“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Great men are almost always bad men.”
The phrasing of ‘tends’ left Acton some wiggle room, just in case we happened to find someone who attained power but was uncorrupted. It’s questionable whether he needed to include that, but since he was a historian and politician, I assume his views reflect that world.
We have certainly seen this opinion verified not only in politics but all to often in the business world. Combined with the teaching of Niccolò Machiavelli, it goes a long way toward describing the success of some terrible people.
Which brings up the question of just what we mean when we say ‘corrupt’. The zealot who proclaims his bigotry, the greedy chap who announces his desire and intent to rob you blind if elected may be assholes but that’s not corruption per se. While some may indeed be corrupt from the get-go, many start out superficially decent (because they haven’t been sufficiently tempted?) but are seduced by the rewards of power, quite often the financial angle. There are undoubtedly some warped personalities for whom power is its own reward, but most corruptees end up corrupted by money.
Corruption implies a move from [relative] honesty to some less honest status. In fifty years in the business world, rubbing elbows with many high-level execs at some major corporations, I have often seen the product of a corrupt and corrupting process. I have also – rarely – seen individuals rise to significant levels of power, yet remain uncorrupted. The difference is integrity.
.I have remarked elsewhere that when I was part of the hiring process, I paid very little attention to a jobseeker’s résumé. I knew that most would need to be taught what was needed via on-the-job learning. What I looked for was Integrity, Intelligence, Enthusiasm.
Ideally, Enthusiasm should be present from the start, but if not, it was my job to engender it, to inspire the employees. Greater or lesser degrees of Intelligence were required by different jobs and easy enough to determine. But I expected Integrity from every employee: manager or intern; programmer or operator; clerk or typist; janitor or security guard.
Integrity was my sine qua non of hiring.
Libertarians rant about liberty from the POV of a 5-year old. Mainstream politicians rant about liberty while they are plotting ways to undermine it or restrict it to the political class and its masters.
It is worth contemplating another of Lord Acton’s quotes:
“Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
Which politician seeks power to do the right thing? And don’t give me that crap about differing opinions about what the ‘right thing’ is. Peace and prosperity, justice and humanity, opportunity and community are about as basic ‘right things’ as you can get. If your plan doesn’t promote those, you have no business in politics. (For that matter, you have no business in business and should go be a hermit so we don’t have to put up with your shit).
The cynical side of me says there are no candidates who demonstrate 100% integrity, none completely uncorrupted (and some may not even recognize they have been corrupted). This leaves the pragmatic side of me parsing different levels of integrity and corruption, an exercise in lesser-of-the-evils thinking.
Just as my first requirement for hiring was Integrity and just as I expected the new employee to have the intelligence and desire to rise to the occasion as the job required, I bring the same criteria to ‘hiring’ a politician. Not who has the most experience, (Nixon had unparalleled experience after Ike’s heart attack) or who is most enthusiastic (Trump certainly mouths his nonsense loudly), but who has the most integrity.
If you want to question Sanders’ integrity, I will not argue the point, since we have reason to be suspect of all politicians. By the same token, I reserve the right to question HRC’s integrity. Of course, I see ZERO integrity on the GOP side. And to me, Integrity Matters.