Ambivalent Skeptic

February 6, 2011

Ronald Reagan and Absolute Power

Filed under: History,Philosophy — Clint1911 @ 6:00 pm

Ronald Reagan was born 100 years ago today.

Now here is something I’ve often wondered about; you know the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I don’t think it is true, and I’ll use Reagan as an example. Oh, he was far from prefect as a man and a president but that don’t matter. No one is perfect. But was he corrupted?

First the origin of the saying:

“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did not wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
Letter to Mandell Creighton (April [3? or 5?], 1887) — some normally reliable sources indicate April 3, and others indicate April 5.

Now look at Reagan and look at the 2-4 Presidents before and after him.

Does “absolute power corrupt absolutely”? I do not think so. I see men who all held the same office, the same power and some were more competent than others; some were more corrupt.

The corrupt men were corrupt BEFORE they took office.

Frank Herbet, Sci Fi author, once wrote in his novel Chapterhouse: Dune:

Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it.


All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.

I ask you: who among office became more corrupt after gaining power?

I think Herbert got it right.

1 Comment »

  1. I like Reagan (or Ronnie as he was always referred to in my parents’ house when I was a kid). I appreciate his gifts as an orator, and I even agree with many of his policies. My problem isn’t judging pope and king unlike other men (if you will,) it’s NOT judging pope and king as other men. If anything, I’m disappointed in Reagan. Not for everything he did in office, but I AM disappointed that he poured 1-1/2 to 2 million dollars a day into El Salvador during the civil war there. I understand that nothing is “black or white,” but that being said I DO wish that we would have spent a little time thinking more critically before we joined the side that was raping nuns and shooting priests down like dogs in the streets.

    Comment by Elaina — February 17, 2011 @ 12:31 am | Reply

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