Some Affirm Absolute Power Corrupts, What do You Say?

Ramon Arias | May 19, 2014 

You may have heard the following quote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This quote is attributed to the historian, moralist and British statesman, who was better known as Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. The complete quote is: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Notice he said, “power tends…” It is easy to agree that power corrupts only because people’s tendency is toward corruption, even though it doesn’t have to be that way, yet most people choose that route. 

People also have the misconception that power, for the most part, corrupts politicians, mega capitalists and similar individuals who make alliances with government; this is absolutely false. The very nature of power can be found at all levels of human activity day in and day out, not just with those who are most visible. Have you seen how most people change when they are promoted to certain levels of influence regardless of how little that influence may be? There is no denial that the more power the individual’s lust after and the higher they climb, the more obvious his or her destructive actions will be. Good and evil are at war within the heart and mind of humans.  One wants to rule over the other; it is a ferocious battle. 

Allow me to ask you the following questions: do you think George Washington was a man with great power? Did he allow himself to be corrupted by that power? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that he was a perfect man that was not my question. After the War of Independence was won the most logical offer they could make was to make him King of the newly independent states since he was commander of the armed forces. After all, a monarchy was the only form of government they knew of throughout human history and yet Washington declined. We know he only served two terms as president, which was his choosing. When he took office the first time and swore upon the Bible by affirming, “so help me God” he knew about the God of the Bible by personal experience and new of His divine providence and power to keep him safe through wars and many other dangers.

Washington was not an individual that tends to be corrupted by power. Since then, not many presidents and government officials at all levels can say the same thing because they do not measure up to the level of greatness due to their ignorance or rebellion to the God of the Bible.

Allow me to share with you about another president after the manner of George Washington that hardly anybody talks about, John Calvin Coolidge, Jr.  He was the 30th president of the United States of America from 1923 to 1929. During his administration an era of peace and prosperity was known. Before becoming president he was Governor of Massachusetts then elected vice president in 1920 as a Republican and took office in August 1923 upon the death of President Warren G. Harding.  He won his reelection by a landslide in 1924, what do you know? In 1928 at the highest level of his popularity he announced that he would not run again. Undoubtedly, you know what happened to the nation under the administration that succeeded him.

Amity Shlaes wrote the following in her article titled: “Calvin Coolidge’s faith was the secret to his success.”

Calvin Coolidge did all the things we’d like to see a politician do today: Coolidge cut the federal budget, cut taxes, and vetoed spending bills. He acted on principle when public-sector unions challenged the public safety. Finally, Coolidge left the presidency with a higher reputation than it had enjoyed upon his arrival.

What enabled Coolidge to do all these difficult things, to succeed where other politicians fail, was his faith.

Calvin Coolidge wasn’t as vocal as some presidents about his religious belief. But that faith was real, strong enough to help him surmount personal setbacks, to make unpopular decisions, and to restrain his own vanity and so govern better…Coolidge’s piety gave him an understanding of what we call natural law, the idea that some laws come not from jurists but from above. “Men do not make laws, they do but discover them,” he told fellow lawmakers in Massachusetts while he was still a young politician… Even in his tax cutting, Coolidge’s plans reflected faith. He cut taxes, he said in his 1925 inaugural, not only because tax cuts work, but also because high taxes were morally “wrong.”

Bill Federer is a highly qualified historian and in one of his books, “The American Minute,” he writes the following about Coolidge:

On MAY 15, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge warned in a speech given in Williamsburg, Virginia at the College of William and Mary: “But there is another…recent development… the greatly disproportionate influence of organized minorities. Artificial propaganda, paid agitators, selfish interests, all impinge upon members of legislative bodies to force them to represent special elements rather than the great body of their constituency. When they are successful, minority rule is established…” Coolidge explained: “The result is an extravagance on the part of the Government which is ruinous to the people and a multiplicity of regulations and restrictions for the conduct of all kinds of necessary business, which becomes little less than oppressive…” Coolidge continued: “No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic…” Coolidge warned further: “Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretense of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody…” Coolidge added: “We must also recognize that the national administration is not and cannot be adjusted to the needs of local government… The States should not be induced by coercion or by favor to surrender the management of their own affairs. The Federal Government ought to resist the tendency to be loaded up with duties which the States should perform. It does not follow that because something ought to be done the National Government ought to do it… I want to see the policy adopted by the States of discharging their public functions so faithfully that instead of an extension on the part of the Federal Government there can be a contraction…” Coolidge concluded: “The principles of government have the same need to be fortified, reinforced, and supported that characterize the principles of religion. After enumerating many of the spiritual ideals, the Scriptures enjoin us to ‘think on these things.'”

When men and women of the God of the Bible are governed by His principles inwardly and outwardly there is no power that can corrupt them. They know Whom they serve and Whom they worship and to Whom they will give an account to not only in this life, but also in the next one.

Throughout the Bible we read about evil kings and good kings, evil people and those who know how to do right. We find the same throughout 2,000 years of Christianity, there are evil individuals that call themselves Christians and there are those who are truly born again believers committed to do the will of God.

My personal experience of being at the highest level of political power is one that can attest that we can do the will of God unblemished by the power delegated to serve others. Yes, absolute power can corrupt absolutely not because of the power by itself, rather, because of the lust for power in the heart and mind of individuals.

America’s solution to all her problems is a return to godliness, to embrace the biblical ethics where men and women of good will apply them in all areas of life. We do need a biblical Reformation more desperately than solutions that are not really solutions.

Remember, God has absolute power, so do Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are incorruptible and that’s what we inherit in our new nature in Christ.

So, what is your answer, does absolute power corrupt? What are you willing to do to change that? Begin with you.