In All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, author Stephen Kinzer describes the U.S./British operation that lead to the deposition of a popularly elected prime minister and the installation of a repressive dictator. Without going too far into the history of the affair, suffice it to say that Iran was a virtual colony of the British Empire for the better part of 100 years.

One way the British government achieved and maintained control over the Iranian people (and a number of their colonies, for that matter) was by working to diminish the role and power of regional tribes. Political authority was then vested in the hands of an Iranian monarchy, which was supported by the British State and subservient to it.

This is one reason among so many that people should always seek to preserve decentralized social order and government power. Not only will domestic tyrants look to gain control of the people in their own territory, but outside parties can use the government to exploit them as well.

This is true of authoritarian governments and democratic or republican systems; all are subject to the same temptations and all naturally lead to ever-increasing authority in the hands of the few. By spreading power to the greatest number of people (ideally to the individual) and keeping it out of the hands of central authorities, a society can limit domestic and foreign tyranny.

This is true for small, weak countries, which historically have been the subjects of colonialism, as well as larger, more powerful nations. For the small country, decentralized power makes potential subjugation and conquest much harder. The interfering nation-state must move to control a far greater number of competing factions, each with their own culture, social order, and internal politics, and often times, language. Infiltrating each of these networks and controlling them can be tedious and time consuming. Contrast this with a centralized authority figure, who may be manipulated or replaced with relative ease.

Larger countries, and even those categorized as superpowers, may still be controlled by outside forces when they exercise consolidated power. International organizations such as the U.N. can more easily implement their programs when member states hold centralized power.

Implementing various environmental plans, limiting property rights such as firearms ownership, and a whole host of issues may become difficult when a country’s power is spread out and not easily controlled from one body or government. (Of course withdrawing from such alliances and not becoming bogged down in the affairs of other nations is also prudent).

The lesson should be: when power is widely dispersed, despotism finds taking root much harder; but centralized power is fertile ground for tyranny.

Joel Poindexter
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