Saturday, March 1, 2008

Power and corruption

I started to respond to a post by bekkiann about the corrupting influence of power, and realized that I had too much to say for a mere comment. So, with thanks to bekkiann for sparking this, here goes.

Becky (alias bekkiann) reminded me that "power corrupts," might well be an absolute. I'm not willing to go quite that far, as there are prople in history who had power but weren't corrupted by it. Give me a little time, and I will come up with an example.

The saying "power corrupts," is attributed to Lord Acton, who said "Power corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's the kind of shivers-down-your-spine thing that you know is true.

Let me come to it from another angle: Joesph Smith wrote, "We have learned through sad experience that is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

Amen, brother. I see it every day. Joseph Smith was talking religion, Acton was talking politics, but they were both talking human nature. In other words, this does not seem to be a negotiable item. It's part and parcel of the human genetic makeup, can't be altered (though it can be ameliorated) by education. We can't educate people not to abuse power. What we can do is make them liable for such abuse. And basically that's what Democracy is all about.


bekkieann said...

Don't you like to think it would be different if you or I had the power? That history would remember us as Ron the Good or Becky the Benevolent? I'd like to think that.

On both your houses said...

So would I. On the other hand, history teaches us that "good" powerful people are called "benevolent despots." That sort of oxymoron says it all. I'm afraid that if I got ultimate power I'd immediately gang up on anyone who ticked me off.