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LostInParadise's avatar

Does power corrupt?

Asked by LostInParadise (31964points) September 27th, 2010

There is a well known quote Is there truth to this? The idea of checks and balances in government would seem to tacitly assume so. I was thinking that part of the reason that it may seem that way is that the ruthlessness sometimes required to attain power may give power to those who are already corrupt. It is certainly not universally true. Parents have power over their children and most parents exercise this power prudentially. But what about people who abuse children? Might their behavior in part be attributed to giving in to the temptation to exercise power indiscriminately? Is there a dark side to human nature in general that allows such things to happen? Might this account, at least in part, for power abuse in general?

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17 Answers

anartist's avatar

If it doesn’t, it probably eventually blunts the sensibilities since people in power have more done for them and given to them without need of sensitive tactful negotiation. Eventually that could be damaging to character if one does not remain aware of it.

downtide's avatar

Absolute power corrupts, but absolute power is rare especially in the case of parenting. Your power is counterbalanced by your love for the child and your wish to do no harm to it, and also by the knowledge that doing so would land you in jail.

That said, there are parents who corrupt their children, either by actual abuse, or miseducation (I’m thinking here of teaching them Creationism or other similar kooky things).

And yes I agre; most abuse, if not all of it, is about enforcing one’s own power over a weaker individual.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

Yes, unfortunately. I think that the power parents have over children is a bit different. But, in other situations, such as in the workplace, it does.

Austinlad's avatar

Yes indeed power corrupts, and are three fine ‘50s movies that deal with just that subject—VIVA ZAPATA. and FACE IN THE CROWD, both directed by Elia Kazan, and ALL THE KING’S MEN.

BoBo1946's avatar

As a rule it does, but there have been exceptions to the rule. Augustus the Great, first emporer of Rome come to mind first. Over 50 years of peace during his rule.

Austinlad's avatar

Boy, if this doesn’t sum up the state of American politics, I don’t know what does. I just this minute read about a sign Haley Barbour (I won’t say what I think of him) has in his office—“Power corrupts but absolute power is kinda cool.” Oy.

marinelife's avatar

Yes, it is a flaw in human nature that power corrupts. It is not universal, but it is widespread.

john65pennington's avatar

There is no doubt that absolute power corrupts human beings. But, not in all cases.

As a police officer, i had the power to take someones freedom away. to handcuff them and throw them in jail and toss away the key. although i felt like doing this to some of the criminals i arrested, i did not. i followed the rules and abided by the book.

Power is only as poweful as the individual person and their psychological ability.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Austinlad , Somewhat off topic, but do you believe in synchronicity?

YARNLADY's avatar

Yes, in people who are not fully self-aware, or have not reached their full personal potential, which includes just about everybody.

Jeruba's avatar

I can imagine such a thing as a person of power who isn’t corrupt, but I don’t actually believe in any. To me it’s theoretical, an abstraction, not possible for a person of flesh and blood.

Jabe73's avatar

Well I know that power can go to many peoples heads. Most people I knew who got promoted to some type of lead or boss started acting retarded (even when not at the workplace). I guess like with everything it all comes down to each individual and how they handle it.

Trillian's avatar


Discobitch's avatar

“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.
Missionaria Protectiva, Text QIV (decto) ”

flutherother's avatar

Power does corrupt. I am quite sure of it and so people of integrity tend to avoid it. I loved being a parent but I never looked on it as a position of power. That would have been a terrible mistake. I often didn’t look at my children through my eyes but I saw the world through their eyes instead.

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