Lord Acton

Lord Acton [ 1834 - 1902 ] was talented, multilingual, influential and a passionate Catholic. His big move was opposing the claim of Papal infallibility which arose at the Vatican Council in 1869 and gave rise to his most famous saying. One snag with infallibility is that it confirms Papal positions regarding Jewish guilt in murdering Jesus, the Crusades, Inquisitions and other matters which do not always sit well with modern consciences or the enemies of Holy Mother Church.

"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. All 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."
Lord Acton, 1887, historian and politician[1]

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely
This arose as a quotation by Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

The first part of the quotation is well known. I think we lost something by forgetting the last sentence. Think of Bush, Blair, Cheney, Stalin, Hitler and all too many others. NB Most people who quote Lord Acton's Dictum are unaware that it refers to Papal power and was made by a Catholic, albeit not an unquestioning one.


The great man had more pointed sayings which were based on a deep historical knowledge.

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.
Lord Acton

Learn as much by writing as by reading.

Lord Acton

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.

Lord Acton

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


Lord Acton

Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.


Lord Acton, Lecture, February 26, 1877

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Lord Acton, Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887

The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.


Lord Acton, Letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881


Errors & omissions, broken links, cock ups, over-emphasis, malice [ real or imaginary ] or whatever; if you find any I am open to comment.
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Updated on 07/01/2016 13:50