One of my favorite novels of all time is All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. I read it my senior year in high school and it was my first introduction to the corrupting nature of power and the role of politicians in our society. The novel has since been turned into a movie starring Sean Penn who I could never take seriously as a politician due to his role in I Am Sam. I can’t help it.
In this novel, Willie Stark is an innocent back-country lawyer who is sick of power-hungry politicians and their empty promises. Against all odds he wins the support of voters and becomes governor of Alabama. He is a man ‘for the people’–promising to build proper hospitals and schools so that everyone can live decent lives. In the end, however, Willie falls prey to the very thing that caused him to run in the first place. His greed and hunt for power destroy everything that he once valued including family, truth, and nobility. Furthermore his influence brings down everyone surrounding and supporting him as well.
I recently had a friend arrested and taken to the Cache County Jail for an unpaid fix-it ticket. He had called the clerk’s office earlier that day to assure them he would be in the next day to pay it. The police officer was doing his duty–a duty and power that WE gave him–to get such a dangerous criminal off the streets to protect us and other citizens of Cache Valley.
I think Animal Farm brings up a central question about the power we give politicians as well. We want our elected officials to do good–to keep our cities clean and free of violence. But at what cost? How much are we willing to give up in order to allow others to decide what is ‘good’ for everyone, and furthermore allowing them to decide the path to take to achieve those ends.