Power Corrupts

The history of man is a history of rule or ambition to rule. It is not, as Marx claimed, a history of constant class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat, even though class struggle may be derived from the fundamental division of society into 'rulers' and 'ruled.' An important part of this history is the continuous 'race to the top' among self-centered power seekers, trying to gather as large a number of subjects as possible to rule.

As is shown by Lord Acton's famous words of wisdom that 'power corrupts,' what characterizes the history of man is the corrupted leaders blinded by their power and might. Throughout history, monarchs, religious and ideological leaders, as well as elected presidents go crazy. The French king Louis' XIV claim 'L'Etat, c'est moi' (I am the State) is typical to the leaders then and now.

Power does corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lord Acton did not, however, identify the meaning of power and corruption fully; his 'truth' is only a half truth.

Great men and women coming to power may use it wisely, and bring peace and prosperity to the land as in the Disney sagas. At least for a very short while; the real kings and queens of history have truly been tyrants oppressing the people to gain personally in prestige or wealth. The ones called 'the Great' are worse than the other rulers in the subjection and killing of 'ordinary' men; winning many wars (read: killing a lot of people) does not make a man great; on the contrary, it shows his inability to use his intelligence and to reason.

The wars between countries (read: states) throughout history are overwhelmingly started not because of pressure from the people. The men in the kingdoms were the ones being slaughtered in the kings' wars, and the women, children, elderly and disabled were left to take care of their chores on the farms as well as all the men's. And they were all being heavily taxed to finance the wars in order to gain prestige for their ruler.

Some (civil) wars were nevertheless started by 'the people,' but it has through the years only been used as a final resort to get rid of a much too oppressive ruler. Most civil wars have nothing or almost nothing to do with the people; they derive from either a ruler's attempt to force his (it's usually a man) subjects to obedience, or a power-seeking aristocrat seeking to increase his powers.

The same is true in our 'civilized' time; no wars have been started because it is a just war supported by the people ' it is always the chiefs of the state making the decision. War has always to do with an attempt to increase (or somebody's attempt to reduce or take over) the powers of the chief: Hitler aimed to increase his powers by increasing the size of Germany; the Soviet leaders wished to rule the world under communism; Iraq's Saddam Hussein tried to put Kuwait under his rule; the Serbian leader Milosevic wanted to increase his Serb domain; and George W. Bush sought to stabilize his presidency through invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 'power game' has reached its peak during our age, the age of democracy. With democracy, it is in everybody's theoretical reach to gain power over everybody else, indeed making society an eternal struggle between individuals and groups for power. Marx would have been correct in this 'power struggle' if he had seen the 20th and 21st Century democracies, but he never saw democracy in full.

The ordered and organized society of history has thus weakened in favor of the power struggle in democracy. This has also unleashed the power-seekers throughout society. These people, corrupted to the very soul with their pathological quest for power, have in democracy a foundation from which to enslave their fellow men.

The part of the truth Lord Acton did not realize when stating 'power corrupts' is that the corrupted seek power. Only people not able to grow tall from their own efforts and achievements seek to subdue their fellow man; only people not being able to find comfort in their own mind seek to silence others; those who are unable to produce their own wealth aim to confiscate the wealth of others.

Power does really corrupt, but it is as true that corrupt people seek power.

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.