I looked up the word “powerism” in my encyclopedic Webster’s, and it wasn’t there – so I think that I may be coining the word. In my personal lexicon “powerism” means the pursuit and wielding of power for its own sake. A “powerist” is a person who craves power simply for the rush of exercising it. For such people, power is their life quest, the Holy Grail for which they will make all sacrifices. They crave power like an alcoholic craves alcohol.
When I looked up the word “power” in the same dictionary, I found no less than 26 definitions. The most basic one was the first one: “ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.” In that sense, we all have at least some power.
In another sense, power is “the possession of control or command over others…” This is the kind of power that powerists most often seek. When it comes to this kind of power, I like Samuel P. Huntington’s definition better than the 26 I found in the dictionary: “…power is the ability of one person or group to change the behavior of another person or group” (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, page 83). That says it better than anything else. Powerists are people who seek to change the behavior of others simply because they can. They revel in their ability to make others think, say or do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
As Huntington points out, “Behavior may be changed through inducement, coercion, or exhortation, which require the power-wielder to have economic, military, institutional, demographic, political, technological, social or other resources” (ibid.).
When powerists achieve their goal, that is to possess power, they seek to control as many resources as they can – especially money. They realize that “money is power.” A person without money is relatively powerless in the world of those who do have it. Which is better, to be powerless, or to be powerful? The answer is clearly the latter. Hence we all have at least some incentive to acquire or accumulate power.
Powerists & Non-powerists
But remember, a powerist loves power for its own sake. He is addicted to power. He craves it like a drug addict craves his drugs. A non-powerist seeks only enough power to ensure personal security and the ability to achieve what he or she has chosen to achieve in life. For such people, power is a tool, a means of getting things done. It is not an end in itself; however it is certainly an antidote for powerlessness. To have no power is to be helpless and vulnerable in a largely predatory world.
When powerists accumulate power, they inevitably fulfill Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Political scientist R.J. Rummel takes it one step farther; he says, “Absolute power kills.”
How power is wielded depends upon the state of being of the person(s) wielding it. A corrupt person will wield power corruptly. Saddam Hussein and his sons were, and perhaps are, corrupt people. While in power, they tortured, maimed and murdered. Why? because they could. They were powerists. Within the borders of Iraq, they wielded all the power there was. They controlled wealth, weapons, jobs, and all other resources. When they exercised power, they did so in their own malevolent interests, and at the expense of all who were now part of their clique – i.e. the now notorious “Gang of 55.”
When the Wicked Bear Rule…
Saddam and his gang of thugs left in their toxic wake a trail of broken lives, broken bodies, broken families and a ravaged country. While the wicked bore rule, the people mourned (cf. Proverbs 29:2). In light of this, consider the words of Qoheleth (one who convokes assembly), the writer of Ecclesiastes: “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see what will be after him?
“So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that were done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter”(Ecclesiastes 3:22 – 4:1).
Each person on this planet is created equally in the image of God. Each has a God-given right to “rejoice in his own works” for “that is his portion.” We each have the right to live up to our potential, to make a contribution, and to leave the world a better place than we found it. As the US Constitution says, each of us has the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are God-given, inalienable, rights, not rights granted by the dictator du jour.
In Saddam’s Iraq, no one had any rights except those granted by the dictator, and they were precious few. Until now, oppressed Iraqis had no comforter. They were powerless — vulnerable to the whims of the monster in whose person all power was concentrated. Now, for the first time in decades, they are free. How they use that freedom is another matter.
One of the proverbs King Solomon collected reads: “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree; Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found” (Proverbs 37:35-36).
Saddam Hussein and his sons wielded great power. Now, God has apparently deemed that is time to remove them from power (cf. Daniel 4:32b). Saddam was, now he “is not.” Once he spread himself like a green bay tree, casting a dark and foreboding shadow over the Iraqi landscape. Now, hopefully, he has passed from the scene, never to wield power on this planet again. (Of course he could crop up in cahoots with Bin Ladin or Syria’s Baathist dictator.)
Saddam Hussein was a type of which there are many. He was a powerist. He sought, and wielded, power for its own sake without moral restraint. Others like him still wield power in the world. Millions of people mourn because on the side of their oppressors there is unchecked power. We should pray for them, and do what we can to liberate them as we have liberated the Iraqis and the Afghans, and as we did all of Europe at the end of WW II.
Would God that someone would issue another deck of “most wanted” cards that would include the rest of the world’s tyrants, monsters and ruling thugs. Praise God that this regime has been removed from power, and that the Iraqi people have, for the first time in many years, a chance for freedom so that “every man can rejoice in his own works.”