Posts tagged with: John Dalberg-Acton 1st Baron Acton

rules“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the most famous quote by the English Catholic historian Sir John Dalberg-Acton. But what exactly did he mean by it?

That particular quote comes from a letter to Bishop Creighton in which Lord Acton explains that historians should condemn murder, theft, and violence whether committed by an individual, the state, or the Church. Here is the context:

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. s, 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.

Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.

Lord Acton is saying that rather than excuse “great men” because of the burdens placed upon them by their office or authority, we should judge them even more harshly than we would actions of the common man or woman. It’s ironic that Acton had to tell this to a bishop since the Bible has quite a lot to say about abuse of power. Yet even Christian tend to think that we are immune to the temptations of power and that if we were give more authority we wouldn’t abuse it.
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actonLord Acton was a man of multitudes: he had a scholar’s library of about 67,000 volumes, his notes and manuscripts in the Cambridge library fill some 50,000 pages, and he produced 200 definitions of liberty. Yet despite his productivity, the man who was once called “the most learned Englishman alive” never published a book.

At Open Letters Monthly, Luciano Mangiafico takes a in-depth look at the fascinating life of Lord Acton:

Contradictions in Acton’s life and views abound: although he never graduated from university, he received several prestigious honorary doctor’s degrees and from 1895 to his death held the chair of Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, where he delivered his first lecture at the age of 60. As he had no college degrees, before he could start in his new profession and enjoy some of the professorial privileges, he was granted a Master of Arts Degree; when his head was measured to make sure the cap fit correctly, it turned out that he had the largest head on record at the university; ruefully, he commented in a letter that he imagined that poet Robert Browning, who also had a large head, might take umbrage.

Read more . . .

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the most famous quote by the English Catholic historian Sir John Dalberg-Acton. It also appears to be the overriding theme of the teaser-trailer for the new movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice .

The quote is even stated directly in the trailer in a voiceover (by actress Holly Hunter). Is it applicable in this context? Would Lord Acton agree that absolute power has corrupted Superman? I think he would.

That particular quote comes from a letter to Bishop Creighton in which Lord Acton explains that historians should condemn murder, theft, and violence whether committed by an individual, the state, or the Church. Here is the context:
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“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the most famous quote by the English Catholic historian Sir John Dalberg-Acton. It also appears to be the overriding theme of the recent teaser-trailer for the movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The quote is even stated directly in the trailer in a voiceover (by actress Holly Hunter). Is it applicable in this context? Would Lord Acton agree that absolute power has corrupted Superman? I think he would.

That particular quote comes from a letter to Bishop Creighton in which Lord Acton explains that historians should condemn murder, theft, and violence whether committed by an individual, the state, or the Church. Here is the context:
(more…)

Members of  the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Members of the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Culture has either an overly optimistic view of youth culture, or an overly dour and depressing one. However, neither view is entirely true, nor are such disparate opinions very helpful.  The unavoidable truth is this: younger generations will have to bear increasingly more difficult levels of financial, and societal responsibility in the coming years. To put it mildly their future will not be an easy walk in the park.

However, in my experiences at Acton, I am witnessing a renaissance, a flowering of maturity in which young men and women are not waiting for someone to offer them a free hand-out, but rather are seeking a better version and a more compelling vision for their future. Certainly the root of this renaissance has been occurring over the past ten years with college students at Acton University, but the flowering I am talking about is happening amongst high school students.

In the spring of 2014, a group of students from West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids made an appointment to tour our offices and to learn more about Acton’s work. After the tour, I expected the students to simply say, “thank you” and then depart, but the leader of this intrepid band said, “Mr. Cook, we have a core group that are serious about our Christian faith, and we want to be successful, ethical and virtuous business leaders. We want to learn how we can live our faith as Christian business leaders in our world today.” Then he said something really amazing.

“Do you think it’s possible for us to start an ‘Acton Club’ in our high school?’

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Today on the PowerBlog, we’re continuing our Radio Free Acton series featuring people who have attended Acton University and their experiences. As we close in on the deadline for registration for AU 2014, we hope that as you hear from people who have been impacted by the experience of Acton University, you’ll consider registering for AU 2014 and making the experience your own this year.

Today’s podcast features Father Hans Jacobse, an Orthodox priest and the founder of the American Orthodox Institute, who describes how he discovered Acton and came to be a participant at Acton University over the course of the last few years. He describes how the experience of Acton University gives him an opportunity to interact with people who are creatively engaged with culture all over the world – a “creative explosion,” as he calls it – and explains why those four days are so inspiring for him.

Have a listen via the audio player below, and be sure to check out this year’s course lineup for Acton University. Hope to see you there!

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)