Advice to Clever Children
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Extract from Celia Green, Advice to Clever Children
(IPR 1981, reissued Oxford Forum 1999)


The concept of centralisation is closely related to that of kingship; this is more obvious with the higher forms of centralisation, but even in the elementary forms some relationship may be perceived.


Now the position of being a king, in its most abstract form, is that you are responsible for deciding about important things, and there is no authority higher than yourself to refer to.

Ordinarily human psychology accepts no responsibility; makes no decisions, has no sense of importance, and believes itself justified in its attitudes by some kind of consensus of social agreement.

(Of course you may say that is too sweeping, and that there are some senses in which people do make decisions, have things they think are important, and so on; but in the sense in which I am meaning these things they certainly do not.)

It must be understood that I am using kingship as an entirely psychological concept; unfortunately, I am afraid it will suggest to people associations with political power, and hence of power over other people. However, these associations have nothing to do with the sense in which I am using the concept. I have already said that it is to be understood in the most abstract form, and the only way that power enters into it is in the sense in which someone making decisions of indefinable importance may be said to have power over the situation (whatever it is) in so far as his decisions are able to affect the situation.

You may say, if all I am talking about is a psychological position of decision-making in the most abstract sense, why should I prefer the concept of kingship to that of, say, presidenthood. After all, the President of the United States has to make important decisions and there is no higher authority to which he can refer; he is put there by the electorate for just that purpose. However, the trouble with a president or any elected or appointed maker of decisions is that he gets into his position by first obtaining the approval of a number, maybe an inordinately large number, of other people. It is not an intrinsic quality of his own that he is this sort of decision-maker.

On the other hand, the idea of royalty contains an implication of inalienable significance. Few people these days have much to say in favour of the idea of aristocracy; but a hereditary upper class in a society has at least this to recommend it: that there are a number of people who may be a bit freer than the rest of feeling that they have got to prove their worth to other people before they can get on to making up their minds about anything or deciding what is to be done about it. So they are somewhat nearer to the existential decision-making position, and likely to be somewhat better at running things in an effective way in practice.

It may be observed that the trend of society at present is very much in favour of a kind of psychology in which one does not feel at all that one is answerable only to oneself, or that however completely one may analyse the factors which enter into a situation, there may always be more which one does not know about. The fashionable way to make a decision is to consult some agent of the collective who will tell you the one or two factors that have been socially agreed upon as what is important in such situations. And you are certainly not permitted to form an assessment of your own of how important something may be to you, existing as you are in the only life you have, or at any rate know about. To conduct your life as if something is of overriding importance to you without having social permission to do so is to arouse a quite unique sort of opprobrium.

I have obtained an interesting sidelight on the process of trying to decide things in a committee by observing the psychological reactions of a number of people attempting to make decisions about investment by discussing them with one another. There is a distinct tendency for the most unreliable kinds of motivation to be much more obtrusive, and to lead to the most vehement and persuasive expressions of opinion which have a disproportionate influence on the attitudes of the other people concerned. And yet it may transpire in retrospect that several people in the group were really wanting to do something different, which would have been much better, but this never achieved effective verbalisation.

In a way this is not surprising, as the most forceful mechanical parts of people's personalities are probably those which are developed solely in order to interact effectively with other people. So it is not difficult to see that a society which believes in decisions being made by committees will effectively be ensuring that everyone's less socially-conditioned perceptions which might lead them to the right decision will be suppressed. Any one person alone may have some difficulty in distinguishing between those parts of his psychology that are favourable to the making of decisions and those that are not; a number of people in a situation where it is important to say things that will gain the approval of others are virtually certain to make all their decisions with the least reliable parts of all their personalities.