The Nature of Change

People seem to resist change and to defend the status quo whatever it is. Sometimes the defenses are bigoted and violent. Sometimes they are sophisticated and intellectual. If the status quo is endangered, both kinds of defenses are called into play.

Inequality is made to seem normal and natural, whatever social form it takes.

When some people have power and some people do not, creating equality means taking power from those who have too much and giving power to those who have too little. Social change requires the redistribution of power.

Those who have power over others tend to call their power "rights." When those they dominate want equality, those in power say that important rights will be violated if society changes.

In the segregated South, two kinds of "rights" were defended by white-supremacists. First, they defended states' rights. They said that the framers of the Constitution had given states the sovereign right to legislate social policy, including the separation of the races, and that the power of the federal government to intervene had been strictly and severely limited by the framers. What they said was true. In fact, the framers had constructed the Constitution so that the states had the power to protect slavery. Segregation could hardly have mattered a hill of beans to them. Second, those in power said that integration would take from them a precious civil liberty protected by the First Amendment: the right to freedom of association. Forced to integrate schools, parks, hotels, restaurants, toilets, and other public accommodations, whites lost the power to exclude Blacks. This they experienced as having lost the "right" to associate with whom they wanted, that is to say, exclusively with each other.

Wrongful power is often protected by law because law is the ordering of power. Law organizes power. In a society where women and Blacks have been legal chattel, the law is not premised on a sensitivity to their human worth. Law protects "rights"-but mostly it protects the "rights" of those who have power. The United States is a particularly self-congratulatory nation. We say that we invented democracy and that our Constitution represents the highest principles of civilized governing. Yet our Constitution was designed to protect slavery and to keep women chattel. The "rights" guaranteed to white men were grants of freedom that established a civil and social dominance over Blacks and women. Change has not occurred because white men developed a passion for equality. (Had they, that passion would not have been constitutional.)Change has not occurred because those with power felt that they had too much and wanted to give some up. Change has come from sustained, often bitter rebellion against power disguised as "rights." Highfalutin legal principles have masked and protected privilege, dominance, and exploitation.

Change is not easy, fast, or inevitable. The powerless are responsible for creating change. They have to, because those who have power will not. Why should they? This is not fair, but it is true. Power takes dominance for granted; dominance is like gravity, not felt as a force at all, simply accepted as the way things are, each thing being in its proper place. Dominance is dignified-sincerely, not cynically-as a "right" or a series of "rights." If someone has power over you and you take that power away from him, he will say you are taking away his rights. Society will have given him a legitimate way-often a legal way-to claim that dominance is a right of his and that submission is a duty of yours.


  1. Equality requires the redistribution of power.

  2. Those who are socially dominant experience dominance as a right.

  3. Take away wrongful power and you will be accused of taking away rights. Often, this will be true because the law, under the guise of protecting rights, protects power.