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History Wars at the ROM – Power Corrupts Canadian Politicians

No Comments 25 October 2011

Here is a copy of a speech I gave at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) History Wars debate.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men…” So goes Lord Acton’s famous 1887 aphorism.  The examples to support Acton’s claim are numerous. One only has to Google “dictators,” warlords” and “fascists,” to retrieve a list bearing the stories of Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin Dada and Adolph Hitler, to name a few.

Without question, these men committed horrific crimes.  And, viewed in isolation, one could be forgiven for falling back on the notion that power corrupts every politician.

One can also comb through evening news to witness the tribulations of governors, senators and mayors who have been caught with their nose deep in the public trough.  From the horrific to the benign, there is no shortage of example to demonstrate the prevalence of political corruption.

With this disclaimer behind us, we need to more closely examine the notion that “power corrupts”?  Tonight’s debate presents us with an opportunity to free ourselves from the simply sensational reporting of today’s 24/7 news networks to truly consider whether the notion of corruption in high places is as prevalent as it appears.  The question should be, “are politicians more corruptible with the attainment of power than their counterparts in other spheres of endeavor”?

With that in mind, I’ll cite the examples of Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, media tycoons and possessors of power stemming from capital and influence.  Do their recent indiscretions demean the reputations of all journalists, or are they isolated incidents reflective of individual overweening ambition? Continue Reading


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