At the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump was enmeshed in a power struggle with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over that country’s development of nuclear capabilities. The stakes could not be higher — a misstep could mean a devastating war.
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 is unpredictable, he has power disproportionate to his military strength. For many people, it was encouraging that Trump met with Kim last June and will meet with the North Korean leader again in a summit in Vietnam later this month.
Throughout history, people have pondered over the concept of power and how attaining it changes an individual. President 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 raised living standards. 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.