It’s a most often quoted line:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
First a little historical perspective: The historian and moralist, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, popularly known as Lord Acton (1834–1902), expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.
Do I subscribe to this view? No Way!! At least not in entirety.
It’s easy for them who never tasted power to say this for those who are in power, more because they never have faced the situations, the predicament of the latter. And also, it’s the feeling of the commoner that they are not enjoying the privileges that come along with the responsibilities keeps them in a lookout for an opportunity to demean them.
Does power corrupts a person? Let’s put it in different way. Does power lead a person to do things which are not good for the common good? The answer of this lies in another question. Who reaches to the position of absolute power? In modern history, two most cited dictators have been Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. To this list we may also add Deng Xiaoping, Suharto, Sukarno, Fidel Castro and many more. All of them had power.. absolute power. They lead their country with iron-fist crushing all opposition.
But then, the theme question of this post: were they corrupt? I would say – they were far from corrupt. But my opinion is not worth even a penny. Isn’t it? So let’s look at these individuals in some perspective, and yes, let’s look at them in some perspective without any preconceived bias.
Joseph Stalin – USSR: 1924 –1953: Russia witnessed Bolshevik Revolution in the month of October 1917. And was in the phase of reconstruction but inappropriate infrastructure and series of famines, Russia was facing toughest of times. Industrial output in 1922 was 13% of that in 1914. A recovery followed under the New Economic Policy, which allowed a degree of market flexibility within the context of socialism. Under Stalin’s direction, this was replaced by a system of centrally ordained “Five-Year Plans” in the late 1920s. These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture. With seed capital unavailable because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin’s government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks. Five year plans were gift of Stalin to the world. Russia was only country to compete with USA in terms of scientific advancement and space missions.
Adolf Hitler – Germany: 1933 – 1945: Germany was subjected to the worst kind of humiliation after World War I by resting all the responsibility of war on the shoulders of Germany and penalizing them by stripping them off all their natural resources like Coal and Iron rich Saar basin, Lorrain and Rhine valley being handed over to France. Restrictions were imposed on the army size they can maintain. It was Hitler who served as ordinary soldier in Bavarian reserve regiment reignited the nationalistic feelings and got back what originally belonged to Germany. Under his leadership Treaty of Versailles was broken and Germany retraced the path of progress after reclaiming its surrendered resources and land. It was Hitler who made it possible that Germany won’t be subjected to similar humiliation after World War II as it was after World War I.
Now the question is, these two individuals had absolute power. But, were they corrupted? Did they make their countries worse off? No individual is perfect. Everyone has inherent demerits in their personality and so even these two were not flawless. They did their share of mistakes, but let’s imagine a probable situation. Had there been no Stalin or no Hitler, would USSR and Germany have been the same as they are. Remotely so. Germany could never got its pride back and neither would Germany been the industrially developed country that it is now without all the resources that had been unlawfully been taken away. Same for USSR, had there been no Stalin, there won’t have been five year plans, no space missions and USSR would have been languishing in poverty for years.
Let’s get back a little closer – to home – to India. We are a proud “Democracy”.
We elect our representatives. Every five years we go to voting booths to proudly exercise our voting rights. We have achieved phenomenal growth in all walks of lives. But have we got over our entire problems? We are still home to the largest number of poors. Still there isn’t enough employment opportunity. Every other week a new corruption news mocks on our faces. Caste is something that still decides who will rule us regardless of their qualification. Still we are a proud Democracy.
We have ever been proud of our democracy. But whatever democracy given to our country, is that all we wanted? Are we all satisfied with the progress we have made in past 60 years? India became independent in 1947 and Germany started rebuilding after 1945 – nearly the same time period. Have both countries rose to equal heights? But still we are a proud Democracy.
But ask to the intelligencia of the country. Ask that how many of them harbor a secret desire of a brief stint of Autocracy. In many of the endless discussions with my friends the common reaction is: “to hell with Democracy.. A small phase of dictatorship is what India needs”. Democracy is still bound by petty issues which relates to appeasement of one or the other section of the society even though they are anti-progress. Reason? The representatives we elect don’t have the power to take radical steps. They fear of a particular section turning their backs on them. Take for example the Indo-US nuclear deal. Everyone knows, its indispensible for a power (electricity) starved nation like ours. But there were and are roadblocks in clinching that deal, only because the government did not have absolute power. Remember!! We are a proud Democracy.
Progress needs radical steps which are near to impossible if you care to please all. Progress and common welfare needs power. Absolute power. Absolute power doesn’t corrupt the individual who posses it. It gives him authority to march forward without roadblocks.
That’s end to this episode. Expecting Comments… mostly harsh ones for me not being an “Ideal Indian” citizen. For not being someone who is proud of his nation’s Democracy. 🙂