Leadership expert John Maxwell says that the lives of those who seek power tend to follow a predictable pattern. The power chasers may start out with good intentions and the desire to use their power for good. So they work hard to acquire power and in time they achieve a measure of it. But a little power is a dangerous thing. Attaining some power, they soon want more. They become obsessed with preserving and expanding their power—and they feel justified in using it. After all, the ends justify the means, don’t they?

And that’s when corruption sets in. A person who went into business, government, education, the arts or even the ministry with the best of intentions has become a person who pursues power for power’s sake. He has become a person who is willing to step on people, to destroy careers and reputations, to do whatever it takes to maintain and expand his power.

And that is the downfall of the power chaser. His abuses are revealed for all the world to see. The corrupt CEO, politician or minister is exposed. His corruption may even land him in prison. He loses everything— his reputation, his family, his self-respect and especially his power. “Inevitably,” Maxwell concludes, “anyone who abuses power, loses power.”  

The Lesson of the Ring 

As Cal Thomas noted earlier, English historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” More recently, American novelist William Gaddis (author of AgapAgape) replied, “Power doesn’t corrupt people. People corrupt power.”

And American science fiction writer David Brin added, “It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”

This principle is illustrated in the fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. The tale revolves around an epic quest to destroy the Ring of Power before its evil force can be unleashed, resulting in destruction and enslavement throughout Middle Earth. In the story, we meet several characters who come in contact with the Ring of Power, and the way they respond to the Ring tells us a great deal about them.

When the wizard Gandalf is offered the Ring, he responds, “Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength!” Gandalf knows that even though his intentions are good, he is vulnerable to the seduction of power. He refuses the Ring so that he will not be corrupted by it. The elf-lady Galadriel is also offered the power of the Ring—and she is greatly tempted. All she has to do is take the Ring and she would become infinitely powerful—“Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me and despair!”

But she wisely refuses the Ring and escapes its corrupting power. Several characters in the book come under the spell of the Ring. Gollum, who once possessed it, is now possessed by it. The Ring is his obsession. It haunts him day and night. The power of the Ring has not only corrupted Gollum but has also truly driven him insane. 

Another tragic character is Boromir, a noble and well-intentioned man who was tempted by the power of the Ring. He wants to use the power of the Ring to do good—but his obsession with power leads him astray and destroys him.

The only character who is fit to possess the Ring is Frodo, a humble hobbit of the Shire. He has no ambition to seize power. He has no desire to control the lives of others. To him, the power of the Ring is not a prize, but a weight—a crushing burden he wishes to rid himself of as soon as possible. Tolkien wants us to know that the responsibility of power is so heavy that only the backs of the humble can carry it.