In A Culture of Freedom - Oakeshott on Liberty (1/3), we concluded by quoting Oakeshott's dictum that
the absence from our society of overwhelming concentrations of power.
The author goes on to explain:
This is the most general condition , so general that all other conditions may be seen to be comprised within it.
It appears, first, in a diffusion of authority between past, present and future.
Our society is ruled by none of these exclusively. And we should consider a society governed wholly by its past, or its present, or its future to suffer under a despotism of superstition which forbids freedom.
The politics of our society are a conversation in which past, present and future each has a voice; and though one or another of them may on occasion properly prevail, none permanently dominates, and on this account we are free.
Further, with us power is dispersed among all the multitude of interests and organizations of interest which comprise our society. We do not fear or seek to suppress diversity of interest, but we consider our freedom to be imperfect so long as the dispersal of power among them is incomplete, and to be threatened if any one interest or combination of interests, even though it may be the interest of a majority, acquires extraordinary power.
Similarly, the conduct of government in our society involves a sharing of power, not only between the recognized organs of government, but also between the Administration and the Opposition.
In short, we consider ourselves to be free because no one in our society is allowed unlimited power-no leader, faction, party or "class", no majority, no government, church, corporation, trade or professional association or trade union.
The secret of its freedom is that it is composed od a multitude of organizations in the constitution of the best of which is reproduced that diffusion of power which is characteristic of the whole.
From The Political Economy of Freedom, in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, pp.388/389
We must be able to grant our political opponents and the indifferent respect and freedom, debate and deal otherwise with them peacefully and in constructive fashion, and we must be on the guard to ensure that the essential dispersal of interests and power is kept in a state of reasonable balancedness. This is the joint task of the citizens as agents and consumers of politics, and the specialists in our societal division of labour that we call politicians.
Just as much as we may demand of our politicians to be responsible and honest, our politicians are entitled to expect of us to be cognizant of the difficult challenges they are grappling with on our behalf.
As I wrote in the below comment on Keystone:
I think, it is important for the responsible citizen to realise that
- there are genuine dilemmas out there, that
- we need our political representatives to handle them as best as is possible, that
- the unresolved disagreements are not the result of the machinations of evil politicians, and that
- we need brave and honest politicians to help maintain trust in a community faced with disruptive and devise issues.
A politician who gives her best to be approachable and transparent – to which there are natural limits – deserves, and indeed requires an active effort on the part of us citizens to understand the dilemmas and prospects of imperfect and less than satisfactory solutions inherent in her job.
We should respect her for doing a job that absolutely needs to be done but that most of us are not prepared to do.
As principals and consumers of politics, we have responsibilities, too, which include fairness and regardfulness vis-à-vis our political representatives.