LEADERS & GOVERNANCE

THE FUTURE OF POWER


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Paradoxes of Power Essays on Failed Leadership and How to Fix It Book Cover

Paradoxes of Power: A Collection of Essays on Failed Leadership and How to Fix It

Introduction by Ben Speggen

This essay – by Carl Hunt, a retired U.S. Army colonel and principal co-author and editor of  Paradoxes of Power – is the fifth in a series on leadership and power and how the lessons he and contributors observe in their book can be applied at the local level.  

In the first essay, the authors ask a big question: What recommendations could come from a closer study of leadership and power – the successes and failures of each – that might lead to changes in practice at the community level? The second essay turns specific attention to gender and racial biases

The third essay examines leadership and its impact when it comes to nature and the environment. The fourth essay seeks answers to the questions: What are the paradoxes of justice today and what does our past stand to teach us? What roles do education and economics play? And how can we identify and overcome paradoxes in local politics?

Here, the in the concluding post to the series, Hunt looks at the future of power and the dynamics of hope and fear in small-town America.

Here is Hunt’s case on “Substituting Hope for Fear in Small Town America


By Carl W. Hunt

The Paradoxes of Power essay series published by the Our Towns Civic Foundation offers insight as to how leadership and power work together, or not, to define the roles of communities in Small Town America. In promoting hope as we identify and defeat fear and bias in various aspects of organizational life in our nation, we examine leadership and power, gender and racial biases, nature and environment, and justice.

This final essay in the series reflects on the potential for the future of power in America to lift us from fear into a significantly greater and more meaningful hopefulness in America. In the concluding chapters of Paradoxes of Power, my fellow essayists and I recommend identifying and mitigating paradoxes while further illuminating ways to see and experience hope rather than fear in our future. At its essence, fear is based on divisiveness and confusion and leads to cascades of failures in power and leadership, as we documented in our book.

Hope, however, offers a nurturing, healing path to the future. Both hope and fear can be private, but community responses to each greatly impact how they affect us personally. Lifting hope in citizens and civic groups is a strong role that community leadership can play in our nation.

In No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton wrote: “Nothing created is of any ultimate use without hope.” The kind of hope in view here is faith in a better future, a better community, and a better nation. It is not a false or despairing hope.

It is also not synonymous with the idea of wishful thinking or slogans. Former Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan and co-author Colonel (ret.) Michael Harper explain that in Hope is Not a Method, although their book offered the kind of forward thinking, bias towards action, and admonition to “change the way we change” that we need today. That kind of meaningful change requires hope and courage, much like our leaders in government and community demonstrated during the 1940s.

As David Von Drehle wrote in the Washington Post recently we “must recognize appeals to fear and reject them — even if the fear being invoked feels real and true and justified to us. Indeed, seductive fears are the ones we are especially called to rise above.” Fortunately, as many of the essays in Our Towns Foundation emphasize (here and here, for example), many local leaders still do focus on hope.

To be sure, fear ultimately overtakes hope at times. It’s part of an evolutionary survival system that pumps the right kinds of enzymes and hormones to the right places in our brains and bodies to give us an edge to escape a threat or think at an elevated level, if we’re able to harness those temporary advantages. Living in perpetual fear or refusing to take advantage of normal thinking and activities produces stressors that eventually put us at a disadvantage, however.

To choose to live in fear, when hope provides a much brighter outlook and allows for clearer and likely more objective thinking, is allowing primal emotions to negate the superior thinking ability with which humanity has been endowed.

In Essay 4, we suggested that towns and cities are the best place to construct local and national justice in our nation, because they are ideal “laboratories” to propose and test new ways to discover and implement scalable forms of justice nationwide. The Our Towns Foundation essays document these local trends throughout our nation, as they revisit the types of peaceful and productive relationships we all want between each other in our community. It’s as though these communities are writing a new narrative for their parts of America.

Is a new American narrative that captures local hope, energy, and creativity indeed the answer?

When writing an essay in Paradoxes of Power, co-author Joshua Hunt and I asked: Do Americans need a new narrative? And if so, how could it be shaped so that more Americans can buy into it? What is the correct tone for such a narrative? Through thoughtful responses from our essayists, we concluded yes.

In our research, we discovered the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had already addressed very similar questions for the national level, including: How would a new narrative succeed over the long term when so many previous attempts have failed to live up to their potential to change America and unite us on a more permanent basis? What would make a new narrative different?

Based on the work in which one of my friends participated about 10 years ago, we also discovered a hopeful vision of America. This friend, Dr. Wayne Porter (Captain, US Navy retired), and a colleague, Colonel Mark Mykleby (United States Marine Corps, retired), prepared the aforementioned study for their boss for whom they both worked directly in the Pentagon. Their boss was Admiral Mike Mullen (US Navy, now retired) who was then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Their study project was known as “A National Strategic Narrative” and it captured a great deal of national and international attention in the years right after its public release in 2011.

Several key points about Porter and Mykleby’s narrative make it highly relevant here and now. The first is that American power must be based on “the core values and principles enshrined in our Constitution and proven through war and peace.” These values produce our national character, and without these values, “America has no credibility.” We’ve observed throughout in our essays that these values have been deeply under siege over the last 50 years, particularly when they are misused to produce the paradoxes of power our essayists detail.

Porter and Mykleby characterized these values as follows:

(they are) reflected in a wider global application: tolerance for all cultures, races, and religions; global opportunity for self-fulfillment; human dignity and freedom from exploitation; justice with compassion and equality under internationally recognized rule of law; sovereignty without tyranny, with assured freedom of expression; and an environment for entrepreneurial freedom and global prosperity, with access to markets, plentiful water and arable soil, clean and abundant energy, and adequate health services.

Porter and Mykleby describe two anchors of American strength: prosperity and security as the country’s “enduring national interests.” Both pillars of American success do and must continue to interact with each other, based on our values, to produce our power. Our national power, and indeed all the individual and community powers and rights we enjoy, stem from the linkages of American prosperity and security. They depend on each other, and we need the strength of their mutual interdependencies and interactions.

And we’re not done yet if we want to benefit from a new narrative for America, according to Porter and Mykleby. We also need to invest. They wrote that our nation needs to focus on three investment priorities. The first is our young people, the very object of our book, Paradoxes of Power. Our essayists were gratified that “A National Strategic Narrative” recognized the critical need to build the “intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.”

The second is a sustainable “whole of nation” security that includes all aspects of being a member of the American society and culture, not just national defense as it relates to military power.

The third investment priority “is to develop a plan for the sustainable access to, cultivation and use of, the natural resources we need for our continued wellbeing, prosperity and economic growth in the world marketplace.” Contributors to Paradoxes of Power cover this in Chapter 6 and emphasize it in Essay 3, arguing this investment priority may only be achieved when we avoid the paradoxes we described between humans and nature.

The initial place in which to make these three investments is in our communities and towns, and through the wisdom of our best local leaders, scale these investments upward to the national level.

While there are several other relevant topics in this “new narrative” for America, the capstone recommendation for what Porter and Mykleby call a Strategic Ecosystem that would be embedded within a novel construct they called “A National Prosperity and Security Act.” In 1947, President Harry Truman signed into law the National Security Act of 1947, and it remains today a guide for national security in our nation. Porter and Mykleby described the next generation of such a potentially long-enduring measure, and it combines the strength of the 1947 law with an additional emphasis on enhancing prosperity for our nation, as they described in “our enduring national interests,” above. This new act would “recognize the need to take a longer view, a generational view, for the sustainability of our nation’s security and prosperity.”

As Porter and Mykleby define this new approach to American governance, this National Prosperity and Security Act:

would integrate policy across agencies and departments of the Federal government and provide for more effective public/private partnerships; increase the capacity of appropriate government departments and agencies; align Federal policies, taxation, research and development expenditures and regulations to coincide with the goals of sustainability; and, converge domestic and foreign policies toward a common purpose.” That, when combined with updated state and local government policies, is how we build the base for the future of power in our nation.

In summary, we have a broad model to generate a new narrative for America that harnesses all the creativity and original objectivity our Founders intended, based on hope and a bias towards action. The Founders provided us with not only a Constitution; they also provided us with the underpinnings of our national narrative that begins with the values of our local communities. Now we can integrate the vision of transformational past works and produce a narrative that fits America in 2021 and beyond. This is the basis of the future of power of America.

To transition from  Porter and Mykleby’s grander vision for America to local responsibilities and efforts, it’s worth revisiting economic initiatives and justice, as we discuss in Essay 4. Paradoxes of Power co-author Veronica Mata added an interesting perspective related to a new narrative that strikes at the heart of the local through federal government’s role in local and regional economic development:

I like to think of this challenge like I would a business. The most successful businesses evolve, they grow, they develop, and they change. Their policies, employee handbooks, regulations, and expectations change, so why shouldn’t our country? A company, like JP Morgan Chase which was founded in 1799, 77 years before the telephone was invented, isn’t going to operate today without telephones “just because that’s what the founders did, and we should too.” If the companies within our country are constantly “removing onerous provisions” and addressing more current topics, why shouldn’t our government? Look how far we’ve come over 245 years, and how much we still must change.

Veronica and our other essayists noted that the consequences for production, transportation, power generation, and consumption may soon be driven more by local demand than global, and that could be a good thing for our environment and our living spaces. That would necessarily change the way Americans view consumption, of course, as we scale back our desires to be more consistent with our needs. If we could do that, we could create far more localized, environmentally friendly production and delivery systems that unite us together in community. We could see a “power shift” back to a more local perspective as Americans rethink consumption.

Economics offers a good starting point for us to “change the way we change” as Sullivan and Harper advise in Hope is Not a Method. Larry Kuznar and I proposed in Essay 4 that local communities are the perfect place to practice polycentric distributed power in economics. We can tap a better definition of “hope as a method” at the local level to experiment and learn and scale for systemic success. This is how we choose hope over fear and build a truly better community and nation, established on a newer and more powerful narrative.


Carl W. Hunt is a retired US Army officer and graduate of the National Defense University’s National War College. He devoted the final half of his 30-year military career to the study and practice of the sciences of complex systems within military and government settings. Hunt is the principal co-author and editor of Paradoxes of Power, Amazon, 2020.

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