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The love of power vs. the power of love

Using the force of government to sway behavior is inimical to a free society.

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"We look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace."

So declared British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone more than a century ago. His audience surely responded then the same way audiences would today – with universal approval. But the world, perhaps more so now than when Gladstone spoke, seethes with hypocrisy. Though we say we prefer love over power, the way we behave in the political corner of our lives testifies all too often to the contrary.

Gladstone was eminently qualified to say what he did, and he sincerely meant it. He was a devout man of faith and character, lauded widely for impeccable integrity in his more than six decades of public life. Four times prime minister, he still ranks as one of the few politicians who really did "grow" in office.

He came to Parliament in the early 1830s as an ardent protectionist, opponent of reform, and defender of the statist status quo. As he watched government operate from its highest levels, he evolved into a passionate defender of liberty. When he died in 1898, his admirers were proud of a Britain strengthened by his legacy of cutting taxes, bureaucracy, and intrusive regulation. The Irish loved him because he fought hard to lighten London's heavy hand over Irish life. Biographer Philip Magnus believed that he "achieved unparalleled success in his policy of setting the individual free from a multitude of obsolete restrictions."

Gladstone knew that love and power are two very different things, often at odds with each other. Love is about affection and respect; power is about control. Someone who pursues power over others for his own personal advancement is rightly deserving of opprobrium. Gladstone's friend Lord Acton warned about how absolutely corrupting this can be. If love is a factor in such instances, it's more likely love of one's self than love of others.

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