Does Power Really Corrupt?

"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely," said Lord Acton. But does power really corrupt? Let's find out...

Man hits with lage to man \ character

According to Lord Acton, a British historian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So, was the widespread corruption surrounding the XIX Commonwealth Games a result of absolute power vested in the hands of a few individuals? Did power really corrupt them?

I reckon most people would subscribe to this view. But, in my view, blaming power for corruption is like blaming the kitchen knife a criminal uses for committing homicide, for the deed. The same knife, say in the hands of a loving mother, aids in making a nourishing meal for her children. So, the knife does not provoke the murder—it only facilitates the inherent intent of the murderer.

Does Power Really Corrupt?

Contemplate a bit and you’ll realize that people who appear to have become corrupt after gaining power, were actually corrupt by nature. Power merely provided them an opportunity to bring their corrupt core to the fore.

Neither corruption, nor honesty is an acquired trait—it’s our disposition. Power simply reveals it. Exploitation of power is common, so it may be logical to blame power for corruption. Yet, power is innocent. In the hands of inherently bad people it becomes evil. Likewise, in the hands of the conscientious, it becomes an effective means of doing good.

The True Meaning of Power

That brings me to the meaning of power. To common folks, power appears to be in the hands of a chosen few: politicians, celebrities, businessmen, sports stars and the like. But are such people really powerful?

Being able to control or influence others is not power—perhaps the correct word is strength. With strength you may control, influence, persuade or even force others. With power you can influence and control your own thoughts. So, authentic power is about being able to exercise control on self rather than on others. In other words, it’s about your character, not your strength.

Only those who are able to resist the temptation to abuse their strength are truly powerful. The rest may have the muscle, but possess weak character.

This means that as long as your character is sound, you are powerful, regardless of how much strength or authority you have at your disposal. On the other hand, if you have at your disposal all the wealth, fame, authority or command in the world, but don’t have the power over your own thoughts, are you truly powerful?

I leave you to contemplate the words of Lao Tzu: “He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty.”

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


  1. A very thought provoking article – Well written my dear friend. I really liked the way that you have brought out the difference between strength and power.

    To a certain extent, having the means to influence others (politicians, officials, goons etc.) does make the boundaries of integrity go hazy, however I guess it is the system that makes it happen and in some ways, there is always a choice to keep away.

    take care


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