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Friday, October 29, 2021

John Dalberg-Acton and democracy

John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902) was an English historian best known for his analysis of democracy. Historian Herbert Butterfield said,


"Behind the multitude of Acton's reflective notes there is an intellectual system (and a record of the man' achievement) ampler and more imposing than the published writings would suggest. The notes are an evidence of Acton's amazing intellectual integrity, his determination to confront the discrepant fact and not to shrink from the inconvenient anomaly." (Action: His Training, Methods and Intellectual System, 1961)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Dalberg-Acton.




"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." (Letter to Mandell Creighton, 1887)


"The true democratic principle, that none shall have power over the people is taken to mean that none shall be able to restrain or to elude its power." (Review of Democracy in Europe, 1878)


"History is not a web woven with innocent hands. Among all the causes which degrade and demoralize men, power is the most constant and most active." (The Story of History, 1895)




"Liberty alone demands for its realization the limitation of the public authority, for liberty is the only object which benefits all alike and provokes no sincere opposition." (Nationality, 1982)




"Solon gave them a voice in electing magistrates from the classes above them, and the right of calling them to account... And this idea completely inverted the notion of human authority, for it inaugurated the reign of moral influence... Government by consent superseded government by compulsion and the pyramid which had stood on a point was made to stand upon its base." (The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877)