Absolute Justice Against Absolute Power


Over at Lew Rockwell.com, a (very long) defense of the libertarian bonafides of Lord Acton, who is to most people probably reducible to his wonderfully quotable quote, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This piece by Anthony Flood contextualizes him nicely, with a good account of the great Catholic liberal's fight against the doctrine of papal infallibility, and what followed that famous one liner:

Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.

Then after accusing Anglican Archbishop Mandell Creighton, in a letter to whom this was written, of being softer on the crimes of the politically great than justice demanded, Acton wrote:

You would spare these [powerful and exalted] criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher…for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi, they say. But who, then, are the cows supposed to be? Why, you and me. Acton would have none of it, and good for him.