The Vices of Power or Ten Signs That "something is rotten in the state of Denmark"

Well, actually, nothing is wrong with Denmark. Hamlet's phrase just describes the situation in which several countries in the world still find themselves, where the temptations and vices of power have taken precedence over justice and democracy.

May 29, 2023 - 07:28
The Vices of Power or Ten Signs That "something is rotten in the state of Denmark"
Image by Claudio González Rothen / Pixabay

"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely". This phrase by Lord Aucton is a classic definition of the evils of power. In fact, the full sentence is even more specific: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely in such manner that great men are almost always bad men."

The exercise of power, from best to worst, tends to create vices, generate cronyism, foment nepotism. The vices of power refer to the negative or corrupting tendencies and behaviors that individuals in positions of power may exhibit. 

These vices can arise due to the influence, authority, and control that power grants, and they can have detrimental effects on both the individuals wielding power and those affected by their decisions and actions. Some of the main vices of power include:

  1. Corruption: Power can tempt individuals to engage in corrupt practices, such as bribery, embezzlement, favoritism, and nepotism, for personal gain or to maintain their position of authority.

  2. Abuse of Authority: Individuals in power may abuse their authority by using it to suppress dissent, manipulate others, or violate the rights of others.

  3. Arrogance and Hubris: The feeling of superiority and invincibility that comes with power can lead to arrogance and hubris, making it difficult for those in power to accept criticism or feedback.

  4. Lack of Accountability: Some people in power may use their influence to evade accountability for their actions, making it challenging for others to hold them responsible for their decisions and their consequences.

  5. Entitlement: Power can foster a sense of entitlement, where individuals believe they deserve special treatment and privileges, leading to a disconnection from the experiences and needs of ordinary people.

  6. Cronyism: People in power may surround themselves with loyalists and allies, engaging in cronyism by appointing or promoting individuals based on personal relationships rather than merit.

  7. Secrecy and Lack of Transparency: The concentration of power can lead to decisions being made behind closed doors, without transparency or public scrutiny, which can foster suspicion and erode trust in the government or organization.

  8. Suppressing Dissent: Individuals in power may attempt to silence or suppress dissenting voices and opposition, limiting freedom of speech and undermining democratic principles.

  9. Self-Preservation: The desire to maintain power can lead individuals to prioritize their own interests over the welfare of the people they are supposed to serve.

  10. Divide and Conquer: Some in power may use tactics to divide and pit groups against each other to maintain control, exploiting differences for their benefit.

It is crucial for societies and institutions to be vigilant against these vices of power and to establish mechanisms and checks and balances to prevent abuse and ensure accountability. Transparency, strong democratic institutions, independent media, and an informed and engaged citizenry are essential in curbing the negative effects of power and promoting responsible governance.

Yamanu Chisisi Member of EA Coordination Team