Power Corrupts & Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

The statement, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, was made by John Emerich Edward Dahlberg Acton, also known as Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was a clear observation by Acton that a person’s morality lessens as his or her power increases. Power is simply defined as the ability to make choices or influence outcomes, which is also power held by a person or group of people in a society.

But when someone possesses control and authority over others, their evil and wicked side begins to dominate and destroy their minds. People like Hitler, Mussolini and Saddam Hussein who had a self-destructing demeanor, desired absolute power and thrived on it. Their hurdling ambition led to many unfortunate incidents which resulted in the massacre of mankind. People who believe that absolute power doesn’t corrupt absolutely are misled by the optimism that word offers. Power is evil unless put to practice for the greater good.

Karl Marx believed that capitalism corrupted everything it touched including governments that enabled it. But who can run away from entering the den of capitalism or from the consequences of unwanted exercise of power by powerful people? The process of obtaining power is so overwhelming that once a person realizes what it entails, it leaves him feeling absolutely non-vulnerable and he becomes extremely inconsiderate of others. The line which exists that distinguishes humans from being animals is that we are not answerable to everyone and it makes a person feel like the king above all.  People holding high positions are often questioned about their integrity but the ones who are on top, are not accountable for their actions, and therefore they are absolutely corrupted with the virtual supremacy they think they have rightfully earned. This realization leads to a massive transformation into animal from the inside. Not all powerful people can be termed as animals because some are stealers, some are rulers, and the others are leaders. Somehow, the entire concept of leadership is lost because the motivation to become a leader has become so egotistical.

One must not dream about a transparent world, but a world where no one is doing bad to good people is much dreamt of since ages. Corruption almost habitually occurs wherever there is a concentration of power that enjoys authorization from any force. Lack of strategic and systematic checks within the system to cleanse out defects is a clear indication of the corrupt. It’s an unfortunate portrayal because the animal instinct is not necessarily evil, but the instinct attained through power is focused solely on survival that is independent of conscience. The supreme position in the hierarchy often creates an illusion and the attitude of the person is directly proportional to the authority he imagines he has. Lincoln wrote that nearly any man can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man, give him power. As the society all across the world is growing we understand the true meaning of those words. Everything becomes clear when we affirm ourselves that the powerful put themselves as their first priority. Abuse of power is being felt in broader and more fundamental ways since we all are a part of today’s digital world and myths surrounding power are unraveling eventually.

There was a movie, “Insider”, made in 1999 which was based on a well-publicized true story of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand played by Russell Crowe, a resentful tobacco company employee who decides to blow the whistle on his mammoth employers, Brown & Williamson’s deceiving practices. He seeks the help of Lowell Bergman, portrayed by Al Pacino, to get the story out. The process quickly becomes dangerous and their lives are nearly destroyed. The delusion of reality and the shocking events of the Big Tobacco scandal get brought into close proximity. The movie does make us raise questions on whether or not a common man can go after an authority once he realizes that it is corrupt but the real question is should the powerful really be corrupt when they have all the supremacy they could imagine? Criminal minds can exist even at the most powerful positions.


Author: Ritu Jha


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