Does Power Corrupt or Are the Corruptible Attracted to Power? 

Corruptible Book Cover

It’s a familiar story: A corrupt leader rises to power, is often willingly allowed to do so, and proceeds to leave a trail of destruction in his wake (it’s usually, but not always, a male). We see this time and time again throughout history and across the globe. But we never seem to learn. How can we account for this? 

The conventional answer is to blame power itself, as in the proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as political scientist Brian Klaas explains in his latest book, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, things are not so simple. While power can indeed corrupt, more often bad people are drawn to positions of power in the first place, and pursue these positions within systems that actually encourage bad behavior. To ensure that the right people are placed in power, we have to do more than focus only on individuals; we need to fix the underlying systems that allow them to thrive. As Klaas wrote:

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Defending the Institutions of Democracy Against the Enemies of Truth 

The bizarre world we currently inhabit—a world about as far removed from “the age of reason” as one could possibly imagine—is a world where “28% of Americans believe that Bill Gates wants to use vaccines to implant microchips in people,” according to a recent YouGov poll. And as if that weren’t cause for concern enough, roughly the same percentage of Americans (26%) believe that the sun revolves around the earth, and not the other way around, according to a 2012 National Science Foundation survey.

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The Dark Side of Meritocracy

A meritocracy is a political system in which economic goods and political power are vested in individuals on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement, rather than on wealth, social class, or other arbitrary prejudices. 

The principle is simple and easily illustrated with an example. Let’s say you’re hiring someone to perform a job, in this case a mechanic to repair your car. Who should you choose? In the interest of both efficiency (the mechanic’s capacity to quickly make affordable, quality repairs) and fairness (rewarding people for quality work), you would want to select the mechanic with the best reputation and ability—in other words, on the basis of merit.

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Jill Lepore on Living Up to the Ideals of the US Founding

In an age of political polarization, Jill Lepore reminds us, in her latest book These Truths, that there has never been an age without political polarization. The faintest familiarity with United States history should convince you that political conflict has deep roots.

Some examples: the revolutionaries and loyalists fought vigorously over the issue of independence during the Revolutionary War; the Federalists and Anti-Federalists fought over federal versus state rights; the Mexican-American War was vigorously defended and opposed, as was the Indian removal policy, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson; proslavery and antislavery advocates fought intensely over whether new states should be admitted as free states or slave states; business has battled against labor since the 19th century; and the equality of races and sexes was vehemently defended and opposed for virtually all of US history.

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