03/16/2013: Acton on Power

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. 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. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

Lord Acton
John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies,
edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence
(London: Macmillan, 1907).

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