Monday, June 26, 2006 06/26/06-Lord Acton

In today's excerpt-Lord Acton. John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, First Baron Acton of Aldenham, was born in Naples, Italy in 1834, a descendent of an established English line. Widely known for his belief that "power corrupts", he considered himself first and foremost a historian, though he pursued electoral politics and entered the House of Commons in 1859. In 1869, Prime Minister Gladstone rewarded Acton for his efforts on behalf of Liberal political causes by offering him a peerage. In 1895, Lord Acton was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. When he died in 1902, Lord Acton was considered one of the most learned people of his age. A sample of his political thinking:

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority." Letter to Mandell Creighton, 1887

"The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern." Letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881

"Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end." Lecture, February 26, 1877

"The man who prefers his country before any other duty shows the same spirit as the man who surrenders every right to the state. They both deny that right is superior to authority."

"It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist. But from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason."

"The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities."


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