Small Is Powerful

By Adam Lent

Find out why the era of big government, big business & big culture is over

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A brilliant historical quote that sums up small power

I spoke yesterday at the Imagination Festival in Glasgow in a session cheekily entitled by the organisers 'Size Isn't Everything'. I spoke about the relationship between small power and equality and used this marvellous quote from John Adams, the man who more than any ever helped shaped the US Constitution. For me it sums up a lot about the small vision. In particular, the way small, distributed power in the economic AND the political AND the social spheres is vital if small, distributed power is going to survive in any one of them. 

I'll write a longer post over on my RSA blog recounting what I said in the presentation itself. Here's the quote written in May 1776 just five weeks before America declared its independence:

“The only possible way of preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue is to make the acquisition of land easy to every member of society: to make a division of the land into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates. If the multitude is possessed of the balance of real estate, the multitude will have the balance of power and, in that case, the multitude will take care of the liberty, virtue and interest of the multitude in all acts of government.” 

(By the way, I was only in Glasgow for a day but even in that time I caught referendum fever. It shows that democratic politics can be energising and liberating when people are really given a voice. It struck me that the referendum itself has become an exemplar of a different way of doing politics from the hidebound world of Westminster which has probably helped the Yes campaign.)


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