Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Why do liberals believe this and what are its implications?

Liberalism’s core ideals are focused on individualism, rationalism, freedom, justice and toleration. Liberals argue that humans are naturally logical, rational creatures that have are generally morally good. As such they appreciate freedom for the individual to allow individuals to fulfil their potential and to create a workable society. This is because they see each individual born with equal moral worth, but with differing levels of intellectual capacity.
As liberals believe in rational, logical human beings, one may argue that liberals should in some respect not believe in a government, leading the quote to be largely obsolete, which many Anarchists believe, however Liberals believe in Government as they understand that freedom need limits to prevent the occurrence of abuse. Abuse of freedom to the extent an individual is given so much freedom that it means their choices can affect the liberties of another individual. As such Liberals believe that people could use their power of freedom to hurt others welfare.
So, when I talk about hoe Liberals believes such and such because of their belief in the quote, it’s not directly cause by the quote being said my Lord Aston, but the moral thinking of human worth which the quote represents which Liberals strongly believe in.
When looking at this quote we must understand that it the necessary belief in government all liberals have which truly gives meaning to this quote, by understanding there must be a government, therefore you are agreeing to the existence of other groups with large amounts of power, so as a Liberal must now consider, how can an individual’s liberty be enshrined?
With respect to governments, restrictions must be put in place for multiple reasons, firstly it’s to stop anyone being able to gain too much power, as the quote points out, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, in theory the less power man gets the less chance he will become corrupted. Secondly they must prevent the current power state to be able to take too much control, such as how Hitler did during the 1930s with the enabling act. They would be able to prevent this from happening with an entrenched constitution, meaning that for part of the document which defines how our country is run to be changed even in the slightest; a majority of a certain percentage is needed to do so. So, if the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government brought in an entrenched codified constitution which needed 66% consensus, whenever any changes are to be made to that document, 66% of the HoC must agree with the vote.
Linking in with the idea of constitutionalism is a little theory written up by John Locke, a liberal thinker in the 1700s, which is called Social Contract. Linked in with what I’ve recently been talking about, if the government become corrupted, and begin to run the country in such a way the mandate of the country is lost, the government must dissolve at once, and another election must take place. This is a precaution which Liberals would take due to their belief in the quote above.
The whole meaning of these precautions is for mainly one reason, which is to protects the liberties of an individual, and keep all of man equal, if we allow one power to gain too much power, we may in fact allow ourselves to become vulnerable to media-based brainwashing of the public, which could result in the fall of pluralism.
When looking at the cross between Classic and Modern liberals although they both believe in constrictions on government, however Modern liberals are more prone to agree with political thinkers such as Bevridge, or Keynes. Both these political thinkers expressed the need for governmental action which affects our lives, Bevridge with the welfare state, and Keynes with his theory on economic structure.
Bevridge’s view on the welfare state could be undermined by the fact a corrupted government could take advantage of this system and invest more money into certain areas, to allow some areas and groups of people to prosper as others start to become poorer and poorer. Meaning in theory the government could choose what areas in the UK become poorer and poorer, which may allow them to corrupt the system somehow, or outside investors could possibly add to this, for example.
If a billionaire decided to invest in the Conservative party, and may let it slip to Mr Cameron he would like to demolish a large area of houses to make room for a new Shopping outlet, the whole scenario may run smoother in area which lack investment and prosperity of the people.
However, the above is a complete extreme of corruption which could happen in our government, very unlikely and unrealistic, and if Liberal constraints are efficient enough, there should be no problems regarding funding not being invested properly, as there would be an independent watchdog of sorts which would monitor the actions of the government.
In the same respect for Keynes, his views on investing into the economy to promote growth could be subject to corruption, as with the above, if the government decided to invest in one company over another, to help out a rich billionaire who would like a certain company not to get bailed out so there is less competition, in theory it could happen.
This quote does not apply to only the government though, large media company’s would need constraints to prevent wide spread ownership of to many media outlets. If this was to happen in theory an individual could use his/her power to trick the public into thinking certain things depending on what is reported, whether that is dissolve the government or by more muffins from Tesco.
In conclusion, Liberals agree with the quote because it fits in with their view of human nature, being rational, but not pure as far as they are not prone to corruption. They would combat this problem by having constraints on any government, and then constraints on large businesses that may have influence on the public to much, to prevent there being any possibility for corruption.

  • There needs to be constrains on government, to stop corruption becoming a problem
  • Not only governments need constraints, but so do Large media companys
  • Locke's idea of social conrtract, as well as constitutionalism can prevent problems of corruption
  • Keyne's ideas on the econemy, and Bevridge's view on the welfare state, could potentialy be prone to corruption, although i can only see it realisticly happening with Keyne's theorys.


  1. Hmm, very interesting interpretation. Are you studying this for a class?

  2. Indeed I am, this is one of the essays i just handed in, some of it is serious bullshit I will admit because i ran our of ideas, but, you get the general jist

  3. Which uni you at, mate? What course? I've just finishing my A-Levels (first week at uni!)and would like to churn out essays like this....

  4. above all else, the media needs more restrains. corporations are too powerful as private drivers of the economy. they have also increasingly hijacked the agendas of government in the public institutions.

    good read, i look forward to seeing more of your essays.

  5. Interesting standpoint, though honestly, I've always agreed with this one Greek philosopher whose name I can't remember for the life of me who said that the only real way to prevent corruption in government is to be open to it being replaced by another form of government eventually.

  6. 2 things... One: Jump breaks, use them.
    Two: Nice, I enjoyed reading it.