Does Power Corrupt: Discussion

The phenomenon of power has always been food for thought for people. The interest in this topic can be traced to ancient philosophical studies, medieval treatises, and modern literary and scientific works. Yet, there is still no definite opinion on what power is, which components this concept includes, and whether it changes a person’s character and his or her behavior or not. Although it is widely believed that power necessarily corrupts a person, in this paper one can find reasons why such an opinion is not considered to be a universal truth. The author of this essay believes that power should not always be associated with evil and perceived as a negative concept since it does not corrupt people. Firstly, people often misunderstand the phenomenon of power considering it to be a desire for control while it is a pursuit of freedom that is natural for a person and does not tell of corruption. Secondly, power tends to enable many people to strive for public benefit. Thirdly, power only highlights existing negative character traits that a person possesses, whether he or she is powerful or not. Thus, power is not a universal determiner prompting people to act in a certain way.

To begin with, opponents of the author’s claim tend to maintain that power corrupts people because the essence of power is understood differently. It is commonplace in the nowadays’ world to associate power with control over other people. In this case, power is exercised by giving other people instructions and commands, evaluating their activities, and having the authority to punish them in case of any misdemeanors. However, perceiving power in such a way is not relevant anymore. The author is convinced that the genuine desire for power is explained by the fact that people need some degree of autonomy to meet their basic psychological needs which are proved by the provisions of self-determination theory (Beck). In other words, to be happy and work productively one does not need to be powerful and important; one does need to feel free and not constrained by others’ regulations.

Furthermore, many people do not perceive power as an opportunity to gain benefits for themselves. They consider it to be an option enabling them to strive for the well-being of others or a chance to help other people because they are responsible for their future. They realize that the good of other people depends on their decisions and their actions; this fact makes them use their power in accordance with universal moral laws and not abuse the authority they have. This tendency is proved by many psychological experiments that have been carried out recently. Their results show that power makes people assess a situation from the point of view of a whole community, not from their individual perspective. As a result, this leads to deliberate decisions from which the whole community benefits (“Why Power Corrupts”). Moreover, even a little extent of power makes some people achieve higher results that prove to be beneficial for the whole community. It is worth mentioning the case of Michelle Gass who has worked her way up from a manager in a small company to a leader of Starbucks in 33 countries, having employed thousands of people (Goudreau). Thus, for many people power serves as a stimulus for helping others and working better.

However, another angle on this debate suggests that power corrupts people and there is much evidence proving this statement. History knows many politicians who forgot their promises once they have gained the post that they wanted. Nonetheless, in fact, power only emphasizes the existing negative traits of a person’s character. Increased authority and control seem to negatively influence people because the effects of this are more evident when a person gains some power, but to act corruptly one does not need to be influential. Namely, power heightens pre-existing moral values of a person, and if they are low, it is not because of increased authority, it is because of a person’s moral identity. It was proved by the results of the study conducted by DeCelles et al. that individuals of lower moral principles tend to be more self-interested when they become powerful (686). Therefore, power does not corrupt a person; it only accentuates the existing negative features of a personality.

To summarize, the author believes that power is not a universal factor that determines the behavior and personality of an individual and that it does not really corrupt people. Perceiving power as a desire for autonomy and not for control proves the author’s claim that it is not unnatural for a person to strive for greater freedom. Furthermore, power being a factor that encourages people of high moral principles to work for the benefit of others and people of low moral principles to be corrupted is the fact that explains why power is not the only and the main driving force of the person’s behavior. Thus, it is not power that prompts people’s actions; it is a person’s nature that really does.

Works Cited

Beck, Julie. “People Want Power Because They Want Autonomy.” The Atlantic, 2016, Web.

Decelles, Katherine A., et al. “Does Power Corrupt or Enable? When and Why Power Facilitates Self-Interested Behavior.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 97, no. 3, 2012, pp. 681–689.

Goudreau, Jenna. “Eight Leadership Lessons from The World’s Most Powerful Women.” Forbes, 2014, Web.

“Why Power Corrupts.”, Smithsonian Institution, 2012, Web.

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DemoEssays. "Does Power Corrupt: Discussion." January 5, 2023.