Evolving as our society has from a very long era of despotic governments with their armies and police, it was natural, I suppose, that when other types of institutions began to evolve…that power-centered control, with a hierarchy and somebody as king, would be the accepted means of moving the institution toward some sort of goal And we have lived so long with this assumption that, destructive of human spirit as it appears to be there is little capacity to think about a better, more spirit-nurturing, way for institutions to function.
When I wrote my essay the ‘Institution as Servant’ some years ago I sharply challenged the conventional wisdom of a single chief sitting atop a pyramidal bureaucracy and urged in its place a governing group of equals with a primus as their leader. I was only able to take this modest suggestion because I knew of several large and successful European businesses that were organized that way…
When framers of our government designed our present Federal structure, out of revolution rather than out of a gradual process of change, they had only the model of king as the primary leader. To be sure they elected their king rather than allowing hereditary succession and they imposed some restraints on the office, but they left enough sovereign autonomy so that one person, on his own, could get into a lot of trouble (at the expense of the nation) – as we have recently seen.
Clearly the concept was still a king with some quite absolute powers. Other federal systems that have evolved more gradually have tended toward a parliamentary form in which the key leader is responsible to her or his peers – not perfect, but a superior idea as I see it…
It seems an unrealistic pipe dream even to think about organized human activity without giving power to some people to push other people around, even though they do it benignly as they sometimes do. But, heavy handed or benign, I suspect that both holding and using power as it is commonly accepted is destructive of human spirit – in the powerholder as well as in the subject.
If we are to move toward a more servant-led society, it is imperative that we find a better way to assign power (if we have to have it assigned at all) than what we have traditionally done and are doing. Otherwise these institutions of ours will continue to grind down human spirit on a mammoth scale, we will not have many servants, and we will have a weaker society.
How will we find a better way, a way that empowers fewer than at present to push others around? A long term gradualist approach is suggested, one that will take at least a generation to make a slight dent on the problem. The making of a less power-ridden society of the U.S.A. alone may take several generations of gradualist effort, one step at a time.
But the effort to take that first step may be a necessary thrust to preserve and enhance our free society and enable us to give some leadership to a faltering world. A first step is suggested. The course of next steps will emerge from a successful beginning.