Power corrupts, truth or almost truth?

power corrupts, absolute power corrupts, corruptionPower corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s the quote, and it makes for great fiction, but is it true?

Power as a story theme

In my crime books, I do tend toward villains who seem to lose touch with their humanity. Not all of my villains are like this – not all of them are human, but it does make me think about the effect of power on ethics.

Is it true that power corrupts, or are corrupt people drawn to power?

Power corrupts good people

It seems that we have plenty of examples of people who seem to be ethical in most of their life, but have one aspect where they are corruptible. Politicians who are unfaithful to their marital vows. CEOs who become so focused on the bottom line that they lose the reason they are in business.

It seems a normal part of human nature to have weakness, and corruption will settle into any weakness. Sometimes the issue has no repercussions beyond the relationship between husband and wife (despite the moral objections of the media), and other times the corruption has global impact – like the financial meltdown.

Power attracts corrupt people

I think that certain positions of power attract the corrupt like cheap wine attracts wasps. It’s not restricted to sociopaths becoming CEOs or politicians elected for the purpose of pushing an agenda. This is about opportunity.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why pedophiles become sport coaches, priests and teachers (let’s be clear not all coaches, priest, or teachers are predators). They go where the opportunity is for them to influence children.

Power corrupts the individual through opportunity, If the temptation is there, and the justification sounds reasonable, the act takes place. The boss harasses the employee, the bully picks on the weak kid, the predator takes the prey.

Can we stop it?

I think it’s possible to try to stop corrupt people getting into a position of power. We screen people who work with children, it’s not perfect, but it is a start. We call politicians to a high standard, because their private life may reflect their public life. We pass laws that are intended to punish corruption.

As a society, we clearly state that certain behavior is unacceptable. In my opinion, there is no way to end corruption, but we can keep working to minimize it.

What do you think? Is it true that power corrupts?