Friday, 12 August 2016

Corbyn, Donald Trump & Power in a Democracy

by Brian Bamford

IN the context of the forthcoming Presidential election in the USA it may be worth considering what Bertrand Russell has said in his essay 'Forms of Power'.

Russell writes 'Power may be defined as the production of intended effects', he determines different types of power:  'traditional' which gains respect due to custom; 'revolutionary' which depends upon a large group united by a creed, programme, or sentiment, such as Protestantism Communism, or desire for national independence; and 'naked power' which he sees as psychological and results from the power-loving impulses of individuals or groups, and wins from its subjects only submission through fear, not active co-operation. 

Russell goes on to distinguish differing categories of power such as 'hereditary power';  'Heredity power has given rise to our notion of a “gentleman”.'  Of this type of power Russell argues:  'This is a somewhat degenerate form of a conception which has a long history, from magic properties of chiefs, through the divinity of kings, to knightly chivalry and the blue-blooded aristocrat....  Where power is aristocratic rather than monarchical, the best manners include courteous behaviour towards equals as an addition to bland self-assertion in dealing with inferiors.'

In the U.S. case of Donald Trump; political power, in a democracy, tends to belong to men (and women) of a type which differs considerably from the aristocratic hereditary type.  As Russell says:  A politician like say for example Trump, 'if he is to succeed, must be able to win the confidence of his machine, and then to arose some degree of enthusiasm in a majority of the electorate.'

Clearly the qualities needed for these two stages on the road to power are by no means the same, and, as Russell states: 

'Candidates for the Presidency in the United States are not infrequently men (and perhaps soon women) who cannot stir the imagination of the general public, though they possess the art of ingratiating themselves with party managers.  Such men (and perhaps soon women) are, as a rule, defeated, but the party managers do not foresee this defeat.  Sometimes, however, the machine is able to secure the victory of a man (or even perhaps in this case a woman) without “magnetism”; in such cases, it dominates him (or her) after his election, and never achieves real power.'

Of course, as Russell observes, it is sometimes possible for a man (or perhaps, in the case a woman) 'to create his own machine;  Napoleon III, Mussolini, and Hitler are examples of this'.

In Donald Trump's current case it seems to me that if he is successful in gaining the presidency that though he presently doesn't yet fully control the machine that in the course of time he will seize control, in Hillary Clinton's case I think she is a good example of a machine woman. 

The astute reader will be aware of the curious UK situation of Jeremy Corbyn in this respect is in control of the party machine in so far as he helped to create the Momentum machine, but that he has been singularly unable to enthuse the other vital engine of the party and win over the parliamentary party.  However he proceeds from here, and I think Corbyn win be re-elected as leader of the Labour Party,  it looks like that the Labour Party will go into the next election like an aeroplane operating on one engine.  Aeroplanes can still fly on one engine!

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