I found this passage, which deals with Acton’s most famous quote, relevant to one of the candidates in the presidential campaign.
Then Acton embarked on the passage since become famous, that he could not accept Creighton’s canon that Pope and King should not be judged like other men, but given the benefit of the doubt:
If there is any presumption it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing creasing 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. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you supcradd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it…. You would hang a man of no position, like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes. You would spare these 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.
[NB] To Acton, there was no greater error than to lower the standards in consideration of a past age or in deference to station, as the hero worshippers-historians historians like Froude, Macaulay, and Carlyle-had done. “If we may debase the currency for the sake of genius, or success, or rank, or reputation, we may debase it for the sake of a man’s influence, of his religion, of his party, of the good cause which prospers by his credit and suffers by his disgrace. Then History ceases to be a Science, an arbiter of controversy…. It serves where it ought to reign; and it serves the worst cause better than the purest.”
Hans’t Hillary Clinton been given a kind of get out of gaol card?
HILLARY FOR PRISON!
FILLMORE & ____
Acton was an amazing fellow. This book is fascinating. One of the things I found most interesting was the description of the machinations surrounding the First Vatican Council and the dogma of infallibility.
Fighting over doctrine is serious business! If you consider that in the ancient Church people would literally riot if they heard an unfamiliar Latin version of Scripture, and that the homoousios was debated even in butcher shops, today’s little spats are calm and bloodless.