Many over the centuries have sought political power for the prestige it provides. Some have sought power to bring about the changes that they wished for in their communities or societies. There are also those who seek power for the sake of power. They do not seek power for the prestige; neither do they do so to bring about any specific change. They use power just as a child would play with a toy. History has some examples Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus AD 54 of Rome, Andrew Jackson 1829 – 1837 of USA and King Leopold II (1865 – 1909) of Belgium. We recognize such leaders from the patterns of destruction that follow them. One such leader that many remember today is Adolf Hitler. I would not go any further into modern times. Many of these leaders sought wealth and power by any means necessary
Inciting Hate and Prejudice By Creating The Scapegoat
One characteristic common to these leaders is the use of groups that they considered as sub-human to achieve political ends. These men, like Hitler, were devious and as such always very careful in the choice of scapegoats. They each chose unpopular groups with limited political power. Hitler and Nero to some extent used Jews, Andrew Jackson used Native Americans and black slaves, while King Leopold II just decimated the population of the Congo Free States, the territory that later became Belgian Congo. During his reign, King Leopold II managed the whole region as his private slave plantation. The extent of the cruelty these leaders unleashed is just astounding.
The terror and dread such tyrants meted out to their less fortunate subjects is usually terrifying. That level of cruelty unfortunately ensures compliance by the favored group who more often felt special or fortunate. Posterity almost uniformly hates such leaders; unfortunately they tend to be fairly popular during their times in power. The seduction and allure of being ‘favored and protected’ by a powerful ruler is just too strong for the privileged groups. The truth is however darker than many realize or are willing to accept.
King Leopold II & Andrew Jackson Using Slavery and Legal Thievery
In his day King Leopold II was extolled as a benevolent philanthropist bringing Christianity and civilization to the Congo. Under this guise he persuaded the United States and Western European nations to recognize most of the Congo as his private property. For several years his overseers and soldiers forced Congolese to work without wages. His soldiers either killed or cut off the hands of those who resisted this slavery disguised as Christian philanthropy. In a similar fashion, Andrew Jackson signed multiple treaties with Indian tribes. Armed with these treaties he forced Native Americans off ancestral lands to territories further west of the Mississippi. His Indian Removal Act of 1830 allowed the military to force the Cherokee out of Georgia into the barren Oklahoma territory. In his defense, Andrew Jackson considered his atrocities against Native Americans as his efforts to protect them from white settlers.
Andrew Jackson’s Legacy Challenge
Though most of these tyrants have been denounced by their respective nations, they were mostly very popular during their rule. Andrew Jackson’s portrait is still on our 20 dollar bill today. He considered Native Americans as an inferior race standing in the way of economic growth and prosperity for America. His treaties sometimes obtained through lies and intimidation, made him and many of his associates very wealthy from the Native Americans land. King Leopold II virtually stole the lives of the Congolese and used the Belgian state to enrich himself. Yet he was considered a benevolent ruler. Belgians called him the Builder King. The Belgian Parliament forced him to give up the Congo only after Mark Twain’s satire King Leopold’s Soliloquy revealed his atrocities to the broader public. He ended up handing over Congo Free States to the Belgian government in 1908.
Why Are Such Leaders So Successful?
Judging by the success of these tyrants it is clear humans have not always been the best at choosing our leaders. Our history shows us worshiping one tyrant after the other. These despots are aware that by making us feel special they earned the right to do whatever they want. One great American president expressed this trick of political deception so eloquently “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Lyndon B Johnson (1963 – 1969). Johnson knew that best, he rose from poverty in the Texas Hill Country to the White House.
There will always be politicians looking for scapegoats to use to gain power. We must be very wary of such individuals, because they do not seek to serve our needs. Such politicians only stoke fear and use the emotional power of fear to fuel their rise to power. If we are foolish enough to give power to such leaders, they will not be looking for solutions when plagues descend on us. Such despots only see such tragedies as a means to strengthen their hold on power. Those of us in America today lived through what I am describing and will hopefully live to tell our children and grandchildren.
Though I will enjoy telling that story, I still do not wish this on anyone. As Christ said, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” Matthew 26:41 KJV.
By Dr. Leonard Sowah, an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland