Concentrated power—while necessary for certain functions—tends to corrupt and ossify, undermining collective wisdom. So counter those tendencies with transparency, openness to critique, and constitutional answerability to—and oversight by—those whom concentrated power affects. Limit its scope and term and balance it with other power centers.
Some related patterns: 10 Civil Rights 12 Collective Wise Oversight of Governance 28 Equity 40 Glocal Subsidiarity 45 Holistic Leadership and Governance Dynamics 74 Rich Feedback Dynamics 78 Sortition
Constraints on Concentrated Power – going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
The commentary on this pattern is heavily influenced by an essay on the co-intelligence.org site I edited from a paper my father did, an excellent paper called “Democracy: A Social Power Analysis“. It is an insightful and popular essay that I highly recommend if you are interested in this pattern.
Although ideally we want to get things decentralized if we can, but wherever power is concentrated or needs to be concentrated, we want to counter its tendency to attract corrupting influences.
The more power somebody has, the more they can accumulate more power by, for example, buying political and media influence. This pattern highlights the need to constrain that dynamic so it doesn’t take over and damage the ability of a society to run democratically and wisely.
For example, we should make what happens in major power centers transparent so it can be seen by the larger public or those over whom the power is exercised so they can respond to it. This creates a feedback loop that allows the public to constrain any misuse of that power and channel it towards the common good.
Most people – including those in power – are very open to appreciation but not so open to critique. But we need to have centralized power open to people saying negative things about it. Negative things don’t necessarily add to our collective wisdom, but being able to say negative things is really important to monitor corruption and abuse. This open ability to respond is where a lot of the valuable system dynamics occur. This is where the human rights dimension and civil rights are connected – this ability to have that feedback between the people who are exercising power and the people over whom power is exercised.
We want centralized power to be constitutionally overseen by and answerable to those whom it affects. This means those who are affected by a decision should have a voice in the decision and be able to oversee how it is being handled. And it is important that this capacity is constitutionally guaranteed, so it is actually set up this way, it’s institutionalized.