William Pitt, the elder, the former prime minister of England from 1766-1778, is stated to have said in Parliament: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”
Lord Acton refined it further, 100 years later, when he wrote in a letter: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Who are these ‘Great Men’?
History, from mythology to the latest chapters, testifies for them. Their actions and the outcome were beneficial for the majority; it determined their greatness. And what were the benefits the people gained?
Few profited in power in wealth, rest were thankful for being able to survive. Occassionaly, a Fuhrer divides the populace in his greatness and a Mahatma rejects the benefits of majority and insists that it should reach ‘the last man’.
The feeling of being able to control life is fuelled by the subservient behaviour of people around. It is the weakness of people that invests power in the hands of a select few.
Are they always ‘bad’?
Mostly, history would suggest.
The human evolution has created similar needs in minds. The need for power is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom, of which the Sapiens is the epitome of complexity. This need is expressed in all relational dialectics, however simplified it appears.
The need to dominate is a reaction, a formation of insecurity and it inflates as the circle of impact expands. This is the inherent journey from power to absolute power.
In its core, it remains a running away from the fear of extinction and a chase towards immortality. Why else would the powerful wish to leave their legacy? Be it a monument, or hagiography?
Few profited in power in wealth, rest were thankful for being able to survive. Occasionally, a Fuhrer divides the populace in his greatness and a Mahatma rejects the benefits of majority and insists that it should reach ‘the last man’
A Buddha, a Christ and a Gandhi knew this and the first thing they strived for is to overcome the attachment to life and not exercising power arising out of fear. The fearful followers immortalised them.
Barrister Gandhi in South Africa was known for his insistence on Truth, especially, from his clients. Once he enquired from a client his reason for the crime.
The client replied, “To be alive.”
Gandhi retorted: “Why is it so important to live that you have to commit a crime?”
FOR MOST PEOPLE, living is the only important meaning and this is where it gives power to others, over their life. Anything that sustains life becomes important, be it God or godmen, king or politician, and many others.
The despot and the fascist arise within these gaps when the mind tends to see others, below their own self. The more impact they can make, more the sense of power.
It is within all of us in the dark crevices of the ‘Self’.
The feeling of being able to control life is fuelled by the subservient behaviour of people around. It is the weakness of people that invests power in the hands of a select few. It was ruthless violence for monarchs and later dictators; however, democracy, a newer phenomenon, throws up the potential despot, who finds the intoxication of power too hot to handle. It alters their worldview and the godly feeling no more brings in wisdom and humility. The mind reaches the edge of the cliff, from where downfall is imminent.
In modern times, the powerful tools of information dissemination in the hands of such people have made propaganda easier. It has also exposed the process of ‘absolute power’, if we care to think.
The current inhabitants of Planet Earth are witnessing it. The scare of a virus, the haunt of the ‘death dance’ and the subsequent ‘lockdown’ has created a cloud of paranoia in almost everyone. Behind the bravado is lurking a fear of extinction. The longer it remains, the other fear, that of the future, will engulf the society. The death threat will recede and survival will become paramount. Whoever gives them the surity of survival will garner unswerving allegiance from the people. The inherent benevolence or malevolence will determine the behaviour of the saviour.
The need to dominate is a reaction, a formation of insecurity and it inflates as the circle of impact expands. This is the inherent journey from power to absolute power
This fear for life today has given the taste of an absolute power to the present world leaders. Wars are localized and are nothing in front of a raging pandemic. The tool they wield can bring life to a halt. What more can one need?
Remember the scene from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’: he, fiddling with the globe, like a child in control, only that the child is a devil.
If it happens this time, the predicament of the current set is like that child who wishes to toss the world on his little finger. Imagine if this becomes a social phenomena.
Pray, hope, think: do what you can. However, let’s not succumb to the strings attached to life, lest freedom becomes hostage to lockdowns. This will be worse than death.
Indeed, the fiddlers should also keep their eyes open because power deludes and absolute power deludes absolutely.