History Shows There Is No Such Thing as Absolute Power

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‘History shows that there is no such thing as absolute power’. Discuss.

‘The undiminished ability to act in a particular way, or direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events’. Immediately one thinks of mighty Alexander, seizing every territory he set his eyes upon, or Joseph Stalin suppressing the entire population of the huge Soviet bloc with an iron fist. There are certainly individuals in history that would be regarded as absolutely powerful. Absolute power covers both being able to suppress and control opposition and support, and being able to achieve one’s aims, as both are interdependent. However, history as a study and analysis of the past through examining evidence, has shown that cultural relativism renders absolute power a much sought-after but unattainable possession; no person or organisation has been perfectly in control of their people since knowledge of other cultures has emerged, although some have attempted to claim to command it; even in the 21st Century, as seen by the North Korean rhetoric about the state’s absolute devotion to the Kim dynasty; for example, informing the population they should be willing to ‘become human bulwarks and human shields’ to defend their new leader Kim Jong-un. Since the Greeks first explored beyond their frontiers and came across cultures and religions which differed from their own, and since King Herodotus tried to pay the Greeks and Callatians to swap their respective burial practises (the Greeks burned their dead- the Callatians ate the corpse of their father) and was refused for any money, cultural relativism has existed as an obstacle to obtaining absolute power. Without cultural relativism, there are potential examples of absolute power being flouted. One that springs to mind is the ancient community who built Stonehenge. A supposedly ‘primitive’ people felt compelled to cut bluestones and transport them from south-west Wales either carrying them across hundreds of miles of mountainous and rugged terrain without technology, or by shipping them gradually over in handmade boats, before assembling them into the neat arrangement we can still see today. One prominent theory as to why this project was undertaken is that the stones are religious monuments designed to be worshipped or designed to intimidate worshippers into fearing their god. Either way, this points to a religious leader who had absolute power over his people, meaning he was able to persuade them to carry out this enormous logistical challenge. However, this essay will argue that cultural relativism has meant that apart from isolated communities such as that which built Stonehenge, no individual or organisation has possessed absolute power. On the other hand, some ancient historians would argue that the great Emperors of ancient times had absolute, autocratic power: the mighty King Darius and his vast Persian Empire, in which every provincial leader answered to him. Alexander the Great conquered almost the entire known world. Julius Caesar and his famous ‘veni, vidi, vici’ quotation, a demonstration of the ease with which he overpowered enemies. King Darius may have theoretically held absolute traditional authority over his Empire, being entitled by tradition to rule over every citizen, but it is clear that he didn’t hold absolute power. The wealthy Greek merchants in their colonies threw out Darius’s Persian provincial governors, and when Darius attempted to punish them by attacking their homeland, he was defeated. Even the fact that he had to resort to military force shows that he didn’t hold absolute power over the Greeks who were meant to answer to him as they were living in his Empire, but furthermore his military failed to preserve his power. This shows that he did not hold absolute power, and the Greek merchants rejected his leadership because they disliked it relative to the culture they were used to. Moreover, although Julius Caesar is and deserves to be recognised as an...
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