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Power: Complicated

Power in Context

"Lord Acton’s over-quoted dictum that 'all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely' deserves the modest credit of noting one among many psychological phenomena that can produce the loss of freedom. Individual power-holders may indeed be corrupted by power; but they may be corrupted by weakness, too, and by indolence, compassion, or stupidity, by not having to take responsibility and by being protected from it by others. And when corruption does associate with power, who is to say which is the active element in the mix? Is it not true to say that 'the office displays the man'? The blame for society’s corruptions cannot be laid uncomplicatedly on power, since the exercise of power is always determined by the possibilities which society itself affords. In a social description of sin we are taken beyond the idea of a particular agent’s distorted acts to the distorted relations which constrain the possibilities of acting."

-Oliver O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 2005: 80-81

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