With Greater Power Comes Greater Responsibilty


Content Planning

  • Key Terms: Power, Responsibility
  • Key Themes: Corruption, Self-restraint, Despotism, Leadership, etc.

Structure Planning

  • First we must establish beyond doubt that whether we are going with the statement or arguing against the statement. This statement is almost an universal truth, thus, it would be better to support the argument and substantiate it. Thus, in first part of essay, we must establish the statement with its elaboration either through, similar quotes from prominent leaders or thinkers or examples. (One/third of total length)
  • Connect the theme to current scenario in India (most of the essays asked in exam have some current relevance). In this case the theme is such that the essay can be easily connected to Indian Political system.
  • Now we need to devote the second half of essay into the choice, which makes powerful good or bad, with ample examples and real-world events. Similarly we must broaden the concept of irresponsibility here and define what possible shortcomings can be attributed as misuse or improper use of power.
  • In the conclusion, we must establish, that power is not bad and not necessarily affects people badly. It’s the abuse of power which is bad and thus, powerful must behave with responsibility.


Power is multipronged sword. Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out that power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best. And as the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

However, power does not always lead to distortion, especially if it is used with responsibility. Power gives us control and freedom. The immense control that comes with power may help us to do positive things, welfare and development works for the poor, weak and meek; the deserving and performers. Freedom that comes with power kindles our hidden potential, courage, entrepreneurship and creativity. Nevertheless, unfettered freedom may make us headstrong, megalomaniac, a believer in one-upmanship. If power leads to distortion, then it must be blended with responsibility. Power may distort our character in the absence of responsibility whether we are a leader, business tycoon, politician or anything else.

The greater the amount of power, the greater is the chance of such distortions. Edmund Burke, a great philosopher said, ‘The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.’ Power has the potential of making one arrogant, indifferent, cruel and unscrupulous. It could be understood well by a simile- The grip and balance (responsibility) should be very reliable and strong if we are driving with a great speed on a very high altitude (power). Therefore, responsibility (grip and balance) prevents misuse of power. Higher the power, higher is the need for responsibility.

In an Oscar winning movie the Schindler’s list, a business tycoon named Schindler, says to a drunken Colonel of Hitler who is aiming to shoot at two resting labours in a labour camp… that ‘power is that you can forgive, that you can control yourself’…, the Colonel who himself was badly drunk, responds… ‘I think you are drunk’.

Hitler’s Colonels had immense power, and with this power they set the records of crimes against humanity rather than doing any good. No doubt, power beyond a limit blurs our vision and takes heart out of our bodies if we do not choose to be wise and humane. Winston S. Churchill rightly said, ‘The price of greatness is responsibility.

If one has immense power, he/she is under the constant watch and glare of public or media. One mistake or aberration can tarnish the hard earned power and image of people of substance. We know about the Watergate scandal or private life aberrations of great American Presidents Nixon and Bill Clinton respectively, how these irresponsible acts spoilt their image.

People enjoying the seat of power raise expectations of the people and any failure on their part to come up to the expectations of the people may make their thrones of power unstable. The new Prime Minister of India, for example, is being considered by millions of Indians as a ‘rainmaker’, an apostle of hope, who has medicines or quick heals for all the malaises that India is currently facing. In such a situation, if he fails to come up to the expectations for people, the people will be disappointed and they may change their views. It is, therefore, being said that the current Prime Minister has got no honeymoon period. The day of assessment started from the day he assumed power. The previous government was successful in implementing many welfare and development programmes, but it was marked by policy paralysis on several fronts, especially in giving clearance to development projects and checking corruption. People were disappointed and it was reflected in their electoral mandate in 2014 elections. The American Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney rightly said during his campaign speech that leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses. But the last government of India fell into the fallacy of excuses. Despite its several good works, people rejected the government.

The people with great power are not spared even for decisions that went wrong despite all their good intentions.

It is because sometimes the damages are of such an extent that they are unforgettable or immitigable. India’s first Prime Minister was a great statesman, but he is criticized for his ‘forward policy’ regarding China that unexpectedly led to Indo-China war ending in a humiliating debacle for India. The error was not due to irresponsibility, but the effects were far reaching. Mahatma Gandhi, a man of highest integrity and truth, is still scrutinized critically about his decision in Tripuri Congress in 1939 which compelled Netaji to quit the post of Congress President. It was not an irresponsible act or malafide act, but even then it was a decision that affected natural leadership to grow.

People with power are respected by people not because they generate fear or not by their titles but good deeds. Vivekananda the great spiritual master bolstered the image of India as the spiritual guru of the world but there are other spiritual gurus whose irresponsible behavior has eroded the faith of people in religion and spiritualism. In fact responsibility means doing the assigned tasks, fulfilling the commitments, standing by the side of truth and justice, helping the meek and the poor, etc. There are bureaucrats and technical experts who delivered what they were assigned to do and they are worshipped by the people. The pioneer of nuclear research in India Homi Jahangir Bhabha or Sridharan, head of Delhi Metro or the Varghese Kurian of Amul fame have become iconic. The billionaires like Bill Gates, George Soros, Azim Premzi or Sachin Tendulkar have become philanthropists beyond comparison because they feel that after their success in life, they have responsibilities towards society which gave them wealth and power. On the other hand there are examples of so many irresponsible authorities who earned bad names as they impeded the process of welfare and development, stole from public exchequer, etc. These people are much known for showing the ugly face of power and wealth. This includes erring politicians and bureaucrats among others.

One of the greatest irresponsibility is inaction. Great philosopher John Stuart Mill rightly points out that, ‘aperson may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, a nd in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.’ People in power cannot afford to be inactive if, for example, poverty is worsening or law and order is deteriorating or civil strife takes place or natural disaster strikes. The people who have power can make difference by their decisions and actions. In the crucial moments, it is the people in power who people look up to. If the leaders cannot lead when darkness prevails or hopes are shattered then who can? It is the responsibility of people in power to take lead in such crucial moments. Wealth is power. Knowledge is power.

Political authority is power. People expect people in power to do something that makes their lives beautiful

Sigmund Freud said that, ‘most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.’ We have a tendency to take the credits, but we are afraid of taking responsibilities of failures. Standing neutral and being a fence watcher is always easier than participating in an act and having the courage to accept errors and omissions. Our real stuff is what we do when we are in power.

Abraham Lincoln rightly pointed out, ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’

Power gives us rights, opportunities and priced possessions. John D. Rockefeller, one of the pioneering industrialists of the US once said, ‘Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation, every possession, a duty.’ And devoid of these attributes power becomes useless and unproductive. Power should ideally make us more enterprising, more creative and more caring and sensitive. If power consists of these qualities, it yields the best results- be it individual life or social life. Eleanor Roosevelt rightly says that in the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. Power gives freedom to do whatever one likes. Bob Dylan rightly says, ‘A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.’ There are notorious examples of dictators in the world history who misused their powers- Pol Pot in Cambodia, Idi Ameen in Uganda, and Saddam Husain in Iraq, etc. They have been described as tyrants in history. On the other hand history saw people in power, who guided the world to peace and prosperity, to name a few, Abraham Lincoln,Roosevelt, Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc. are remembered for their positive contributions which flowed from their responsible behavior. In ultimate analysis power is not a means to corrupt, it is the human beings who use or misuse it. William Gaddis says, ‘Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.

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