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Why Does Political Power Corrupt?

By Richard J. Maybury

5 October 2010

Dear Friend,

For thousands of years, from Roman emperors such as Caligula and Nero to US Presidents such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, writers have observed that power corrupts.

But what kind of power were they writing about? Horsepower?  Solar power?  Economic power?

No.  They were writing about political power. 

Well, what is political power?

It’s the legalized privilege of using brute force on persons who have not harmed anyone.

We’re all allowed to use force in self-defense.  If you’re attacked, you can defend yourself.

We’re not allowed to initiate force.  We’re not permitted to be the attacker, or to threaten to attack.  We can only be defenders.

Unless we are part of a government.  Governments are legally allowed to initiate force, to be the attackers, to use coercion on persons who have not harmed anyone.

This is what sets government apart from all other institutions.  No organization that’s private — no church, charity, business, or private individual — is allowed to initiate the use of brute force.

For instance, if a private organization wants to establish, let’s say, a school, and they want you to send your children there and, of course, pay money to do so, then that transaction is voluntary.  If you wish, you can say no, and decline to purchase the services the school is selling.  Nothing will happen to you.

If a school is set up by government, it’s a whole different story.  Public schools are financed by your taxes, and a tax is the government saying, you will buy what we are selling or people with guns will come to your home and haul you away to prison.

Each year when you fill out your income tax forms, you know full well that this is the threat behind these forms.  You don’t actually see the guns, but you know they’re there, and if you don’t buy what the government is selling, you will be hauled off to prison.

Virtually all government decisions are backed in one way or another by brute force.  This is why, the more government we have, the less liberty we have.

Again, political power is the legalized privilege of using brute force on persons who have not harmed anyone. 

Who do you know that would not be corrupted by this power? 

Political power corrupts the morals and the judgment because it is, itself, corruption.  Anyone who would accept it can’t be trusted with it.  Using it causes a person to think he has the right to use it.

Power turns perfectly fine people into vipers.

The clearest way to look at politics is not democrats vs. republicans, or liberals vs. conservatives, or left vs. right.  It’s liberty vs. political power.  Both major parties are on the side of power, they want as much as they can get.  Their only disagreements are about which of them should have it, and which parts of your life they should control.

We’re fortunate to live in an era in which the corrupting effect of power has been proven scientifically.  If you Google the classic  1963 Milgram Experiment at Yale, and the 1971 Zimbardo Experiment at Stanford, you will see power holders being corrupted by their power.

The results of these experiments should not have been surprising.  The original intent of the US Constitution, ratified in 1791, was to limit political power enough that no matter who acquired it, they would not be able to do much damage. 

The US government is the largest, most powerful ever seen on earth, and as long as it is, its benefits cannot be greater than its costs.

It’s not possible for a big government to be an honest or competent government.  The use of that much force, no matter how good the intentions, leads to disaster.  We all know what the road to hell is paved with.

Some will say, weren’t the American founders exceptions to “power corrupts?” 

No.  As revolutionaries and founders, they were brilliant.  But once their new regime was in operation, they launched a government-owned central bank, a bond scam, the unconstitutional Louisiana Purchase, and a default on debts to France followed by an unconstitutional war with France.  

This leads to a question that’s rarely asked:  if the Founding Fathers couldn’t be trusted with power, who can?

In 1787, none other than Thomas Jefferson wrote to Continental Congressman Edward Carrington.  Jefferson admitted that if the people did not keep a close eye on them, then, “you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves.”

But, in the government-controlled schools, no one is taught anything about the dangers of power, and in fact, children are taught to admire members of the political elite.

So, the colossal hubris, the arrogance, of the political elite is now literally unimaginable.  In the 19th century when politicians fixed the economy until it collapsed, they said, well, we’ll take a million tax dollars here and a million tax dollars there, and spread it around to anyone who has political connections, and maybe this will make things better. 

In the 20th century, their hubris had grown to the point that , well, we’ll take a billion here and a billion there and spread it around.

Now, in the 21st century, it’s, we’ll take a trillion here and a trillion there and spread it around to our friends, and that’ll make things better, trust us.

Notice this.  If they stop controlling the economy into one catastrophe after another, they lose their excuses to spread our money around.

I have enormous faith that there are lots of ways to get essential services without the use of force.  We are intelligent enough to find those ways. 

On the other hand, if we assume we’re not intelligent enough to get essential services without force, and therefore a huge government is okay, then what we are saying is that stupidity excuses the use of force, and the more stupid we are the more force we can use.  It’s okay to be a bull in a china shop.

Federal law alone — in addition to state and local laws — contains more than 4,000 crimes for which you or your loved ones can be thrown in prison.1

The idea that all this force is necessary is insane.  There is no evidence that the world has been created in such a way that humans must use force on each other.  Force in defense against attack, yes.  But force for any other reason is wrong.

Once you decide it’s okay to use force on people for their own good, then where do you draw the line?

The answer in Washington DC is, there is no line. 

They use force on us for anything.

Getting things done without the use of force.  What a novel idea.  What’s that called? 

Oh yes.  Liberty.  We need to revive what was called in 1776, “the system of liberty.”

What about term limits and other measures intended to get the government under control? 

I’m sure some would work, partly, but the fact remains that if power exists, then someone will find a way to get it and use it  on us . 

The power itself is the problem, if it is not reduced drastically, then nothing else will accomplish very much.

Summarizing, political power corrupts the morals and the judgment; history teaches no clearer lesson.  The only solution is, less government today, even less tomorrow, and so on until the monster in Washington is shrunken down to the size where good people no longer live in fear of what it will do to them next. 

If we do not head down the road to doing things by voluntary means, the corruption and poor judgment in capital buildings will only continue to grow.

Again, political power is evil, it turns wonderful people into snakes.

But we cannot even begin to do anything about the problem until our friends and neighbors know what it is! 

They’re not going to learn it in their government-controlled schools, so the teaching is up to us. 

I hope you will help in the consciousness raising by passing the ideas in this video along to others. 

Please, help save our country.

Richard J. Maybury signature

1THREE FELONIES A DAY, by Harvey A. Silverglate, 2009, p.xxxi