Tuesday, October 6, 2009

About Toxins Of Power

Lord Acton
We are familiar with the saying about power: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great [people] are almost always bad [people]." (Lord Acton, emphasis added).

That quote refers to a form of social, political, or governmental "power" that is different from the "power" physicists work with.

Consider two mathematical formulas physicists use that concern "power" of a non-social, non-political, and non-governmental sort: p = e / t and p = v * i (Formula I, Formula II, where p = power, v = voltage, i = current, e = energy, and t = time).

That type of power, of course, is not the power we are talking about when we talk about the "toxins of power" that are generated while an individual is holding political, social, religious, or similar power.

The formula for Toxins of Power this blog discusses is another type of power, social power and/or governmental power.

The basic notion is encapsulated in what is often called "Lord Acton's dictum" as follows:
"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it. "

Dalberg-Acton, John Emerich Edward (1949), Essays on Freedom and Power, Boston:The Becon Press, p. 364
(Wikipedia, emphasis added). Clearly the statement was made in specific reference to the controversial notion of papal infallibility, which is a function of church government, but it was conceptually linked to secular government as well ("the king can do no wrong").

The inescapable meaning of Lord Acton's theory is that power (because of toxins within it - Toxins of Power Blog would add) tends to have a negative effect on human thinking and doing:
Experience has shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

"Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." - Friedrich Nietzsche


Malcolm McIntyre said...

Fascinating thesis. Thanks for making it available.

Malcolm McIntyre

Dredd said...


You are certainly welcome. Please visit the hypothesis series, and if you can see a way to improve it, comment.


Randy said...

Scientific evidence is mounting that confirms the thesis of this blog: Link