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Trust, Power, and Freedom

Trust of “the people,� something akin to the concept of “la gente,� is a major challenge for me in the work of Paulo Freire. On one hand Freire advocates for a fundamental trust of the people in the setting of educational aims and practice. On the other hand I think you have Plato, advocating for the guidance of the philosopher-king, the individual or individuals who by virtue of wisdom know how best to guide persons in other sections of society toward virtue. I have to admit to a partiality to Plato’s view. On a daily basis I see persons exercising anonymous and even belligerent imposition upon each other, and have witnessed the popularization of politics with its resultant election of questionable leadership. For a while I have considered whether the people could be trusted if all the distortions of original human nature imposed by commercial and political institutions could be removed, such that in the long run the global population will arrive finally at a place of wisdom. However, there seems to be an individual human proclivity to the pursuit of power, even at the expense of original goodness. What is the source of this original discontent? This desire to dominate? Historical biographical narratives, such as the works of Victor Villaseñor, seem to stand as testimony to the proclivity of mass humanity to engage in power-seeking cruelty. John Holloway may offer an alternative in “Change the World without Taking Power,� but if power is the original object of human intent, then this is just unrealistic idealism on Holloway’s part. Would Adam ever have turned down the apple under other circumstances?

I propose that power is characterized by whatever is its source, such that perhaps there can be a power that exists in the natural potential of persons to progress toward human flourishing (telos). This is a natural power of great strength, that unfortunately finds itself in competition with other more apparent versions of power that are attractive to humanity. The natural power of human potential brings a person to fulfillment of Freire’s “unfinished� person I would propose, perhaps Freire’s notion of “becoming.� But the simple problem is that people simply cannot be trusted to pursue that path of power. The power of natural potential is the pathway to true freedom – theologian Karl Rahner’s “Grace in Freedom� and Paul Tillich’s “Courage to Be� come to mind - but the more apparent versions of power promise a seeming freedom which is more obvious, although ultimately false. The only true freedom is the pursuit of human flourishing. The only true power is the freedom to pursue that flourishing. But people must be taught that power. There must be a “pedagogy of power.�

I question whether there is any relativism in what I am proposing. I propose that there is singular human potential for singular human flourishing, a single path, such that all human action can be judged as aligned askew of that path. Can there be many paths to human flourishing? Or is there a unity? Cardinal virtues, or a sublime virtue such as charity, or love? I believe so, and when what Horowitz calls “leftist� platforms are actually calls to the people for their affiliation with the moral direction of the sublime virtue that is love, then Horowitz is the moral relativist. If it can be demonstrated that the “Dirty Thirty� are the skandalon to humanity, attempting to derail them from the sublime virtue, then Horowitz is vindicated. So who is the true voice of love, the sublime virtue, the pathway to human flourishing?

Thomas Delaney
University of Minnesota