Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

John Dalberg-Acton, Lord Acton, fully John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

English Catholic Historian, Historian, Politician and Writer

"Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority but force."

"The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern."

"Truth is the only merit that gives dignity and worth to history."

"The bonds of class are stronger than those of nationality."

"The true guide of our conduct is no outward authority, but the voice of God, who comes down to dwell in our souls, who knows all our thoughts."

"The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by the minorities."

"Where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that."

"A wise person does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times."

"By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes is his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion."

"Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end."

"Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity."

"The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks."

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority"

"Socialism means slavery. "

"The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections."

"Liberty is the harmony between the will and the law."

"All liberty is conditional, limited and therefore unequal. The state can never do what it likes in its own sphere. It is bound by all kinds of law."

"Limitation is essential to authority. A government is legitimate only if it is effectively limited."

"There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion."

"Liberty becomes a question of morals more than of politics."

"Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends on liberty."

"A liberal is only a bundle of prejudices until he has mastered, has understood, experienced the philosophy of Conservatism."

"The common vice of democracy is disregard for morality."

"Democracy generally monopolizes and concentrates power."

"It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority."

"Federalism is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority."

"Property, not conscience, is the basis of liberty. For the defence of conscience need not arise. Property is always exposed to interference. It is the constant object of policy."

"Political economy cannot be supreme arbiter in politics. Else you might defend slavery where it is economically sound and reject it where the economic argument applies against it."

"It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than people fit to govern others."

"There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success."

"A public man has no right to let his actions be determined by particular interests. He does the same thing as a judge who accepts a bribe. Like a judge he must consider what is right, not what is advantageous to a party or class."

"History is a great innovator and breaker of idols."

"The great novelty of the American Constitution was that it imposed checks on the representatives of the people."

"Moral precepts are constant through the ages and not obedient to circumstances."

"Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; but still more when they are super bad and add the tendency of the certainty of corruption of authority. "

"Human learning has often been an instrument, not a source, of hostility to religion. "

"Fanaticism in religion is the alliance of the passions she condemns with the dogmas she professes."

"Good and evil lie close together. Seek no artistic unity in character. "