Lord Acton (1)

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton was an English historian, politician and writer commonly known as Lord Acton.
He was born in Naples, Italy, on 10 January 1834.
The birth certificate, written in Italian, described his father as Don Ferdinando Riccardo Acton, “Lord-in-Waiting to His Majesty Whom God preserve” and English Baronet, and his mother as Baroness Donna Maria Luisa Pellina de Dalberg, domiciled with her husband in Naples at the Riviera di Chiaja.

He is famous for some remarks he made in a letter to an Archbishop of the Church of England, which was part of a larger conversation about how historians should judge the past.
The Archbishop was inclined towards a moral relativism that was uncritical of past leaders and too lenient with their crimes. On the contrary, Lord Acton argued that all people, past or present, leaders or not , should be held to universal moral standards.

In one of his three letters he made this famous statement:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”

“Il potere tende a corrompere e il potere assoluto corrompe in modo assoluto. Gli uomini di potere sono quasi sempre malvagi, anche quando esercitano influenza e non autorità”.

Image: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1806) Napoleon on his Imperial throne

48 thoughts on “Lord Acton (1)

  1. Luisa, this is something I struggle with. In the United States, we are appropriately re-examing our history and previous presidents. I think providing context is a good thing. I think renaming our military bases that are named after Confederate generals is also a good thing. However, to judge people from another era by the standards of our own is problematic. Slavery is a particularly hot-button issue. Italy has a much longer history than the United States–I hope it has found a more integrated approach to how it views its past.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for your answer, Luisa. I can see why things from centuries ago might seem less of a flashpoint. We do not seem as hyper about our American Revolution (1776-1781) as we do our Civil War, (1861-1865)… Maybe because the second war tried to tweak the results of the earlier war.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Quella frase sul potere è molto veritiera. Il potere corrompe e chiunque ci arrivi, anche con le buone intenzioni, ne verrà sicuramente corrotto. È un argomento molto interessante su cui bisogna fare un’analisi approfondita.

    Liked by 1 person

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