"It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible."
This is part of longer passage about the failings of governments:
"All governments suffer a recurring problem: power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted."
The theme is repeated elsewhere throughout the book:
"Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it."
"We should grant power over affairs only to those who are reluctant to hold it and then only under conditions that increase the reluctance."
I recently read Iain M. Banks new book, Transition, and discovered this particularly eloquent statement of the same basic idea:
"Only people already riddled with the internalized special pleading and self-importance that too much power brings could even start to imagine that this might be in any way sustainable."
It the conclusion of this longer reflection on the problem of life extension and/or immortality for the "wise" and the powerful:
"The old and powerful never want to let go. They always think they're both profoundly indispensable and uniquely right. They are always wrong. Part of the function of aging and dying is to let the next generation have its say, its time in the sun, to sweep away the mistakes of the previous age while, if they're lucky, retaining the advances made and the benefits accrued. It is an insane conceit. Power always drives to perpetuate itself, but this is a phenomenal extra distillation of idiocy. Only people already riddled with the internalized special pleading and self-importance that too much power brings could even start to imagine that this might be in any way sustainable."
These quotes bring to mind a number of current situations. There are myriad obvious examples of corruption among the powerful, but I'm especially struck by the applicability of these quotes to the appalling lack of term limits for elected officials AND the level of compensation enjoyed by such officials.
In my perfect world higher education would be freely available to all and would be a requirement for eligibility to vote. Those who chose to pursue higher education would also be required to repay their years of education in service work, for which they would receive a decent living wage. Those who serve well would be promoted to higher levels of authority—some of them to governing positions, as representatives of their peers—but not to never levels of pay (pay grade during service years would depend on number of dependents in the household). Once their terms of service were complete, they would be returned to the working population and would not be allowed to hold official positions again. If they were particularly passionate or motivated, they would be free to communicate their opinions to their representatives in government; they would have no official say (beyond their vote as an ordinary educated citizen, of course) in matters of state though.
OK. Now, dear readers, please start shooting holes in my utopian scheme so that I can begin work on plugging and repairing them.