“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
That’s all most folk know of the works of Lord Acton. One sentence. A memorable sentence, no doubt, and a true statement, too. But readers of the present collection, Power Corrupts: Essays on Freedom and History, will learn much more.
This collection of essays, which begins with a thorough introduction by historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, provides not merely an overview of Lord Acton’s work, but a major education on the nature of freedom, power, and the course of Western civilization. Acton makes the case for the classical liberal idea of freedom, i.e., limited government. “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end,” he writes in probably his second-most famous statement. “It is itself the highest political end.”