Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely: Analysis of Hubris Syndrome

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Power is enticing. Power is satisfying. Power enables one the ability to influence others. However, is to much power destructive? Well, back in 1887, Lord Acton became known for quoting 'power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely (UoPeople, 2018 para 2). This discussion will decipher the meaning of that statement; choose an example to confirm the statement; determine if the statement is always true and search for any ways a leader can prevent self corruption with entrusted power (UoPeople, 2018 para 2). It is my aspiration that these inquiries will reveal that power, with all its allure, can be tamed and used for good despite the views of Lord Acton. Let's begin with a better comprehension of what is meant by the statement 'power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely (UoPeople, 2018 para 2). Thus, (n. d.) defines it as an observation that a person's sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. So what is morality since it lessens? Well, morality is a form of the word morals and I do not need a dictionary to tell me that morals is the ability of one having the mind to choose between what is the right thing to do versus the wrong thing to do. 

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he majority of us all have been raised with this information although at times, for whatever the reason, we may not make the right choice even when we know that the choice we are making is incorrect. Nevertheless, in our society, power tends to be accompanied with money. Money and power, power and money are practically synonymous and lead to corruptive behavior and decisions like those made by Mohamed Suharto, President of Indonesia (1967-98). The country's second president, Suharto, gained control of government in 1967 (soon after a failed left wing coup) and went on to rule for the next 31 years. Suharto's 'New Order' policy (implemented soon after taking power) was built on a strong centralized military-dominated government, which became critical to maintain stability over a diverse, sprawling country of over 13,000 islands (Sandbrook, 2016 para 52).

Using system of patronage to ensure loyalty, Suharto managed to amass a fortune of between $15 billion and $35 billion. The control of state-run monopolies, access to exclusive supply contracts and special tax breaks were given to companies owned by his four children, family members and close friends. According to Robert Elson, Suharto's biographer: 'corruption [was] a well-managed franchise, like McDonald's or Subway...Everybody knew how much you had to pay and to whom. Suharto didn't invent the depth and breadth of corruption. What he did was to manage it on a scale that no one had ever been able to do before.' (Sandbrook, 2016 para 56). Even though Suharto behavior, like so many other corrupt leaders, may be shocking to many, science states that it's not their fault because they may have what's known as hubris syndrome. Hubris syndrome is seen as an acquired condition and therefore different from most personality disorders which are traditionally seen as persistent throughout adulthood.

The key concept is that hubris syndrome is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader (Owen and Davidson, 2009 para 5). Although power may lead to corruption and considered a personality disorder, in my opinion, free will is still strong and people still have the choice to choose between right and wrong. Therefore, power does not always lead to corruption. According to Hougaard, Carter and Chester (2018), compassion is the key. While empathy is the tendency to feel others' emotions and take them on as if you were feeling them, compassion is the intent to contribute to the happiness and well being of others. Compassion, therefore, is more proactive, which means we can make a habit of it. By doing so we can counter the loss of empathy that results from holding power, and in turn enable better leadership and human connections at work (para 6). Also, compassion training has been shown to significantly alter the neural networks of our brain in such a way that we react to the suffering of others with spontaneous compassion, instead of distress and despair (Hougaard, Carter and Chester, 2018 para 13).

In summary, this research has discovered that power has the ability to corrupt people in leadership over time. And, this time due to the stressors and demands, along with successful outcomes, can develop into hubris syndrome. Nonetheless, hubris syndrome can be defeated with compassion training. Since it is not impossible for leaders who have been pulled to the dark-side to return to the light, my aspiration is fulfilled. Free will and having the power to choose will never dissipate; therefore, just as people change for the worse, they can change for the better.

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