Posts tagged with: power corrupts

Edwin Edwards once declared that the only thing that could keep him from Louisiana’s governor’s mansion was getting caught in bed with a “dead girl or a live boy.” He’s been called “The Luca Brasi of the Bayou,” “The Silver Zipper,” and “The Pirate Kingfish.” When Edwards ran against and trounced former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in the 1988 governor’s race, he had bumper stickers printed up that read, “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.” He then declared that the only thing he had in common with Duke was “that we are both wizards under the sheets.”

Edwards

Edwards, a convicted felon, who just three years ago was released from federal prison for conviction on seventeen charges that included extortion, racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, and mail fraud. Edwards, who was notoriously corrupt, was under investigation for decades. After his conviction, Edwards quipped, “I will be a model prisoner as I was a model citizen.”

He’s tried without success to secure a pardon from President Barack Obama to run for governor of Louisiana, a position the 86 year old is not eligible to hold for 15 years because of his criminal record. However, he’s eligible to run for U.S. Congress, and declared his candidacy yesterday.

Edwards, a life long Democrat, has lived a fascinating if not surreal life in Louisiana politics. There may be no politician that is a better model for Lord Acton’s famous dictum, “power corrupts.” Edwards however, is still loved by large segments of Louisiana’s population. Agnes Brouilette, his mother, was pure Cajun French. As some have said of Edwards in Louisiana, “Un de nous autres.” He’s one of us. His charm and mastery of retail politics is renowned.
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weinerAnthony Weiner did not win the Democratic Party primary for New York City last night. Leading in the polls at one time, he ended up with 5 percent of the vote. His defiant and circus like campaign appropriately ended with more bizarre theatrics. In a scolding interview, Weiner was called out for his political power addiction recently by Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC. Though O’Donnell sees no need to call him out for his moral behavior and personally he doesn’t feel it is a hindrance for supporting Weiner, it’s the prime reason for Weiner’s collapse in support.

That Weiner really had no shame or misgivings about the extent to which he was willing to embarrass himself and his family says something about his lust for political power and relevance. If you take away the platform for his power, his entourage, the attention he receives, strip him of those things, he is just another common man laid low by sin and addiction. That’s really the correct answer to O’Donnell’s question that is never answered truthfully.

In another recent video clip, where an outraged Jewish voter confronts Weiner about his moral bankruptcy, we again see the depth of his inability to be shamed and get a deeper look at his defense of that behavior. It’s the false notion that pervades much of our society today, that Americans are not allowed to make moral judgements about people and their behavior.

While there are many good and morally straight citizens in public service, I suspect Weiner is more towards the norm than many of us might like to believe. As the culture rots, and accountability wanes, society will reflect the corrupting nature of the world. But we notice it less because spiritual blindness intensifies society’s moral blindness.

We are bombarded by a lot of articles and blogs today, many times from the political right, demanding moral outrage for one issue or the other, but there is so little moral outrage left in our society to give. There was enough in New York City to end Anthony Weiner’s quest for more power and more attention and political relevance. But we can easily point to hundreds of examples that reflect the opposite. Weiner’s sad and bizarre campaign is his own doing, but it also says something profound about the corrupting and addicting nature of power and the people entrusted as the watchmen over that power.

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) took to the Senate floor yesterday and quoted Lord Acton’s well known dictum, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There’s a partisan bite to his words, but he mostly warns against the grave dangers and tyranny under concentrated and centralized power.

Cornyn of course, is addressing the multitude of scandals blowing up in Washington, many of them linked to the White House. He also admits corruption has been a problem under both political parties. Cornyn says that we need “to restore faith in Washington.” It’s a worthy goal, but perhaps part of the problem is Americans already have too much faith and trust in federal power. The Texas senator concludes by saying we need to “respect the wisdom of the ages when it comes to concentrated power and its impact on individual liberty.”

His remarks, which runs 15 minutes, is worth your attention.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, May 13, 2011

David Lohmeyer has done it again. Following this gem from the original series, David has turned up a clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard quotes Lord Acton:

David’s continuing mission? To find such quotes from the rest of the Star Trek series, including Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise (we’ll give him a pass on the cartoon series).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, May 9, 2011

David Lohmeyer turned up this excellent clip from the original Star Trek series:
Kirk opens the clip by referencing the Nazi “leader principle” (das F├╝hrerprinzip). Soon after Hitler’s election as chancellor in 1933, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a (partial) radio address and later lectured publicly on the topic of the “leader principle” and its meaning for the younger generation. These texts are important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Bonhoeffer compares the office of “leader” to a kind of inherent law of life (or natural law) that determines whether or not the leader is actually meeting his responsibilities and obligations. Thus the leader is not beyond the law, as the Nazi version of the principle held.

 

For “men seeking absolute power,” as Spock puts it, this rule of law must be denied. Therefore the reason that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is that it arrogates power to a creature that is beyond its inherent nature as creature and distinct from and beholden to a creator. It makes a man into a god.

Thus, writes Bonhoeffer,

People and especially youth will feel the need to give a leader authority over them as long as they do not feel themselves to be mature, strong, responsible enough to themselves fulfill the demands placed in this authority. The leader will have to be responsibly aware of this clear restriction of his authority. If the leader understands his function differently from that thus established, if the leader does not repeatedly provide the led with clear details on the limited nature of the task and on their own responsibility, if the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a misleader, then the leader is acting improperly both toward the led as well as toward himself.

The leader’s function must be balanced, Bonhoeffer continues, with the other orders of the world: “The leader must lead the led into responsibility toward the social structures of life, toward father, teacher, judge, state. The leader must radically reject the temptation to become an idol, that is, the ultimate authority of the led.”

This is, as Bonhoeffer notes, the perennial temptation of those with political power, and it follows from the basic fallenness of humanity. Spock says rightly, “Your whole earth history is made up of men seeking absolute power.” We are, as fallen creatures, constantly creating idols, out of ourselves and our surroundings. As Bones McCoy puts it, when “a man holds that much power, even with the best intentions, [he] just can’t resist the urge to play God.”

It is comforting, I think, that Lord Acton’s wisdom survives into the 23rd century: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”