The Christian historian John Acton is best known today for his axiom:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
Doubtless his choice of wording was patriarchal, reflecting the male power structure of his own day. Or is it patriarchal of me, to think women are as liable to corruption as men? (I was just reading an Amazon thread by a poster who said he was taught in his Catholic Sunday School that more women will be in heaven than men, because they are more moral. I've heard that from men, too, incredibly enough.)
But the question I would like to ask in this blog is, if Acton is right, as I believe he is, then who is most susceptible to corruption in modern society? Who has the most power over others?
I realize not everyone who reads this blog belongs to the same society, or runs in the same circles within whichever society they belong to. Nor need the degree of power be the only or main variable that determines how corrupt a person becomes -- maybe some people are born corrupt, and just want the chance to prove it, and I believe there were one or two saints who were also kings or queens. And it may be hard to compare different kinds of power, over different kinds of people. The question just occurred to me, and I am just beginning to think it through. Perhaps you can help me.
Here are some choices, to get the ball rolling:
(a) Parents, with almost absolute power over a few, tempered by natural love, with the power (and sometimes the love) decreasing as time goes by.
(b) School teachers, with 30 kids an hour to indoctrine, and the power of grades to hold over their charges.
(c) The president of the United States.
(d) Bureaucrats at the Building Department.
(e) One percenters.
(f) Prison guards.
(g) Congressmen and women.
(h) Marine platoon leaders in the outback of Afghanistan.
(i) The CEO of Coca Cola.
(j) The CEO of Apple Computer.
(k) A Family Court divorce judge.
(l) A beat cop in Watts.
(m) A traffic cop in Naperville, Illinois.
(n) A Psychology Professor at Central Florida University.
(o) A lawyer for the AFL-CIO.
(p) A doctor who works for Planned Parenthood.
(q) PZ Myers.
(r) Tom Hanks.
Which of these is most powerful? Which position of power is most liable to corruption? Why? Corruption in which institution is most dangerous to those under the authority of the corrupted individual?