## Does power breed corruption or nobility?

• 679
I know they say absolute power corrupts absolutely, but isn't insecurity the reason for that? I know he was fictitious, but Hercules was able to do incredible feats that no normal human could of done. He didn't hold his power above others anymore than Superman. Isn't it the rich person who can't see an amount of wealth that can't be taken away in their lifetime that keeps on self serving without end? It's the fear of losing that corrupts? Hercules was also more noble than most humans? He knew exactly what he could do, and didn't fear losing it. I suppose it's also bad for a person to be all pious and not really know the struggles of those with less, but it certainly beats a tyrant.
• 1.1k
The expression: 'absolute power corrupts absolutely.' was made by Lord Acton to strictly refer to those who took advantage of their place in society to prey upon others below them.

I don't know where insecurity comes into the picture.
• 1.6k
There's many kinds of power. Lack of discipline breeds lack of discipline. With enough resources and influence one can title that however one wishes.
• 836
It's the fear of losing that corrupts?

No, I don't think so. It's the seduction of owning even more, being even more important, having even more people under one's control, inspiring fear and awe and envy in others.
But, in order to be corrupted, one must be corruptible in the first place.
The same person who, when reasonably well off, readily succumbs to the temptation to steal office supplies at work, or not return a borrowed item if the owner doesn't ask, is the one who will take a bribe or embezzle funds when it's easy to do. If such a person becomes rich and powerful, they will abuse both their wealth and their power. If such a person is caught after his first instance of fraud, or remains unsuccessful and obscure, they will only be a nuisance to their neighbours and relatives.
The kind of person who, when he's poor, will go back to the store when he realizes he's been given too much change and return it, if he becomes rich will invest his excess capital in bringing clean water to African villages or vaccinations to Borneo.
It's not money or power that does the corrupting: people do it.
• 5.8k
Lord Acton's quote is:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

I think it's safe to say that in some instances (especially politics) the fear of losing power is a powerful aphrodisiac for fraud and violence. I think Acton's one of those quotes for which it isn't hard to find facts to match the sentiment; it's serviceable and versatile even when used out of context. But Acton was thinking about popes and kings not the Dean of English at some college, or the CEO of Disney. The broader question of how people use and abuse leadership always provokes strong feelings. I don't think it is necessarily the case that powerful people abuse their power, but it happens often enough. The broader question of what is a great man remains unanswered - do we ask Nietzsche or Gandhi?

As to power being an incentive for nobility - I can see how this might be the case. Can we think of some good examples? Are they like Wittgenstein turning his back on the influence of his family and giving away his considerable fortune? Or are you thinking of examples of nobility expressed as an attribute of power? Like Jesus (if his story wasn't mythical).
• 2.2k
It's perhaps more accurate to say power uncovers and frees up the corrupt parts of one's nature - parts that one might not even be aware of.

The great dilemma of power is that ultimately the only counterbalance to it is the character of the wielder, which is why many myths deal with the quest for virtue, wisdom and what it means to wield power responsibly.

I'd say the fear of losing, which I will instead characterize as the drive for power to consolidate itself, is a manifestation of corruption (note power, not wealth!), as the desire to control others is inherently corrupt.

I see no reason why power would breed nobility. If anything we see that the elite of society have a much greater tendency to misbehave and abuse power, though this might simply be due to the fact that they're in a position in which they can. Historical instances have proven that it doesn't take much for the common man to devolve into atrocity when given power either.

On the rare occasions that a virtuous individual comes to power and uses it to do good, that is a product of the character they cultivated beforehand.
• 1.5k
Well hercules and a wealthy business man are not entirely comparable.

There are two forms of Power here: direct power - that which comes from one's innate/instrinsic talent or ability and indirect power - that which comes from the gathering/accrual of valuable assets and can be learned/harnessed by many.

For example, some people are born the strongest, fastest, most beautiful/attractive, with the best vocal range or flexibility, etc. These are traits that cannot simply be acquired by others. No matter how hard they train or refine their own base level traits.

Money on the otherhand, is a source of power that can be exchanged, possessed by anyone, to any degree. A proficiency that can be learned or done for you through investment/ employment.

So the greatest insecurity for people capitalising off pure talent is bodily harm, ageing and illness that affects their ability/ talent.

For a businessman, the greatest insecurity is theft, stock market volatility, getting sued or making poor financial choices, competitors developing something better, people manipulating you to take what you have.

There is ofc overlap. But the nature of being the strongest, tallest, etc for example is something people can witness at any given moment. The merit is self evident and the variables small.

The ability to be the most financially astute/ clever is much harder to ascertain and maintain, because at any moment, someone else could make profit hugely off manipulating your money legally, and the economic climate is forever changing and developing based on geopolitics and technology to list just a few variables.

It takes a great deal of hypervigilence and control of others to secure a stable financial state. It takes less of that and more self focus/training to run when the gun fires and collect your sponsorship paycheck when you get the gold medal.
• 1.5k
as for power corrupting, I don't think power itself corrupts, individuals corrupt, when they become complacent and don't think through the impacts and consequences power can bring about. And don't act with right intentions or measured thought.

There are also corrupt poor people.

Power can be used for good or bad. Just as money can finance weaponry or charities.
• 836
Al;so, remember how power and wealth are most commonly acquired. A noble spirit would consider the responsibilities of wielding power and know himself well enough not to take it on if he were not qualified (- which very, very few people are). Sometimes such a person takes charge because they feel duty bound to do so. Then, they will do the job to the best of their ability, and at considerable cost to their personal well-being. Sometimes such a person inherits or lucks into great wealth. Then they will use it to the benefit whom they can.
An ignoble one desires power for its own sake and never considers himself unworthy or incompetent. It tends to be the most ruthless and least principled persons who attain to positions of power; by the time they back-bite and claw themselves to the top, whatever scruples they did have erode completely. And, because of what they have done to get power,they have accumulated a great many enemies; also, they assume everyone else wants it and will use the same methods to take it from them. Then they will live in a constant state of insecurity, and be just ruthless in defending and expanding their power as they were in acquiring it.
• 679
I heard a study that said money doesn't buy happiness beyond $80K. What could prompt someone to do such a study if people had a clear end goal to how wealthy they wanted to be? Certainly medical bills can bankrupt virtually anymore. I still think it is the fear of losing what one has that compells them to continue accumulating wealth and other resources almost regardless of those that might be in greater need. What special quality must one have to give nearly all one has freely? To serve others at or above serving oneself? • 836 I still think it is the fear of losing what one has that compells them to continue accumulating wealth and other resources almost regardless of those that might be in greater need. That's a lot like the animal to keep eating almost until you burst, just in case there is a famine coming. Yes, that's one kind of mind-set that might motivate a person to accumulate long past their needs and desires. But it goes nowhere near to explaining the flamboyant conspicuous consumption of many super-rich - the gold toilets,$100,000 bottles of wine, \$5,000,000 pictures, two Lear jets and eleven chateaux in different parts of the world, the overdecorated bling, the hideous dresses and ridiculous watches that have to be kept in a vault. That's not about fear of scarcity; that's about compensation for.... something.
• 679
Some greed is for vanity, but many of those excesses aren't perceived to be taking from the resources we all need. Super expensive watches are basically other worldly. Most of the resources people accumulate with no end in sight are common things? Cash, food, clothes, real estate. If we lived in an isolated place where no other human even visits or law enforcement or tax collector tried to interact with us would we only collect what we truly need and nothing more?
• 836
Some greed is for vanity, but many of those excesses aren't perceived to be taking from the resources we all need.

Is that because the super-rich - except for people like the Koch brothers and George Soros - don't understand the power of wealth, or because they're insulated from the this-worldly origins of the many, many things they accumulate and never use?
• 891
I know they say absolute power corrupts absolutely, but isn't insecurity the reason for that?
No. It's opportunity. Even the most insecure leader would not turn to corruption if there's some measure placed against it.

Get this. White collar crimes are often not about money -- these criminals aren't destitute for money or in dire need. It's because opportunity presents itself.
• 1.3k
Power does not corrupt. Power reveals character. A person who obtains power and "becomes" corrupt, was always a corrupt individual all along who was constrained only by the threat of punishment of some kind. An uncorrupt person who obtains power will still remain uncorrupted because their morals and values were not reliant on the threat of harm from others for not following them.
• 1.6k
Power does not corrupt. Power reveals character. A person who obtains power and "becomes" corrupt, was always a corrupt individual all along who was constrained only by the threat of punishment of some kind. An uncorrupt person who obtains power will still remain uncorrupted because their morals and values were not reliant on the threat of harm from others for not following them.

Interesting. Why do I doubt this. If the grass is indeed always greener, what else might hold true. Nurture vs. nature, basically, or something in between? People can't change? Ignorance and reclusivity (or perhaps luck) to never have the limits of one's resistance to temptation tested need not be mistaken for virtue, mind you.
• 836
Interesting. Why do I doubt this. If the grass is indeed always greener, what else might hold true. Nurture vs. nature, basically, or something in between? People can't change? Ignorance and reclusivity (or perhaps luck) to never have the limits of one's resistance to temptation tested need not be mistaken for virtue, mind you.

There are many factors why people are corruptible, but I believe the chiefest among them is social conditioning. I don't just mean a child being told "Honesty is the best policy" and "You must always tell the truth" and then seeing his parents tie into the neighbour's cable feed or having to tell a salesman that mommy is not home. I mean the prevalence of unpunished crime in popular entertainments and in the news. The blatant disparity of standard of living between people who make their living by honest and by questionable means. The derision of classmates when they don't want to go along with a prank or cheating on a test. Seeing people everywhere, all the time, not only getting away with dishonourable behaviour, but being rewarded and applauded for it.
Unless one has very strong character and some absolute standard (like a heavily influential role model, or a beloved mentor one cannot disappoint) to meet, it's easy to think, What the hell, everyone is doing it. Why be a sucker?
• 679

I think studies have been done on children who thought they were being watched versus not, or those who were suggested that an all seeing God is always present. When they thought there were no witnesses they stole from the cookie jar when the adults left the room.
• 679

Perhaps we need to be omniscience about the futures caused by our actions from the near future to the very end of time to even begin to set standards of behavior as moral or immoral. We surely need to see the point and know that our positive intentions aren't negated and neutralized by something else put into motion by the same.
• 8.9k
There's only one way to attain power and it's the same way you retain it, via corruption, in colloquial terms you have to be the biggest jerk in town. Sad, but true.

Nobility isn't correlated with power.
• 836
Perhaps we need to be omniscience about the futures caused by our actions from the near future to the very end of time to even begin to set standards of behavior as moral or immoral. We surely need to see the point and know that our positive intentions aren't negated and neutralized by something else put into motion by the same.
I have no idea what that means, but it sounds really profound.
• 6.6k
- Unchecked power breeds corruption. If you can get away with it, why not? Nobody notices, you would be a fool not to do it.

- A bureaucracy that doesn't work, doesn't deliver. This creates a reason/necessity for bribery: I'm in a hurry!

- Government officials who aren't paid creates corruption: somehow they have to make their income too.

- Government officials having the ability to decide if something is valuable or not creates the possibility for corruption: if a highly valuable permit needs the blessing of a low-income bureacrat or officials decide if one can build a shopping mall on farm land or not, someone may "oil" things.

- Nepotism: You have to take care of the family!

- Past corruption breeds present corruption: it's the norm of the land.

And usually: all of the above. And when it's something ingrained into the culture and the attitudes of people, it's not going away easily.
• 8.9k

God seems to be a model worth looking into.
• 1.3k
I think studies have been done on children who thought they were being watched versus not, or those who were suggested that an all seeing God is always present. When they thought there were no witnesses they stole from the cookie jar when the adults left the room.

What are your thoughts on this in relation to my point?
• 679

You believe people are corrupt or not corrupt from the start and don't go from one to the other under any conditions?
• 8.9k
Where does a 600 pound gorilla sleep?

Any damn place he wants to! :lol: :monkey:
• 1.3k
No, I was noting that power does not make a person corrupt. A moral person is moral because they choose to be despite lack or rewards or possible harm. Power amplies possible rewards for behaving immorally, and minimizes possible harm. If a person starts to behave immorally because the risk of harm for behaving immorally is minimized, then we get to see who the person was morally all along.

Moral people when given power behave in moral ways. People who become corrupt when given power weren't moral, they were just previously constrained. Its like the arm chair moralist in philosophy. Plenty of people will think in their head, "Oh, I would rationally do the right thing given this circumstance." Would you really? Its a whole other situation when the reality of threats and rewards are right there in front of you. Being able to rationally ascertain what is moral doesn't make you a moral person. Your actions when tested do.
• 1.4k

Morality itself is corrupted by power, and so it's common for the powerful elite of society to operate by moral principles vastly different from what we see amongst the common person. Of course, if you look at this only from the perspective of your morality, and call all you agree with moral and all you don't immoral, then your circular logic can hold. But if you look back at history, to compare the moral views of the powerful and the many, patterns emerge that are difficult to ignore. Would it surprise you that the likely perpetrator of cruelty has a different perspective on it than the likely victim?
• 836
Moral people when given power behave in moral ways.

This is what I was getting at also.
The perception that power itself corrupts probably stems from the fact that people who were already immoral are far more likely to seek and gain power than those who were not. And once they have gained it, they are even more likely to abuse it. (Has the whole world not recently been treated to an all-too-graphic illustration of this process?*)
(* Oh, Creepies! How that horrid, florid face still keeps popping onto my computer screen!!)
• 1.3k
Morality itself is corrupted by power, and so it's common for the powerful elite of society to operate by moral principles vastly different from what we see amongst the common person.

There has been no mention thus far of relative morality, so no circular logic. I am assuming what is moral is consistent whether you have power or not. If morality is relative, then you need to define the difference between corruption and someone shifting their moral stance. A moral stance shift alone does not demonstrate that power corrupts, only that moral situations change with more power.

So, do you believe morality to be stable, or relative? And if relative, when does corruption occur vs a moral stance shift due to the situations and needs that arise due to having more power?
• 1.4k

Corruption is a moral shift, as for which moral shifts go under "corruption", I guess that's semantics or subjective, not sure we need to agree on it.

My earlier statement was wrong actually, even if morality was objective, your logic would still be circular. You're defining moral people as people who act morally, and people who act morally as moral people.

I think everyone has their opinions, and their reasons for thinking they're correct. Whether people are corrupted into an objectively wrong or subjectively wrong path... not sure it matters to this discussion.
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