When Institutions Work

By Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

When institutions work, the codes and procedures they embody override whatever personal stature the individuals that lead them may possess. That is how it is in modern society. Institutions are the evolutionary achievements of society, the means by which stable collective life is assured. They begin to malfunction when they get corrupted, when they allow themselves to become the extensions of personal power.

Pre-modern societies had it the other way around: institutions served as the personal tools of the sovereign. They drew their authority from the wisdom or whim of the ruler. The latter not only had the final say, he could also intervene at any point in the decision-making process. Yet, even here, there were checks on the sovereign’s power. Fear of God was one of these. The last of them was the aristocrat’s own sense of personal pride, to which we might trace the cultural basis of what is today called “delicadeza” [sense of propriety].

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