Bacon said knowledge itself is power. In fact, knowledge is not a rich and unique possession that cannot be stolen or plundered by thieves, nor does it decrease by giving. Knowledge has also been defined as recorded experience and a product of history, of which reasoning and belief, no less than action and passion, are essential constituents.
Our knowledge is the amassed thought and experience of countless human beings. Those who have wide-ranging knowledge, coupled with experience, qualify themselves for high seats of power and influence. The possession of knowledge gives them a distinct advantage over others who are either ignorant or are semi-educated or whose knowledge is confined to their own limited area of activity.
Half-knowledge, it is said, is worse than ignorance. It is said that ignorance is “the curse of God, while knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven”.
The desire for acquisition of knowledge is common, except among those who are abnormal human beings. In fact, Samuel Johnson expressed the view that every human being whose mind is not debauched would be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.
People who have knowledge rule the world; true knowledge of men and human affairs enables the possessor to command others. But power resulting from knowledge must not be used arbitrarily, nor should it make people proud or arrogant. The truly wise and knowledgeable person is humble; humility comes with knowledge even while power is being acquired.
But power, unfortunately, tends to become despotic and insolent. Unlimited power corrupts the possessor; on the other hand, unlimited knowledge works in the opposite direction. Knowledge has no limits; the more one learns, the more one becomes aware of one’s limitations shortcomings and lack of knowledge. The lust of power is a flagrant passion, and together it leads to the downfall of the mighty.
However, it is not always that knowledge ensures power. There have been many cases in history where ignorant people have wangled power, ousting those who, on the basis of their extensive knowledge and experience, deserve to exercise authority. But where the ignorant exercise power over the rest of society, their regime proves short-lived because the; fall by their own follies. On the other hand, wherever people possessing knowledge are entrenched in the seats of power, their regimes are stable.
It is the learned people who can be expected to be efficient, more honest and more sincere than the others and who can deliver the goods Knowledge develops human faculties, and fully developed faculties ensure sound judgment, fair play and equal treatment of every one.
Such people are amenable to reason while they are in power; they are unlikely to misuse the judiciary or other branches of the administration. Knowledge leads to excellence of the mind; it facilitates the creation of a critical, creative outlook; seeking the happiness of all and perfection where attainable. They are generally willing to adjust themselves to changing situations while exercising power. Only persons having knowledge of the wide world arc of human affairs can become statesmen. Ignorance makes statesmanship: impossible.
It is true that intellectuals generally prefer to keep away from the hustle and bustle of politics and they prefer to live in ivory towers, far away from the mainstream of public life. By nature they are reluctant to indulge in strife, though they do have an aptitude for debate and discussion.
Moreover, all-round education and extensive knowledge are desirable for democracy, because ignorance never helps in the emergence or a democratic set-up. In fact, an ignorant person would not even know what democracy is and what it implies. Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses the most, and restraint, tolerance, understanding as well as the capacity to manage affairs of State, come with knowledge.
Yet another aspect of knowledge and its concomitant—power—needs to be examined. Modern knowledge is not only wide in scope but also very intricate. Thousands of investigators are constantly at work, day and night, in many parts of the world to acquire more knowledge and enrich the human mind. The mountain of knowledge consequently goes on becoming higher and higher. It is only the foolish man who thinks he knows everything.
But it would be well to remember that the immense increase in knowledge in the world sometimes does not make us better human beings. It is proper use of knowledge that ensures the acquisition of power. As Nehru said, “we must know where to go before we rush ahead in our powerful car.” This implies that some people may acquire knowledge in certain subjects, and yet they would be unfit to be entrusted with power and given the authority to manage affairs of State. Some people do have knowledge but they have a closed mind. A tyrannical use of power degrades those who use it, and of course those who suffer from such misuse.