of political power. After all, what are the characteristics of a government as opposed to the absence of one? A monopoly exists on the commission and execution of crime. The crimes are extortion and theft under the label of taxation, assault under the many labels of arrest and imprisonment, national service and compulsory schooling, and murder in the monstrous and hungry meat grinder of war. Agents of the state commit or facilitate these acts every single day. This is the politics in action.

The day-to-day political means are taxation, regulation, and inflation while the ends are warfare and welfare. Everything the agents of the state do is an exercise either in warfare against outsiders or insiders, or of welfare, again for peoples foreign and domestic. But, recall, the roles could quite easily be reversed, that warfare and welfare might be the means by which the ends of taxation, regulation and inflation are attained. What a frightful thought. The reason the direction doesn’t matter is because, intrinsically, those first three means can be a consequence of warfare and welfare as well as their facilitators. It doesn’t matter to any elected politician or any appointed bureaucrat that they – and the recipients of their favours – must by definition live at the expense of everyone else.

This is in no way supposed to describe the ultimate ends of politicians. I doubt most of them have any great projects to change the world in mind, but rather want to ‘do right’ by their constituents. They just see politics as the best outlet for their skills, which happen to be duping the rest of society – or maybe even themselves – into believing that the endless cycle described above either doesn’t exist or is better than any alternative. Whatever caused us to get sucked into a circular flow of power? There is something theatrical, something vaguely Race Day-esque, and it has distracted us thoroughly from the truth.

In the media the Left and Right are at each other’s throats, more shrill than ever, and we are reminded by the media every day so we can think very carefully and critically about which of these chariot racing teams, the Reds or the Blues, deserves our patronage come voting day. It’s basically like placing a bet on a horse if the winnings actually went to recipients of the winner’s choice after the race. Whether it’s a Red or Blue jockey should, after all, mean something, right? I mean, it’s not entirely unrealistic is it that just maybe all the words and spit and blood and bile cast this way and that over Race Day must somehow express some desire by these wise ones to make human life better with the power vested in them?

Sorry to disappoint, but as James Smith has pointed out already, the entire Left/Right spectrum on which we place our political ideologies and our wise masters is a sideshow at best. Far more interesting is another scale, one which is not easy to colour-code these days. Socialism and Conservatism are Left and Right, but the true political scale goes straight up and straight down. You have a few sails of blue billowing from the right of this mast, and a few in red protruding from the left, but it’s the vertical sweep that should hold your attention, because, like it or not, Race Day is a racket. The Reds and Blues? There is a little red in the blue, and a little blue in the red. Neither is truly holding a useful debate or contest with the other. It’s a storm in a teacup.

The Reds want egalitarianism and the Blues want Nationalism. Both of these are forms of collectivism, both are detrimental to individual liberty, and both are very, very expensive in blood and treasure. Yes, the US political parties get the colours the wrong way round, but the difference between them is still trivial, even in the early 21st Century era of ultra-partisanship: Remember; storm in a teacup. The Left is the soft statism of redistribution, but it needs violence to get funding through legalised plunder. This can be achieved either by taxation which can only ever be paid in the government’s choice of currency, or devaluation of that money itself. The government issues the funny money in the same way a counterfeiter does, but with a police force and a military to back it up we don’t protest too much lest we lose everything we care about.

To elaborate further and yet simplify, Leftists would employ the monopoly power of the state to force people together. Rightists would use that very same power to force people apart. Egalitarianism and hierarchy, respectively. The fact that it is economic socialism versus corporatism and feudalism in the legislatures and popular press of the ‘free world’ has handily escaped everyone’s attention. This is no doubt abetted by Marxists who commit the absurd and venal fallacy of lumping liberalism  – no bans or mandates except non-aggression – and the capitalist economic model that liberals advocate with feudalism.

What of the vertical scale of political philosophy? Nowadays we orient it so that authoritarianism is at the top and libertarianism at the bottom. The truest way to view political philosophy in action is on the scale from complete liberty up to total authority, or totalitarianism. Wherever two wings spread out to either side of the pole, all political debate in government or the media will be contained. No suggestions of authority far higher than is currently the case, or of liberties far greater, will be countenanced. So the conservatives and the socialists can have the debate all to themselves to the total exclusion of any serious liberals or libertarians.

There are many things about life in the world today that are dreadful, compared to what could be, because of political human action. However, there has been a complete misidentification of the culprits in sustaining poverty and hardship throughout the world, with many believing that capitalism – entrepreneurship and investment with profit and loss signals – somehow makes people poor. That has been ably addressed elsewhere.

Both the Left and the Right are all about political control of everyday life, through immoral control of morality, through violent enforcement of peace, through extortion, theft, assault, kidnapping, involuntary Ponzi schemes, and permanent slavery. That slavery takes the form of the co-option of people’s time and labour in jury duty, conscription, AWOL bans, filling in government forms, imprisonment, life-long debt peonage, and more! All of these problems have loomed ever larger as the decades are frittered away behind us, and neither the Left nor the Right has any lasting solution to any of them, since neither ultimately recognises them as fundamental problems.

It’s not easy to think or speak independently considering how pigeon-holed political discussion is in this statist age. Nevertheless, the ultimate ammunition in the moral person’s clip is to expose evil as evil, and throw away forever the illusion that it is good. Let us expose the state for the rapacious parasite it is, then live better, and live free.