Power Tends To Corrupt: Lord Acton's Study of Liberty

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9780875804651: Power Tends To Corrupt: Lord Acton's Study of Liberty

Lord Acton (1834–1902) is often called a historian of liberty. A great historian and political thinker, he had a rare talent to reach beneath the surface and reveal the hidden springs that move the world. While endeavoring to understand the components of a truly free society, Acton attempted to see how the principles of self-determination and freedom worked in practice, from antiquity to his own time. But though he penned hundreds of papers, essays, reviews, letters and ephemera, the ultimate book of his findings and views on the history of liberty remained unwritten. Reading a book a day for years he still could not keep pace with the output of his time, and finally, dejected, he gave up. Today, Acton is mainly known for a single maxim, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In Power Tends to Corrupt, Christopher Lazarski presents the first in-depth consideration of Acton’s thought in more than fifty years. Lazarski brings Acton’s work to light in accessible language, with a focus on his understanding of liberty and its development in Western history. A work akin to Acton’s overall account of the history of liberty, with a secondary look at his political theory, this book is an outstanding exegesis of the theories and findings of one of the nineteenth century’s keenest minds.

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Book Description:

Lord Acton (1834–1902) is often called a historian of liberty. A great political thinker, he endeavored to understand the components of a successful free political community in which members have control over their own lives and the affairs of their polity while successfully avoiding arbitrary power exercised from above or below. He had a rare talent to reach beneath the surface and reveal the hidden springs that move events. Observing various polities and states, as well as certain trends in history, he attempted to see how those principles worked in practice, from antiquity to his own times. But though he penned hundreds of papers, essays, reviews, letters, and ephemera, the ultimate book of his findings and views on the history of liberty remained unwritten. Reading a book a day for years he still could not keep pace with the output of his time, and finally, dejected, he gave up. Today, Acton is mainly known for a single maxim: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”In Power Tends to Corrupt, Christopher Lazarskipresents the first in-depth consideration of Acton’s thought in more than fifty years. Acton left behind hundreds of articles and tens of thousands of index cards with his notes. From a mass of material Lazarski brings the work to light in accessible language, focusing on Acton’s understanding of liberty and its development in Western history, and providing a secondary look at his political theory. What results is a work akin to an overall account of the history of liberty such as Acton had planned to write. Lazarski’s book is an outstanding exegesis of the theories and findings of one of the nineteenth century’s keenest minds.Despite being very active and influential in his own time, Acton’s intellectual legacy has been largely lost to the modern readership. Now, when the understanding of liberty is as critical as ever, Lazarski goes far in bringing Lord Acton’s work the attention it deserves.

About the Author:

Christopher Lazarski is associate dean in the School of International Relations at Lazarski University, Warsaw, and author of The Lost Opportunity: Attempts at Unification of the Anti-Bolsheviks.

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