Sir John Dalberg-Acton, aka Lord Acton, famously posited, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Moreover, he added, “Great men are almost always bad men.” To be sure, Lord Acton’s claim is bearish, even to the pessimist. In these remarks, the baron affords us very little hope – might we call it an “eye of the needle(s)” chance – of rising to power without forsaking our virtue. Well, if he is right, the obvious question is: Why? Why is it so difficult for one to attain power without succumbing to – its power?
It’s a common theme, is it not? We rise, and we fall. Countless authors, artists, composers, filmmakers, etc., have captured the torment, isolation, and exile that hounds the mighty, the powerful, amidst their nosedive into the abyss. Given the fact – can we call it that? – this is so common, why have we permitted history to repeat itself? Why do we acquiesce? Is power simply too powerful for man to bridle? Is it the ‘bronc that won’t be broke’? Or, is it, perhaps, that we haven’t taken the right approach? What do we need to control, or check power? I submit, wisdom. But not just any wisdom. Source matters.
I found an answer, where I often do: my Bible.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. [James 3:13-18]