Since the publication of my last article, “The Third Threat of Coronavirus,” readers have asked for elaboration on the threat of centralized power. 

Today’s manifestation of the problem began a hundred years ago when one powerful man “thought the conditions of modern times demanded that government power be unified rather than fragmented and checked.  His great confidence in the wisdom of science and benevolence of expert administrators led him to the view that the founders’ worries about concentrated power were obsolete.  He exhibited the combination of love for power and unbounded paternalism that is the hallmark of the administrative state today.  [He wrote] ‘If I saw my way to it as a practical politician, I should be willing to go farther and superintend every man’s use of his chance.’”[1]

Got that?  Superintend every man’s use of his chance – be the supervisor of every man’s agency.  Control, control, control.  And if there’s any doubt, he further wrote, “Men are as clay in the hands of the consummate leader” and “Resistance is left to the minority, and such as will not be convinced are crushed.”[2] 

Agency a mere nicety and people clay to be molded.  Thanks, Woodrow Wilson, patron saint of centralized government.

Note how the danger unfolds, especially among those who view the world’s present crisis as opportunity:

  • Concentration is by definition the opposite of separation.  Centralization downplays, even disregards, the separation and division of power specified by the Constitution.
  • It encourages bigger government.  Fewer people wielding power is intoxicating.
  • As local voices wane and a central voice dominates, freedom shrinks.       
  • Concentrated power is a more visible power and is intimidating.  We begin to fear being restricted or fined.
  • Advocates of centralization want conformity and work to keep individuals in line.  We find we have fewer choices, which in turn weakens agency.
  • Centralization’s curtailment of freedoms takes a toll on motivation and innovation.  We become less sure we’ll enjoy the fruits of our labor.
  • Less voluntary cooperation results in less productivity of the free market.

Failure to put individual agency at the top of society’s priorities has always led, and will always lead, to corruption and abuse of power – gradually, insidiously, and then a surge.  So, what are the early warning signals of unwelcome centralization?

  • A noticeable reduction of choices.
  • Excessive emphasis on efficiency; comments that centralized power will be more efficient than disseminated power.
  • Increased demand for experts, implicitly meaning others who are smarter than those presently assembled.
  • An imbalance between a necessary headquarters and a system for inputs from constituents who may not live close to those headquarters.
  • Geographic location becomes less a factor of convenience and more a perceived pool of wisdom: “Let Washington solve it.” 
  • Unwarranted isolation of decision makers from those they represent; laborious procedures for interaction.
  • Zealous enforcement of rules; slavish adherence to the letter of the law over common sense.
  • Overstepping of authority, an increase in bossy people exerting more control than necessary.
  • Failure to delegate down; ignoring the ideal that a problem should be solved at the level closest to the problem.
  • Increased references to a “living Constitution” – that the principles of yesteryear don’t apply in today’s world.
  • Worship of the mean; stigmatizing differences for the goal of equal outcomes.
  • Increasing entitlements that weaken resistance to power-centralizing efforts.
  • Homogenization: the preaching of diversity but the practice of lock-step conformity.
  • Undue attention to those who claim to be victims; jealousy of the success of others.

All of these lead to the centralization of power that is Satan’s counterfeit of how God would have us use it.

To be continued ….

Excerpted from the Centralization chapter in the author’s forthcoming book “The Magnificent Gift of Agency; To Act and Not Be Acted Upon.”

[1] Stephen F. Hayward, “The Threat to Liberty” Claremont Review of Books, Winter 2016-17, 53-54.