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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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Brian Klass on power and corruption, based on his book Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How it Changes Us

Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us (book cover)

Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the result of poorly designed systems or are they simply bad people? What sort of people aspire to power anyway? Are there individuals among us who should never be given the title of president, or CEO, or PTA leader lest they build their own dictatorship?

Brian Klaas, a renowned political scientist, Washington Post columnist and creator of the award-winning Power Corrupts podcast, has long sought answers to the above questions. In his new book Klaas draws on over 500 interviews with some of the world’s top leaders — from the noblest to the most crooked — including presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators, to get to the root of power and corruption. Klaas dives into how facial appearance determines who we pick as leaders, why narcissists make more money, why some people don’t want power at all and others are drawn to it out of a psychopathic impulse, and why being the “beta” (second in command) may be the optimal place for health and well-being.

Featuring engrossing conversations with presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators, Brian Klaas has crafted the definitive exploration into power and corruption, a vital text to light the path to power for the right people not the wrong — and ensuring that power purifies rather than corrupts.

Brian Klaas grew up in Minnesota, earned his DPhil at Oxford, and is now a professor of global politics at University College London. He is also a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, host of the award-winning Power Corrupts podcast, and frequent guest on national television. Klaas has conducted field research across the globe, interviewing despots, CEOs, torture victims, dissidents, cult leaders, criminals, and everyday power abusers. He has also advised major politicians and organizations including NATO, the European Union, and Amnesty International. You can find him at and on Twitter @brianklaas.

Shermer and Klaas discuss:

  • Does power corrupt or are corrupt people drawn to power?
  • Why so so many dictators have psychopathic tendencies?
  • psychopathy: good and bad,
  • The Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Machiavellian, Narcissism,
  • authoritarian personalities,
  • Why do factors like height and faces matter when we choose our leaders?
  • Why do we use status symbols to signal power?
  • common traits of dictators, CEOs, criminals, mafia, and the corruptible,
  • Putin, Xi, Kim Jong Un, Bolsonaro, Orban, and the rise of authoritarianism,
  • traits of positive leaders,
  • physical characteristics of successful leaders (height, looks),
  • Stanford Prison Experiment/Obedience to Authority Experiments,
  • In-Group vs. Out-group biases and the polarization of politics,
  • cult of personality,
  • the Rajneesh cult movement,
  • hierarchy and egalitarianism,
  • hunter-gatherer societies vs. modern societies: must we adapt a hierarchical power structure?
  • how to reform democratic governments to make them less susceptible to corruption.

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This episode was released on December 28, 2021.

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