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ARTICLE

A Short History of Political Power

JANUARY 01, 1960 by BERNARD BELL

From Crisis in Education. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949.

It is undeniable that political his­tory is largely a record of brigand­age in state after state, brigand­age by a few who have been en­trenched in power over the masses, brigandage maintained until revo­lution has dislodged the brigands. The revolutions have resulted in the installation of new groups, new classes in the places of authority, and then of the corruption of these new groups by cupidity and conceit. Out of revolution has come new oppression, which in its turn has had to be overthrown. There is no dodging the fact that the stronger the State has been and the more manifold its controls over industry, commerce, agriculture, transportation, the more sure and speedy has been the re­duction of the many to a servile condition, their enslavement by an oligarchy responsible to the holders of special privilege. Nor can anyone doubt that, as H. L. Mencken has said, in every modern land:

 

The State has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has to spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a religion; its agents become a sepa­rate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot.

 

It is hard, in short, to avoid the following convictions: that the whole world is today suffering from statecraft prostituted to carry on ignoble and unjust class exploitations; that our own country is no exception to this; that all round the world the puffing up of government to unprece­dented power is sure to result sooner or later in an honest-to-goodness explosion, a revolution nihilistic and anarchic beside which our present social disturbances, waged between various groups of would-be ex­ploiters each entrenched in its imperialistic or nationalistic setup, will seem like a game of tin soldiers.

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January 1960

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