Since he’s become president, Donald Trump has become enmeshed in a power struggle with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over that country’s relentless development of its nuclear capabilities. The stakes could not be higher — a misstep could mean a conflagration that engulfs all of civilization.
Despite having the world’s most powerful military at his disposal, the consequences of using such overwhelming force is itself a check against Trump’s power. On the other hand, despite being the leader of a small country, and because Kim Jong-un is unpredictable, he has power disproportionate to his military strength. For many people, it was encouraging that Trump announced earlier this month that he would meet with Kim Jong-un in late May.
Such is the nature of power in the modern age.
Throughout history, people have pondered over the concept of power and how attaining it changes an individual. Abraham Lincoln considered this when he said “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Since time immemorial, power has tested a leader’s character. During the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli famously meditated on the amorality of how power is exercised in his book “The Prince,” written as a guide for his patron, the Florentine statesman Lorenzo De Medici.
Many of the great rulers and leaders have used their power to achieve prosperity for their people, creating laws that brought stability to a civilization, and raising living standards. Many other leaders abused their power in the name of some visioned future or to simply gain more power. They brought war, misery, genocide, and famine — speaking truth to Lord Acton’s axiom that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
With these considerations in mind, 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of 50 of the most powerful leaders of all time.