Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

by Patrick on August 10, 2011

People in power are sometimes corrupt, and the more power they possess, the more corrupt they can be. William Pitt (the Younger), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1783-1801) who led the country during the French and Indian War, said, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, also known as Lord Acton, was a historian and moralist who expressed an opinion in a letter to the London Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Power corrupts? Absolutely. The writer of a 2007 U.S. News & World Report  article agrees: “A new study finds the more power leaders have, the harder it is for them to grasp just what the world looks like to the people under them.”

A letter to the editor at the wallstreetjournal.com in March 2010 was titled “Since Power Corrupts, We Should Limit It.” Its author, Ralph Lockhart, wrote:  “A comment from former New York Gov. George E. Pataki in your article “An Epic Spree of Mischief – New York Politicians Extend Era of Malfeasance with a Fresh Wave of Scandals,” nicely summarizes the reason for the growing frustration of American citizens with government, both federal and local. “When you become comfortable and complacent, it creates a sense of entitlement that can lead people to act unethically, and illegally. Public servants never seem to be subject to the
same independent and rigorous investigative and judicial processes that we ordinary citizens face. My mother used to quote the old saying, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts
absolutely
,’ and she was right.”

Paul B. Farrell used this phrase in a July 2008 marketwatch.com rticle. He wrote: “Welcome to the conservatives’ worst nightmare: The law of unintended consequences. Why? Nobody wants to admit it, folks, but the conservatives’ grand ideology is backfiring, actually turning the world’s greatest capitalistic democracy into the world’s newest socialist economy…. So  what happened? Are you guys nuts? Hey, I’m talking to all you blind Beltway politicians (in both parties) … plus the Old Boys Club running Wall Street (into the ground)… plus all you fat-cat CEOs (with megamillion parachutes) …and all your buddies scamming everybody else to get on the Forbes 400. You are proof of Lord Acton’s warning: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A January 2010 post listed under The Economist’s column “The psychology of power” is titled, “Absolutely – Power corrupts, but it corrupts only those who think they deserve it,” and includes this: “Anecdote is not science, though. And, more subtly, even if anecdote is correct, it does not answer the question of whether power tends to corrupt, as Lord Acton’s dictum has it, or whether it merely attracts the corruptible.

Researchers Joris Lammers and Adam Galinsky, conducted a series of experiments, which attempted to elicit states of powerfulness and powerlessness in the minds of volunteers. Having done so…they tested those volunteer’ moral pliability. Lord Acton, they found, was right.”

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

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