Lord Acton

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Lord Acton

They constructed quite a new system of procedure, with unheard of cruelties, for its maintenance.

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They devoted to it a whole code of legislation, pursued for several generations. There are some dozens of books, some of them official, containing the particulars. A man is hanged not because he can or cannot prove his claim to virtues, but because it can be proved that he has committed a particular crime.

Lord Acton

That one action overshadows the rest of his career. It is useless to argue that he is a good husband or a good poet. The one crime swells out of proportion to the rest. But what amazes and disables me is that you speak of the Papacy not as exercising a just severity, but as not exercising any severity. You do not say, these misbelievers deserved to fall into the hands of these torturers and Fire-the-faggots; but you ignore, you even deny, at least implicitly, the existence of the torture-chamber and the stake.

I really don't know whether you exempt them because of their rank, or of their success and power, or of their date.

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton - Wikipedia

The chronological plea [that they lived a long time ago] may have some little value in a limited sphere of instances. It does not allow of our saying that such a man did not know right from wrong, unless we are able to say that he lived before Columbus, before Copernicus, and could not know right from wrong. It can scarcely apply to the centre of Christendom, after the birth of our Lord. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases.

Historic responsibility [that is, the later judgment of historians] has to make up for the want of legal responsibility [that is, legal consequences during the rulers' lifetimes].

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.

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    You would hang a man of no position,. Here are the greater names coupled with the greater crimes.

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    You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason. Acton's views on the nation-state appeared in an article on "Nationality," which he wrote in for the Home and Foreign Review.

    Absolute power and the spread of at-will employment

    In this tour de force he placed nationalism in its historical context, enabling readers to understand its significance for their own time and to see in nationalism the most potent force unleashed by the French Revolution. For Acton the Revolution had given a new direction to social protest. Whereas in the past, people had resisted oppression by calling for a return to traditional ways, now, after , they demanded a new social and political order.

    The Revolution thus spawned protest movements of a wholly unprecedented kind.

    Lord Acton

    These movements were "spontaneous and aggressive," he warned. They were "popular, unreasoning, and almost irresistible. Nationalism, with Mazzini as its representative figure, was the most formidable of these new mass movements; for it subverted the existing order by attacking the territorial arrangement and sovereignty of legitimate states, and it provided the impetus behind contemporary revolution. Acton clearly appreciated the power of nationalism—and for this he deserves credit—but too much can, and has, been made of his foresight. He was disturbed by nationalism not because he was clairvoyant, not because he saw in nationalism the twentieth century's totalitarian nightmare, but rather because he was preoccupied with very nineteenth-century concerns.

    In Italy this problem was solved by the creation of a unified nation-state. The war against Austria was the first step in the process of unification that culminated in with the founding of the Kingdom of Italy. As a result of unification, inhabitants of the Italian peninsula found themselves subject to a highly centralized state, with an administration modeled on the Napoleonic system that was adverse to regional autonomy. The Italian war also aggravated the nationalities problem in Access options available:. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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