Lord Acton famously said that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but he might just as truly have swallowed his “r”s and said “Power coopts.” I distinctly recall that many a wild-eyed student radical in the 60s was turned into a conscientious steward of the university simply by being given some of the power demanded. If I ruled the world, I don’t know which way I would go. I’m equally afraid of unleashing my inner Nero on the one hand and turning into an overcautious consensus-seeker on the other—if only out of fear that I’d make some well-intended blunder that brought calamity to the planet.
I am not known for my modesty, and some may be surprised to learn that I really don’t think I have all the answers. Here, for instance, is one of my favourite ideas, but I am truly baffled about how to put it into action even with all the powers in the world at my disposal. As we all know—but sometimes forget, in our panic— when the plumbing has burst, the first step to take is to turn off the water main. In that spirit, I would like my first step on ascending to the dictatorship to be decreeing high quality, non-ideological education for boys and girls in every community on the globe. If we could just liberate the world’s children from illiteracy, ignorance, and superstition, their curiosity would lead them to solutions that were both locally informed and sensitive while also tuned to a fairly realistic view of the global context into which these solutions must fit. Once accomplished, the result of this universal education would be the opposite of paternalism, giving people everywhere maximum freedom to make informed choices about how to live their lives.
But could we get there from here, without truly horrific imposition of our western culture on people whose traditions are often blindly opposed to it? The disastrous attempts to separate children from their families in the recent past in order to give them “proper” educations should convince us that there is simply no way of imposing an educational system on children in different cultures against their will and the will of their elders that isn’t both inhumane and ineffective. Notice that I did not say that knowledge should never be imposed on people. If it were…