26 March 2019
Absolutism and Corruption
Power is something that everyone strives for. It gives them a sense of purpose in life and the ability to control what’s happening around them, which can sometimes be difficult. But some people aim for a different kind of power: absolute power. Absolute power is when a leader holds supreme authority over a group of people. This power makes it so that there are no checks and balances in place, and the ruler holds all control in his or her hands. Absolute power almost inevitably leads to corruption.
In Lord of The Flies, a novel by William Golding, a group of young boys are stranded on an island without any adults around to help them. They decide that in order to maintain civility, they must elect a chief. Ralph, a young boy on the island, is voted leader, but soon after, the group starts to split up. Ralph leads one group and Jack, the leader of the choir-boys, unofficially leads the second. Jack is more interested in hunting and getting meat while Ralph wants to get rescued as soon as possible. It is clear that Jack’s style of ruling consists of a more absolutist approach than Ralph’s. In a conversation between Ralph and Jack, “‘And you shut up! Who are you, anyway? Sitting there telling people what to do. You can't hunt, you can't sing—’ ‘I'm chief. I was chosen.’ ‘Why should choosing make any difference? Just giving orders that don't make any sense—’” (91). This quote shows how Jack believes that power should be distributed. In criticizing Ralph about not being able to hunt or sing, Jack actually intends to call attention to his own skill at both of those things. He wants to ignore the democracy of the island and use the strongest person (himself, in his own eyes) as the chief. This could indicate that Jack believes in absolute power, and more importantly, that he should be the absolute ruler, as the quote occurred before he became an unofficial chief. Later, he leads his own group of boys, and uses his absolutist ideas as chief. Golding writes, “‘Give me a drink.’ Henry brought him a shell and he drank... Power lay in the brown swell of his forearms: authority sat on his shoulder and chattered in his ear like an ape,” (150). After obtaining his absolute power, Jack becomes corrupt. He no longer believes that he has to do any work, because he is the leader. This quote contrasts with Ralph’s style of leadership, which often sees him working and cooperating with the boys in whatever needs to be done. For example, he helps construct shelters, and builds the fire that he thinks may help them get rescued. On the other hand, Jack forces his “subjects” to do even the simplest of tasks for him, like getting a cup of water. Ralph is not an absolute ruler, and he is not corrupt. Jack is an absolute ruler, and he becomes corrupt almost as soon as he gains that power, if not before.
Vladimir Putin was appointed President of Russia in 2000, and was later officially elected into the position. He has been ruling as the President for a total of 14 years, with a four-year gap in between terms. Although he fought against it early in his presidency, he is widely considered to be one of the most corrupt leaders in modern times. Even though Putin was elected by the people to be President, the fact that he has been in power for so long may have contributed to his corruption. Just like in Lord of The Flies, there are examples of Putin’s corruption before he became the President. One example is when he was the Deputy Mayor of Saint Petersburg. A quote from pri.org explains the scenario: “The government gave the company 2.5 billion rubles for a construction project. Nothing was constructed. Instead, former police investigator Andrey Zykov says the money went to vacation villas in Spain for Putin and his cronies. No one punished Deputy Mayor Putin,” (Campbell). Because Putin was in power, he believed that normal consequences didn’t apply to him-- and in a way, they don’t. This power quickly began to cloud his judgment and ability to be a fair leader. He forgot the difference between right and wrong because he was never reprimanded for anything, This ultimately led to his corruption. When he became an absolute leader, the corruption became even more evident. A more extreme example of his corruption comes from 2015, where Mikhail Lesin was found dead. According to a Russian Corruption Report, “Lesin died from blunt-force injuries to his head, neck, and torso. Lesin had supposedly been in contact with the Justice Department and the FBI to schedule an interview about the inner workings of RT [Russia Today] the day after he died, which raised questions about the involvement of his former Kremlin allies,” (Massaro et. al. 2). Russian Today is a television program paid for by the Russian Government. Multiple FBI agents have said that they believe Putin or his allies are behind the murder. This isn’t the only case of Putin allegedly having people killed. If this allegation is true, his corruption has gone from giving money to cronies to being an accessory of murder. He knows that he will most likely never get aquitted for his crimes. He believes he is above the law. His absolute power made him forget what it was like to be a regular citizen and blinded him of the consequences of his actions.
Jack’s corruption is different from that of Putin. The result of Putin’s corruption involves money, embezzlement, and his disregard for the law; but on the island in Lord of The Flies, there is no money and there is no official law. Jack’s corruption is shown in the way he treats the other boys, and how he views himself. Although the circumstances and examples of their particular corruptions are different, both of these people were led to this by their absolute power. Jack’s descent into corruption was exponential: his small actions in the beginning of the story are clearly corrupt, but they do not have as big an impact as do his actions later in the book. Golding writes, “The chief [Jack] was sitting there, naked to the waist, his face blocked in white and red. The tribe lay in a semicircle before him. The newly beaten and united Wilfred was sniffing noisy in the background,” (160). At this point in the book, Jack is completely corrupt. He has surrounded himself by people who will do whatever he says and will only agree with him. Whenever someone disagrees with him, like in this quote, he punished them horribly and cruelly. If given the chance, he most likely would’ve killed Wilfred, seeing as he had Roger kill Piggy earlier in the book. By appointing himself the supreme leader, there is no one to challenge Jack's authority, so corruption occurs.
Power can be a good thing. In the examples of Lord of the Flies, Ralph as chief helped the island gain order instead of the chaos that was inevitable with no leader. Leaders in nations with checks and balances in place can do wonders for that country. But, absolute power can lead to corruption. For Jack and Vladimir Putin, it did. Absolute power clouded their judgment and made them believe they were above all law. Absolute power may seem attractive to some, but it can cause many problems within the community they are leading.
Campbell, Bradley. “Five Corrupt Moves That Helped Make Putin the Most Powerful Man in Russia.” Public Radio International. www.pri.org/stories/2015-01-13/five-corrupt-moves-helped-make-putin-most-powerful-man-russia.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Penguin Books. 2006
Massaro, Paul, et al. Corruption in Russia: An Overview. U.S. Helsinki Commision, 23 Oct. 2017.