“It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him.”
J. R. R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
So Gandalf says of the Great Ring of Power when he explains its dire potency to Frodo. Anyone who believes that he possesses the Ring will be in time possessed by the Ring. Anyone who employs the Ring to do his bidding will in time do the bidding of the Ring. And good and well-meaning mortals will not escape enslavement by the Ring of Power, because “neither strength nor good purpose will last—sooner or later the dark power will devour him.”
In other words, you should not deceive yourself with the beguiling thought that you are a principled man on the side of the angels, and an enemy of the dark power, for as Lord Acton famously said,
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
But neither should you beguile yourself with the thought that you are a humble and modest man who has no hunger for power and would refuse it if it were offered, for Hobbes was right to declare in Leviathan (1651):
“I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death.”
This is the great Problem of Power, and to this problem there is no easy answer. If you have no power, you will be destroyed by the men who do. If you have power, you will be destroyed by power itself. If there is an answer to this terrible dilemma, it would seem to lie in a balance of power, which we should understand as a cosmic principal and not only as a principal of American government.
Thus, when you pray “deliver me from evil,” you should understand this to mean “deliver me from domination, but not from opposition.” If Tolkein, Acton and Hobbes are correct, the people who oppose me deliver me from the evil I would become in the absence of their opposition.
May I suggest that this means we should “love our enemies” out of gratitude as well as charity.
Here is a relevant passage from a curious and long-forgotten poem called A Poetical Description of Texas, which was published by a long-forgotten man named Hugh Kerr in 1838.
“In ev’ry age man has betrayed
A ruling trait of tyranny;
Which, though it may at times be stayed,
Resuscitates with energy.
That passion, to be gratified,
Must league with suited instruments;
Opponents must be vilified
And then consigned to punishments.