“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Or at least, that’s how John Dalberg-Acton, the 19th century British historian and religious writer, put it. This notion, the concept of losing all psychological sovereignty to an admission of power, has been vividly remembered through psychological studies throughout the ages, most notably the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment led by Philip Zimbardo. As many psychology enthusiasts will know, the experiment that was halted after a group of students — assigned to be “prison guards” in an environment dictated as a jail — began to abuse their absolute power.
Everyone desires power. In a sociological setting, many perspectives have relationships designated around power — in which a relationship will designate itself as fully rectified when wealth and “power” are involved. The concept of divorce, with women vacating their traditional positions in relationships to find someone who can fulfill power and wealth desires (moving up the social scale in order to fulfill desires and wants rather than needs and relations). This seems to control the society in methods of urging for continuation of success. Success drives the desire, and desire drives the relationship.
But on a psychological level, individuals who tend to crave power oftentimes let it corrupt them. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, if you will. By giving a sociopath, a psychopath, an enraged individual complete control over a nation — what happens? The overall destruction of man woman and child of those individual cultural boundaries. Your Hitlers, your Mussolinis, your Trumps. They manage to rally behind the darker areas of society’s fear and hatred. Now not only do you have a terrible, disastrous leader; you have a terrible and disastrous leader implementing racist and sexist and overall degrading values into a society that collapses under itself through hatred, fear, and war.
But, take a normal person. Take an individual without a mental disorder or disease. What occurs? Well, you can say all you want about your Hitlers and Mussolinis and Trumps throughout history; but they rose through the ranks of society through showing either oral/diplomatic skill or by surfing the wave of hatred and fear in their own trans-formative society. If you take a relatively normal person, it becomes a dice roll. Politics go from an unfortunate election or takeover to a literal roll of the dice. Society, however, isn’t what rolls it at that point. Perhaps fate does.
Politics turn into a game of chance. A good roll could give you a brilliant leader in terms of militia, economy, and social problems. A bad roll, however, leaves you with a Kiaser or a Tsar. The concept of power on these individuals vary, depending on how they accept it. Someone like Wilhelm II, the unfortunate and rather terrible roll on the dice from the first World War, oftentimes becomes enabled with glory. Inferiority mixes with egotistical conceptions and the country goes sour.
There is not a single ruler in history that has gotten everything right and proper throughout our history. Not a single figure, no matter how free the society, is gifted with a 100% on the report card of historical remembrance. Even the biggest fans of specific leaders can look back and notice flaws in their administration or their policies or their personal influence in the politics that occurred under them. Because that’s the problem with humanity; perfection doesn’t necessarily exist in any form due to difference in opinion and belief.
A leader that makes life great for a Christian population may end up oppressing the Muslim faith. A leader that makes life fantastic for colonists and settlers may end up committing genocide against native aboriginals. A leader that takes the war into his own hands, even winning it with huge forces, has to deal with the problems that rise after the fact — and that may be where they falter. No leader can please everyone. No leader can appropriate and deal with everything in a sense that makes the path for the future the brightest it can be. This is just human error.
But, just the simple aspects of POWER take away those concerns. How can one with the power be in any fault? Any man who runs for such a position has to be — in some way, shape, or form — a narcissist. Someone who believes that they can change, they can work, they can get everything done in a way for the people or for the corporations. This shadow of individuality creates character, creates personality, and does in fact leave an impact on society and individuals growing up in that society. But the longer the individual stays in power — in a democratic society their overall power may be limited by terms, but imagine when it comes to an absolute dictator or authoritarian regime — the longer they believe they have done no wrong. Culture may be what influences this, but whatever it may be, the quote remains true: absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Look at the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt — slave drivers that saw themselves as literal Gods with power bestowed upon them from the heavens.
Look at the leaders of Germany, Italy, and Russia in the past; whether they be poor dice rolls or horrendously corrupt madmen with a desire for change that only leads to corruption before the power actually corrupts anything.
Look at Presidents that may have taken things a little too far (Jackson’s Genocide and Nixon claiming “it is not illegal if the President does it”) or candidates that promise to ignore the constitution in favor of their own personal beliefs (Ted Cruz).
Look at the students stuck in Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, who inflicted pain in all sense just because their authority allowed it.
Absolute power does in fact corrupt absolutely, and it occurs on multiple levels that we may not even notice until it is far too late. No, People do not corrupt Power, Power corrupts People. We’ve been so whitewashed to “liberty” and what goes through for us, that we ignore what happens to them. Just like the students in the Prison Experiment saw. US mattered, THEM did not. WE matter, THEY do not. And that’s a key feature in power going absolutely wrong.