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Lawrence Reed Columnist

Published Thursday, May 24, 2012

Love or power - take your pick

“We look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.”

So declared British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone more than a century ago. His audience responded then the same way audiences would today — with nodding approval. But today’s world seethes with hypocrisy. Though we say we prefer love over power, the way we behave in the political corner of our lives testifies all too often to the contrary.

Gladstone knew that love and power are two very different things, often at odds with each other. Love is about affection and respect, power is about control.

When real love is the motivator, people deal with each other peacefully. We use force only in self-defense. We respect each other’s rights and differences. Tolerance and cooperation govern our interactions.

Suppose we want to influence or change the behavior of another adult, or want to give him something we think he should have. This person has done us no harm and is in full command of his faculties. Love requires that we reason with him, entice him with an attractive offer, or otherwise engage him on a totally voluntary basis. He is free to accept or reject our overtures. If we don’t get our way, we don’t hire somebody to use force against him. We “live and let live.”

A mature, responsible adult doesn’t seek power over other adults. This is the idea behind limiting the force of government in our lives, the very idea that gave birth to America in the first place. In a free society, the power of love governs our behavior instead of the love of power.

But politics today provides a sad commentary on the rise of the love of power over the power of love. We have granted command of 40 percent of our incomes to federal, state and local governments, compared to six or seven percent a century ago. And more than a few Americans seem to think that 40 percent still isn’t enough. We’ve burdened our children and grandchildren, whom we claim to love, with trillions in national debt — all so that the leaders we elected and re-elected could spend more and more and more, seemingly without limit. We claim to love our fellow citizens while we hand government ever more power over their lives, hopes and pocketbooks.

We really do have a pretty important choice to make when it comes to this country’s future. Love or power. One solves problems, the other creates them. Where do you stand -- and do your choices and your votes reflect one or the other?

(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N. Y., and Atlanta.)

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