Lord Acton's Aphorism Of Power

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John Dalberg Acton is perhaps best known for his famous quote “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Dahlberg Acton 364). Given that the majority of systems in the world are hierarchical by some measure, Acton’s aphorism on power is ubiquitously applicable. The adage demonstrates itself in political and social hierarchies, both historical and contemporary, studies of the human psyche, and routinely in literature.
Lord Acton was a British historian, moralist, and politician, well known for his constructs on a slew of political, theological, and social topics. His oft-recited precept “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” arose out of communications with Bishop Mandell Creighton (364). In a
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As stated by Ben Moreel of acton.org, “When a person gains power over other persons- political power to force other persons to do his bidding when they do not believe it right to do so- it seems inevitable that a moral weakness develops in the person who exercises that power.” To put this into context, consider Mao Zedong. As the de facto leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao had a significant amount of power. To build and retain power, Mao introduced various restrictive reforms and propaganda campaigns; directly causing widespread famine, economic difficulty, and poor industrial growth. Between 1958-1960, an estimated fourteen to forty million Chinese citizens died, mostly of starvation (Cheek 25). Joseph Stalin’s political career also epitomizes the idea Acton expressed. Stalin used police and propaganda to eliminate political rivals and oppress dissenters of his policies. While in power, he sent millions to die in labor camps and prisons. Though misused political power may accrue more notoriety, social institutions are guilty of the…show more content…
For example, consider the Golum’s relationship with the ring in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Once a morally upright hobbit named Sméagol, Gollum is transformed by his obsession with the ring and the power it provides. Additionally, 1984 by George Orwell is more or less an expansion of Acton’s words. 1984 is an example world resulting from unchecked power in the hands of few. Though the novel is an allegory to Stalin’s USSR, the story takes place in England to warn that the process of absolute power can happen anywhere given the same general variables. In Animal Farm, George Orwell uses the same allegory, and offers a similar denouncement of unchecked power and the institutions that allow it. Long before either of those works, Shakespeare’s Macbeth cautions against obtaining power ignobly, lest it have maddening, suicidal effects. In Brave New World, Mustapha Mond and Bernard Marx exhibit questionable behavior as they use their respective statuses as tools throughout the book. While justifying his methods of maintaining a stable society to Bernard and John the Savage, Mustapha Mond reasons, “But as I make the laws here, I can also break them” (Huxley 224-225). This example of hypocrisy is sure evidence of Mond’s amorality. As a World Controller, Mustapha Mond’s work consists of maintaining a society, which, for the most part, is
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