Question 17.7

Power by its nature must include two components. First, there must be a person or body which acts. Second, there must be the subordinate party which is acted upon. Power implies action, be it through physical, economic, political, emotional or other means. Power then exists as a function of its own exercise. That is to say, there can be no power which does not act, and so, in turn, there must be a subordinate body which is acted upon. It is the presence of this subordinate body that, by virtue of its existence, creates an obligation for the powerful. In social situations, that responsibility is easily understood as part of a larger social contract. In order for people to function together in a cohesive society, the greater abilities and possible privileges of the powerful must be tempered by a responsibility for the care taking of the subordinate body upon which it exerts its force. Power without temperance is tyranny and injustice, which in addition to being morally objectionable, are historically untenable and, in relative terms, short-lived. All societies inherently recognize this, and establish systems of law and order to codify and restrict the use of power by the powerful. In consideration, nearly every act of violence, aggression, and illegality are the results of unrestrained power, power acting without the reasonable restrictions of responsibility. While there is often a disconnect between those who have power and the incumbent responsibilities that power engenders, there is nonetheless a responsibility, social in the larger sense, and moral in the individual.

In fact, in order for one party to be responsible for and have a responsibility to another, there must exist a power dynamic which favors that party who is to shoulder the responsibility. One cannot be responsible if one lacks power. Children, who have very little real or acknowledged power are not generally held responsible for their actions until such time as they are able to gain a sufficient mastery of their environment and sentient self control, that they can be deemed to make conscious and active choices over their environment. Responsibility exists because one party has first the ability to affect the world, and second because he or she has the obligation to do so. Therefore, the root and cause of responsibility presupposes power, and the two are inextricably linked.

Questions then, of the dynamic between power and responsibility are questions of degree. If we accept that power exists because of its ability to affect subordinate parties, that responsibility is derived from positions of power, and that a key component of both power and responsibility is the obligation owed by the powerful to the subordinate, then it must be clear that as the relative distance between the powerful and the subordinate increases, so too does the level of moral and social obligation out of which responsibility is created. Those with the greatest power to affect the lives of the lesser have an obligation to that power. Those who choose to shirk this responsibility are doomed to vilification by an unforgiving and watchful populace.