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  • Writer's pictureartgainz

Worldly Wisdom: Power Corrupts

"Louis XIV" by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701).

In a recent post, I alluded or appealed to the idea that “power corrupts”. On some level I was aware that this concept is imprecise and of limited utility since there are plenty of people with “power” who could not reasonably be described as corrupt --- even if it just an ordinary father who has “power” over his family, or an ordinary business owner who has authority over his employees. There may even be the occasional politician who is not corrupt. God of course also has power and remains un-corrupt.

After reading the post, a family member suggested that it would be better to appeal to the concept that we (humans) are ALL corrupt due to our sin nature. I agree. Power does not corrupt. WE ARE CORRUPT ALREADY.


According to Google, the expression ‘Power corrupts’ is mostly derived from Lord Acton, a 19th Century British politician. The full quotation follows:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Acton was writing in the context of the absolute monarchs of Europe (like Louis XIV), many of whom were stupendously debauched, and the ancient Roman Emperors who declared themselves to be gods. Although it might sound like a reasonable statement, in the final analysis Acton's observation is merely a bit of worldly wisdom. It only presents part of the picture from a limited perspective. When condensed into “power corrupts”, the idea may be easily twisted to encompass scenarios and individuals where it does not apply.

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