Absolute power corrupts absolutely – has anything really changed since the middle ages?

Exploring aspects of people in power in the middle ages and in recent events.

I found a very interesting book today at my parent’s house. It is a book of Hungarian tales and stories compiled from the time of Turkish rule in Hungary.

One of these stories is about Görgy Dózsa (1470 – 20 July 1514), a Hungarial lower cast lord slash warrior-hero from the 15th century. A beloved figure in Hungarian history who slew Turks but was most famous for putting together an army of peasants and standing up against the feudal lords. But actually, this part of his story started with him taking a long trip to visit the king at the time to present him with all his booty that he’d taken from his conquest of the Turks. To cut a long story short, he ended up swearing allegiance to the red cross and became a crusader. As the story of Hungary’s crusade spread tens of thousands of peasants (actually they were serfs as they were at the time not owners of the lands they worked on) flocked to join his army. So many peasants joined the army that there weren’t enough of them to work the lands. This of course upset the feudal lords without end – it may have been a noble cause to fight for your religion and country but if it was at the expense of their wealth then that was no longer acceptable.

To cut a long story short, as you can imagine, Dózsa, who by that time was called ”king of the peasants” by the nobles (can you see where this story is going?) was captured in a battle. Against his captors sanctified promise he was not let free but put on ”trial” by the nobles. He was of course found guilty and to be put to death. To make an example out of him, they prepared a throne and crown for him in iron, heated it until it was glowing hot and sat him in it, with a glowing hot iron crown on his head. Then, while still alive they killed his brother and made his closest men, who had been starved for 15 days, eat from his burnt body. The noble-men or should I say ”noble” men then enforced laws that among others forbade the peasants to ever leave their lands.

A typical grisly tale from the middle ages you may think. Thank God we don’t have to live in those times, right? hm…

I also listened to Stephen Holmes, Law professor at the New York University, in an interview at UC Berkeley in the framework of a series of web-casts called ”Conversation with History” (can strongly recommend the series, it is truly enlightening). Listening of his analysis of Cheney, Rumsfeldt, Wolfowitz and Bush had a huge impact on me. Bush’s top advisers completely abused the American political system to destroy any fragment of accountability left in it. As such they were able to invade Iraq cause the death of 150 000 civilians who had never even uttered a word against the USA and kick start a downhill spiral of global politics that will take, under the best of circumstances, several generations to dig our way out of. (The last part is my conclusion about their policy)

Furthermore, as I have talked about this in previous posts, when you take away all measures of accountability, or regulations, in the economic sector, then you are handing the most greedy of the greedy a free pass to loot and pillage as much as they want. This is something the American Republican leaders have been endorsing following one of the brilliant parts of Reaganomics. So thanks to their brilliance we now not only have hundreds of thousands of people in the US who can’t afford to pay off their home loans, they no longer have jobs. And globally we have millions of people who’s only safety net is what ever the state may provide for their survival. So they are no longer making examples of people stirring up riots by burning them alive, but it seems that they value human life (other than their own) very much the same way.

But the real question is, did the people in power, the politicians and the financial institutions learn their lessons? On the brink of total global collapse the finance sector felt the cold bony fingers of panic on their necks and they did make their way to the governments begging for bail-outs. Bail-outs paid by tax-money, from the people they screwed over in the first place. A couple of weeks ago, however, ten US banks decided to pay back a sum amounting to 68 billion USD. So instead of stimulating the economy as intended, they pay back the money so that they can pay bonuses to themselves again.

In the middle of US government trying to save tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of jobs by overseeing a merger between Chrysler and Fiat, Indiana’s Republican state treasurer, Richard Mourdock goes on a campaign saying ”The United States government has, I continue to believe, acted egregiously by taking away the traditional rights held by secured creditors”. Of course, secured creditors in a bankruptcy are the people and institutions who are on the top of the list of of those who will be receiving their money back once the company’s assets have been sold off.

Unfortunately, this too seems to be the behavioral pattern of those in power. As Stephen Holmes pointed out, in the interview mentioned above, the first laws were not created to protect the interest of the many but the interest of the few. The irony today, in the financial sector is that the rich want the government to keep its nose out of the economy, because lack of control and oversight gives them more power. And yet on the flip side of the coin, the same people want more and harsher laws protecting them from those who may consider taking a piece of their wealth.

Once again, as reported by the Telegraph, President Obama is shining a light at the end of the tunnel. Commenting on people urging the government to get out of the economy:
“Wall Street seems to maybe have a shorter memory about how close we were to the abyss than I would have expected”. He gets it, and is not afraid of saying it. Hopefully more people in power will start to get it, and not be bought by it.

So for all the busy people in positions of power, who have the common sense to learn from history, here are some quick advices on what to do next time you need to make a decisions:

  • Once you are faced with making a decision, any decision, stop.
  • Think back to the days, weeks, months when things were their darkest for the global economy.
  • How did you feel?
  • What were your options, as a private person and as a person in power?
  • Now remember, every time you make a decision that curbs ordinary people’s means of sustaining themselves they feel the same notion of helplessness.
  • How many times would you have allowed yourself to feel that way before you took a stand?
  • How many times would you have allowed yourself to feel that way before you took a violent stand?

The choice my beloved ones are in your hands. With power comes responsibility, or, according to history, self-destruction…