Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Meaning of “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”

The proverb, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” means that whenever a person has power over other people or things, it makes him/her corrupt. It morally destroys their nature and fills them with destructive pride. However, if the person saves himself from this abuse of power, he or she is a humble person. In other words, the phrase also means, ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Origin of “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”

This famous sentence is attributed to Lord Acton. It is stated that John Edward Acton, the first baron, has expressed this opinion in his letter written to Bishop Mandell. The letter was written in 1887. The original statements go thus; “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” However, it is stated that Lord Acton is not the primary originator of this quotation.

In fact, the primary originator of this quotation is an English politician, William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and former Primer Minister of England from 1766-1778. He is stated to have said in the parliament that “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”, which is closest to the phrase, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Examples in Literature

Examples #1

Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely by Muzahidul Reza

Once in jungle a rat was very frightened by a cat
Somehow it escaped from the attack,
There the rat met a Saint and prayed
To be a large cat,
So, it was turned into a cat
And it began to kill rats,
But dogs often used to chase it,
Being unhappy it prayed to be a mighty dog,
So it was then turned into a big dog
And it began to torture the cats,
But tigers began to chase it
So, again it prayed to be a tiger,
Finally the Saint turned it into a tiger,
This tiger began to feel very mighty
That made it so proud of power,
Ill thoughts entered its brain heavily
It planned to attack and kill the Saint;
Some evidences made the Saint understand
Instantly he turned it into the pre-rat.

Muzahidul Reza, an English poet from Bangladesh, wrote serious and political poems and made a name in the South Asian English literature. Muzahidul Reza has beautifully woven the concept of power around the tale of a rate that meets a saint. The saint fulfills his desire of becoming something more significant. The saint sees that he is abusing the power of being a big animal than before instead of using it for helping other creatures. It dawns upon him that power corrupts any creature. Therefore, the title of the poem is apt that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Examples #2

Absolute Power by Luke Kilpatrick and colleagues and sung by Parkway Drive and

“The truth drops like a bomb
The truth drops like a bomb
The battle is on

The hate runs deep, but our hopes cut deeper
Now we walk through the valley in the shadow of the reaper
Money talks, and it’s speaking in tongues
They put a price on our soul like they had already won
Now open wide, I see their jaws locked tight
Silent in the moment like prey in the floodlights
The signal is static, baptised in fire
Now we see how they talk with a mouth full of barbed wire

Absolute power, absolute power, absolute power
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Absolute power, absolute power, absolute power
Absolute power corrupts

The truth drops like a bomb
The truth drops like a bomb
The battle is on
The truth drops like a…

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This is the last part of the lyric “Absolute Power” sung by Parkway Drive. In these lines, the singer shows that there is always a battle between hope ad love. However, the true battle for the game of power. Therefore, the singer realizes that “absolute power” corrupts and makes people behave immorally.

Examples #3

Pythias by Frederik Pohl

“Laurence Connaught was an honest man and an idealist, I think. But what would happen to any man when he became God? Suppose you were told twenty-three words that would let you reach into any bank vault, peer inside any closed room, walk through any wall? Suppose pistols could not kill you?

They say power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And there can be no more absolute power than the twenty-three words that can free a man of any jail or give him anything he wants. Larry was my friend. But I killed him in cold blood, knowing what I did, because he could not be trusted with the secret that could make him king of the world.”

These two paragraphs have been taken from the short story ‘Pythias,’ written by Frederik Pohl. In a Poe-like style, the writer unravels the hidden mystery of the murder of a character, Laurence Connaught by Dick whom he saves shortly before his death. Dick is telling the audiences that Connaught has literally become God as he knows everything about him. It means that Connaught has power over him for which he has to kill him. He uses the saying in the second paragraph and attributes it to ‘they,’ which means that the character does not know the origin of the saying but knows its nature.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Examples #1: “The entire film is based on the antagonist of the film, and the theme is ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. We hope the viewers will get the message.”

Examples #2: “You know, William, how power corrupts. The minister thinks he can do anything he wants just like they say absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have to stop him.”

Examples #3: “Power corrupts, anyone who does not like to be corrected, and absolute power corrupts absolutely is like having a spade and using it needlessly.”

Examples #4: “Since Lizzy became the class president she changed, it looks like absolutely power corrupts absolutely.”

Examples #5: “He always consider this maxim that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is why he does not give more power to his subordinates than necessary for smooth working.”