The Way bears them;
power nurtures them;
their own being shapes them;
their own energy completes them.
And not one of the ten thousand things
fails to hold the Way sacred
or to obey its power.
Their reverence for the Way
and obedience to its power
are unforced and always natural.
For the Way gives them life;
its power nourishes them,
mothers and feeds them,
completes and matures them,
looks after them, protects them.
To have without possessing,
do without claiming,
lead without controlling:
this is mysterious power.
True power comes from inspiring others to follow you, not from forcing them to listen to you.
It’s why autocrats lean so heavily on physical force and intimidation. But their power initially comes from people choosing to give them power. With many, especially modern autocrats, that power comes from mass media. They create an image of a person and cultivate it for views, which means ratings, which means money. And so they become complicit members of this autocratic power. Mass media so often collaborates with autocrats that it can be hard to distinguish between propaganda and actual news. Or, that’s true for many.
Creating an autocrat either comes through a coup or through mass media crafting a narrative about a potential autocrat. They make him someone that every day people want to believe in. They see the autocrat as a way out of their current misery.
And there are always miserable people. Millions and millions and millions of them. Mass media collaborates with autocrats to fashion the image of a savior. And because these are the same voices who give you the news, you may not realize they’re collaborating with the power system at all, and you definitely might not realize that they are creating that system of power, giving it the ears of millions and millions who just want a change. Any change.
Populism often gets grouped into a lot of unpleasant connotations, but there’s nothing inherently bad or even frightening for someone to give voice to millions.
Cesar Chavez and Gandhi did this. They were populists working against a totalitarian power. They did so to varying degrees of success.
The seductive power of populists is that this power is freely given by people, which is a true kind of power. It’s given to you willingly, and that empowers those who raise you up. They believe their voice and frustrations are being embodied.
And most autocrats ride this wave. It’s also why they may not realize that they’ve lost their power until it’s too late. They believe (for good reason) that the new power system belongs to them.
Of course, by the time they want to take this power back from the reigning autocrat, systems of violence and intimidation are already well entrenched, making it impossible for them to take back what they gave. Often, this is because they gave and assisted in creating these systems of violence and intimidation. They supported silencing the press, attacking dissidents, and on and on.
But autocrats fall. They always do, and it’s because the only thing giving them power is fear.
Powerful as fear is, eventually people will stop fearing you.
Autocrats are the antithesis of power, because they abuse it, thereby stripping themselves of the support of their own people, their own nation.