The corruption of power

We all know the cliche about absolute power corrupting absolutely but we think about it too little.

That’s the thing about cliches. In general they are true but overused so we tend to ignore them.

I’m currently re-listening to The History of Rome Podcast. I’m up to the Crisis of the Third Century when emperors are barely lasting a year on average. Each time a new fellow makes a treacherous grab for the purple we wonder, ‘Why?’ Few of them had a bold plan for rescuing the Empire. Most just wanted power for its own sake, despite the danger of holding the throne being greater than that for 1960s cosmonauts.

Today, it’s hard for us to understand the allure of power because in our society there are no comparable positions. For example, the few times I’ve had a position of responsibility thrust upon me it’s been the rock-and-hard-place situation perhaps familiar to my readers: I cop all the accountability of getting a project finished by the deadline without any of the authority to force people to do things they don’t want to do, like complete their part of the project.

That’s as close as we get to power in modern times. As Eisenhower said, in the military you pick up the phone and issue orders confident they’ll be carried out instantly and to the letter; as president you bark orders down the phone and nothing happens.

Read More