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A. L. Rowse – Does power corrupt?

October 17, 2014

“[Recall Lord Acton’s maxim that ‘power corrupts.’] But it is not true. Power sometimes corrupts; but very often power improves a man – it widens his horizons and gives him a greater sense of responsibility. It depends on the man. Power made Napoleon drunk with it, and made Hitler mad – though he was evil enough before. But power made Abraham Lincoln, from being a provincial politician, into a statesman. And power turned Winston Churchill, from being a rather too volatile, too willful and impulsive politician, into a responsible national leader. The possession of power properly weighted him down, gave him ballast, and kept him on the rails. Power never turned Queen Elizabeth I’s head: it formed her into ‘a nursing mother of her people.’ It is largely a question of responsibility, whether power gives added responsibility with the burdens and experience it brings.”

(from ‘The Scholar & Responsibility to the Public,’ in The Professor and the Public: The Role of the Scholar in the Modern World [1972], ed. Goldwin Albert Smith)


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