By William R. Torbert
Since the dawn of the modern age, each intellectual and cultural arena has established its own criterion of success and has sought to maximize attainment of that ideal without reference to the other arenas of life. In politics, the ideal is power; in economics, utility; in art, beauty; in science, empirical truth. These ideals ignore one another, speak past one another, and sometimes clash. "Might makes right," "Profit maximization," "Art for art's sake," and "Knowledge for its own sake" or "pure science" are all slogans that are at once isolationist and imperialistic.
With such ideals, the different arenas of life may, at best, come into an accidental balance of power, or equilibrium, for a given person or culture at a given time or place. Such a balance of power is static, precarious, and necessarily temporary (if not altogether fictitious). As with the scales of justice, the slightest variation on any side can oscillate into radical imbalance.
By contrast, the ancients made the dynamic balance of the whole the ideal-whether the whole be the pantheon of gods, the whole person, or the city. Instead of a balance of power, these ancients sought the power of balance. Plato's Republic, for example, is about the search for the power of balance, both in the conduct of politics and in the education of leaders. Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian offers an intimate portrait of a Roman emperor seeking (and only occasionally discovering) the power of balance.
The power to create a whole without obliterating differences (whether that whole be a self, a family, a city, or a global community) and to balance wholes of different kinds is inherently integrative, mutual, inquiring, and ethical. The power by which parts seek to dominate other parts is inherently disintegrative, hierarchical, uninquiring, and corrupting.
Since Machiavelli and Hobbes and throughout the modem period, power has been treated, almost exclusively, as a necessary evil that restricts the freedom of those over whom it is exercised and that requires countervailing powers-a balance of powers-if it is not to become increasingly corrupt-perhaps absolutely evil-and squash all freedom.
By contrast, the theory of power presented in this book views such unilateral force as the lowest, least effective, and least legitimate form of power. Unilateral force is necessary in relation to those with whom we recognize no other type of power; and unilateral force can, if exercised with the artistry of the power of balance, set the stage for more effectual and more mutual power relations…
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