All The King’s Men – A story of how power corrupts

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Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. -Lord Acton

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. – John F. Kennedy

Willie Stark sure could have used some of that cleansing from poetry. He begins in a rural country seat. He gets a law degree through correspondence and takes on cases that cause powerful people to notice him. He wins more cases as he presents himself as a man of the people. He becomes Governor. His soul is seduced by power. Eventually, the power against which he first fought corrupts and destroys him completely.

Willie starts out with the right motives, but as he grows in stature in his state, he loses the essential innocence and decency that once defined his character. He is involved in making shady deals and using threats and intimidation to get more and more power.

A judge offers his resignation as attorney general. Stark accuses the judge of not wanting to get his hands dirty. The judge warns Jack Burden, who is the journalist following Stark, that he is nothing more than a hatchet man to do Stark’s bidding. It is fitting that his last name is Burden because Stark becomes Jack’s burden. He has to keep doing damage control for Stark, defending his actions more and more. He becomes infected by Stark’s evil, that rises to suffocate the goodness that once defined Jack.

Jack tries to defend Stark to his friends. “Out of evil comes good. The end justifies the means. “The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote in Electra (c 409 B.C.), ‘The end excuses any evil,’ a thought later rendered by the Roman poet Ovid as ‘The result justifies the deed’ in ‘Heroides’ (c. 10 B.C.).

The scary thing about this saying is that is how Adolf Hitler rose to power. A failed painter and Lance Corporal in the Bavarian Army in World War I, says he will offer the German people financial stability and work for all, but it comes with a great price of an evil campaign of death and terror against the Jewish people. Many see him as the saviour who is leading them out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Time will reveal the error of their thinking.

Stark’s evil is insidious. It taints everything it touches. He thinks that he is above the law, a power unto himself.

I won’t tell you further details of the story, because the full impact of it must be seen with your own eyes.

Yes, poetry does have its own cleansing power. The Bible itself has its own purging poetry. Perhaps, if Willie Stark had read that restoring Biblical poetry, he wouldn’t have been corrupted by the dark power that destroyed his soul.

Generous in love—God, give grace!

Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down

Psalm 51: 1-3 The Message

David Hume, who was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist wrote, “The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.”

Pray for your politicians. It has been my personal experience that most of them I have met have their heart in the right place. They work hard for the constituents they serve. Sadly, some as they gain more power lose their identity. They become lost, not quickly, but slowly, pieces at a time, until they no longer recognize themselves. They lose that shiny idealism that they started out with.

None of us are immune to that corrupting god of power. We all have to be careful we keep our heart free of that seductive snake. It can poison you and suffocate your goodness. The CEO of a major corporation all the way down to an administrative assistant can fall prey to its encroaching darkness.

Power can accomplish great things, but All The King’s Men is a stark reminder for all of us that it can have a dark side.

Let us all keep a pure heart when we are given power.  With it comes a great responsibility to use the gift God has given you for His kingdom work, and not your own ambition.

Let us all use the power God gives us for His honour and His glory. Let us work as His servants of grace, truth and a beauty that we seek by God’s wisdom to find in each soul.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me, and know my anxieties;

And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting”

(Psalm 139:23-24, New King James Version).


“Wise Words and Wives’ Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New” by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).



About osborne2029

I enjoy spending time with people just having a coffee or talking about life, philosophy, religion, politics or sharing a favorite joke or story. We learn from one another as we interact and share our joys, challenges and even our times of sadness. I enjoy reading, writing, singing and sharing in the blessing of community whether that is one on one or in groups. I'm married and am powned by two kitties named Sir William of Lounge a.k.a. Sir Lounge a Lot and Princess Catherine of Chaos a.k.a. Her Royal Highness Catherine of Englehart. I m in an M.A.-Ph.D program with St. James the Elder Theological Seminary to train to become a psychotherapist and priest. Let us pray for and reach out to each other with kindness, love and an embracing compassion. We can working together be servants with two open hands to those in need so that hate, indifference and inequality would lose and love will win. The peace and abounding joy of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Posted on February 9, 2014, in thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. power and absolute lack of it have immense power of corrupting a person!

  2. I watched the movie the other night and was reminded how much I like Robert penn Warren

  3. I fully agree with you. Sadly, many people with chronic conditions are left without help because of the attitude that exists with some people that the ends does justify the means. I submit that reasons are found or created to deny people the care they need.

    We should not be deluded. There are those in power, who say that they are there to help people in need. As they get more power, I believe they begin to lose the reason why they got into public service to begin with. They get brownie points with the public by saying they are saving the taxpayer money by weeding out the con artists in the system. Having worked in social services, I know there will always be those who seek to defraud the system, but they are in the minority. What they fail to tell the public is that the real bottom line has nothing to do with caring for people’s needs. It is in the final analysis the bottom line. How much money can we save and look good to the electorate?

    This is not merely my own opinion. It is the sad and defeating experience of many with chronic conditions and disabilities. They are regarded as the weak, the vulnerable, those so beaten and worn down by the injustices they have experienced. They cave in. They accept what table scraps of help or any that are offered.

    Is it any wonder that those who are abused by those in the government in power over them give in, resign from life and commit suicide either actively or by simply giving up. Then, those who believe that the ends justifies the means win. They have given the masses what their itching ears want to hear. You have saved us money. The story that remains hidden, that is swept under the carpet, is that this savings is accomplished by hurting people, by denying them the care and support they need.

    Those who have then become corrupted by the power, by the system that lacks compassion and truly only sees the bottom line, will say, “The ends justifies the means.” Look, taxpayer at all the money we are saving you. Yes, there are short-term savings as the cost of home support care is reduced. But there will be a longer term cost that those who have stopped caring won’t tell you about. Their only concern is that you vote for them. See, we saved you millions of dollars.

    I would sharply remind those who harm any one of God’s children that the Bible is quite explicit on what will happen to them. “And I tell you too, that the man who disturbs the faith of one of the humblest of those who believe in me would be better off if he were thrown into the sea with a great mill-stone hung round his neck!”(Mark 9:42, J. B. Phillips New Testament).

    Those who abuse the power entrusted to them need to be very sternly told that there is a very real hell for those who hurt any of God’s children. God is not ambiguous on this point. He is clear and direct.

    In the province of Ontario people with disabilities are getting less support, not more. The Assisted Devices Program will not cover the cost for those needing assisted devices, who aren’t in a power chair from morning until night. Those who can use a walker even part of the day but can’t get out on their own are left out in the cold. How do I know this? It is my own personal experience being on Ontario Disability.

    Because I don’t need a power chair from morning to night, I won’t be getting a power chair through the Assisted Devices Program. It means nothing to the Wynne government that people like me have neurodegenerative disorders affecting our mobility.

    What about a person’s right to get out of their home?

    The ends justifies the means. We don’t care about you or what you say you need. Look at all the money we are saving the taxpayer. In the grand scheme of that sober reality you mean nothing to us. We’re more concerned about looking good in the eyes of the public.

    People on Ontario Disability are having to go to welfare, known as Ontario Works, for more of the things they need. I submit this is the way the government of Kathleen Wynne can say that more money should be allocated to welfare, which is intended to be a short-term program.

    Under the unction of the Holy spirit as these words flow with ease, those who harm any one of God’s children will be held accountable by God for their actions. They will face God’s justice, which always includes the availability of his mercy.

    If they think I will stop fighting for those who can fight no longer, for those who have given up, they can think again.

    I will use all the skills God has given me to fight for the rights of those with disabilities and chronic health conditions, to get the help they need.

    You’re right, totally right. The ends never justifies the means. I will bring the Willie Starks out into the light of day, where people can see their true colours.

    Please pray for me in this difficult journey.


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