Lord Acton ........................
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About the Author

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton -- First Baron Acton of Aldenham -- was born in Naples, Italy on January 10, 1834. The son of a beknighted Englishman and a Rhenish Countess, Lord Acton studied history at the University of Munich: he was not permitted to attend Cambridge because he was a Catholic.

Lord Acton was elected to the House of Commons in 1859 and was offerred a peerage in 1869. He was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University in 1895. Extremely well read, and having an intellect that is revered to this day, it is he who authored the now often quoted statement that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

About the Speech

In this speech, Lord Acton provides an illuminating history of the interplay between the sources of governmental power, the scope of governmental power, and the choice of who should exercise governmental power. He makes clear the important point that democracy - a system in which power is thought to have its origins in the people - is no guarantee of liberty. He effectively submits that, in the absence of a moral code that sets limits on the scope of governmental power, even a government whose rulers are selected from among the governed (i.e., a republic) and whose powers are said to have their origins in the governed (i.e., a democracy) will eventually devolve into the worst, and most deeply entrenched, absolutism. Ultimately, he argues that Jesus, by his words, gave mankind an understanding of the division of power that places limits upon the scope of the power left to the government of a free and just society:

"But when Christ said: 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,' those words, spoken on His last visit to the Temple, three days before His death, gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed, and bounds it had never acknowledged; and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of Freedom."

This speech is a must read for any person who seeks to develop an understanding of the various ways in which individual freedom has been justified and defended, and its origins explained.

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